BY Bill Anderson
Soft skills are what we commonly refer to as people skills — the non-technical skills and traits that affect a person’s ability to interact effectively with others. They include problem solving, communication and conflict resolution. These skills are critical to an organization’s productivity, success and performance.
According to the Stanford Research Institute and Carnegie Mellon Foundation, 75 percent of long-term job success is directly related to soft skills, while only 25 percent of success is attributed to technical knowledge. (Source: Stanford Research Institute and Carnegie Mellon Foundation) Another poll found that “continuous learning and skills training are crucial to sustaining workforce readiness among employees of all experience levels.” (Source: “Critical Skills Needs and Resources for the Changing Workforce, 2008,” Society for Human Resource Management in conjunction with WSJ. com/Careers) It is imperative that employers play an active part in developing these six vital skills in all employees.
Skill #1) Communication
Employers and potential employees alike believe the ability to communicate effectively, accurately and concisely is the most important soft skill an employee can possess. (Source Comparative Analysis of Soft Skills, Michigan State University) Good communication leads to efficient and effective productivity, improves team performance, and bolsters workplace safety.
To communicate effectively in the workplace, follow these four guidelines:
>> Identify the message and its purpose.
>> Choose the appropriate means of communication.
>> Deliver the message.
>> Solicit feedback and respond accordingly.
Skill #2) Conflict Resolution
Given the right set of skills, employees can address conflict in ways that foster win-win outcomes.
Workers need to:
>> Understand their role in managing and resolving conflict;
>> Be aware of the potential sources of conflict in the workplace;
>> Know how to react to conflict in ways that are positive and helpful to all; and
>> Learn to resolve conflict in collaborative ways.
Skill #3) Coaching for Performance
The two main pillars of effective coaching are:
>> Creating a positive and productive environment; and
>> Providing constructive feedback.
The first step is to create a workplace environment that empowers employees, sets realistic goals, gives timely and meaningful recognition, encourages self-development, and provides appropriate training. Feedback is a vehicle for teaching workers what is expected of them and how to make improvements in their performance. It’s for this reason that delivery is so crucial — it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
Skill #4) Decision Making
Decision making refers to the ability to identify and analyze problems, and then take effective and appropriate action to alleviate those problems. Research also shows that organizations that fully develop analytic skills in all workers will continue to be the top performers in the coming years.
(Source: American Management Association, “Amp up Your Career by Improving Your Analytical Skills,” Nov. 2013)
Skill #5) Meeting Effectiveness
Meetings are an important tool for presenting instructions, assigning tasks, delegating responsibilities, and sharing information. To be successful, leaders must master skills such as identifying the meeting’s objective and planning accordingly, setting the meeting tone, and being able to keep the meeting on track.
Skill #6) Training Job Skills
To conduct successful training, supervisors should understand the following:
>> The steps needed to create effective training;
>> The characteristics of an appropriate learning objective;
>> How to plan relevant and useful training; and
>> How to effectively present training.
Organizations that focus on developing their employees’ soft skills will not only reap benefits in terms of career development, but will also create continuous improvement and growth for the organization itself.
– Bill Anderson is a product manager for human resources and government training at DuPont Sustainable Solutions