A Practical Definition We Can Apply Right Away

communication defining soft skills effective communication effective leadership leadership soft skills soft skills definition soft skills example soft skills vs hard skills Sep 09, 2021
Soft Skills Definition

Last time I shared the definition of soft skills from the Oxford dictionary, “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” While I think that provides us with a fairly decent starting point for what soft skills are, I don’t believe it’s quite enough to take action on… At least it’s not for me.

We started down this path by answering the question, What Do They Really Mean by “Soft Skills”.? then we worked through some comparisons of Soft Skills vs Hard Skills. If we combine all of that with what Chris Rollins shared about the origins of the concept, I think we’re ready to build a practical definition that we can each work into our daily routines. Once we have that, there’s no reason at all for not putting it into action and achieving measurable results - just like we’d expect to see from learning any particular technical skill… 

Before we do that, consider these final reasons any of this even matters. According to a Salesforce.com study conducted just a few years ago, 86% of the executives surveyed cited lack of collaboration and ineffective communication as the primary reasons for workplace failure. Further, an SIS International Research study showed the cumulative cost per year due to productivity losses resulting from communication barriers at more than $26,000 per employee. Not only that, the same study found that a business with 100 employees spends an average downtime of 17 hours a week clarifying communications. Translated into dollars, that’s more than $530,000 a year. So as we consider those “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people,” these statistics make a pretty solid case for developing a working definition of what behaviors need to be in place as we learn those skills!

Let’s be honest here, interacting effectively and harmoniously with one person may require very different behaviors than it does with another. On top of that, it can be extremely difficult to measure something we can’t see. For simplicity then, let’s look at something we should be able to see and measure by considering our own behaviors and the behaviors of the team members we’re with to develop stronger soft skills.

If we stick with Oxford’s definition, I believe applying what I frequently share as The Platinum Rule - Communicate with others as they would have us communicate with them - would serve as a solid starting point for our practical definition. When we communicate and interact with each individual that we deal with based on their needs rather than our own, “effectively and harmoniously” becomes much more possible!

So how can we nail this down in a way that’s concise and as easy to understand as it is to apply? 

The SKILLS we develop and apply that enable us to adapt our behavior in a way that meets the individual needs of each person we interact with so that we communicate together more effectively and achieve results that yield maximum productivity with little or no time lost to poor collaboration or clarifying misunderstandings.

While the idea of soft skills covers far more than just communication, I can’t think of a single instance where applying any one of those skills doesn’t involve some form of communication. If we use this as our starting point for understanding what we should be working toward, then we can tie our specific behaviors for applying each separate skill in a way that can be seen by the team around us and that has a measurable impact on what we’re working to achieve. Next time, we’ll close the loop by digging into a few examples that provide a clear picture of what this can look like...