Are Soft Skills Over-rated?

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Attrib: D. Dominici FDP

Today, we are seeing a tremendous amount being written and taught on Soft Skills in the business and social arena. Many are saying this topic is over rated and just a buzz word. but I beg to differ. Many of our communications problems today find their root in incivility, rudeness and lack of respect. By the way all are soft skills! It is one of those ailments that has happened over a period of time, without many really realizing the impact. It is also being ignored by many leaders in the marketplace.

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Soft Skills, Manners, Etiquette in 2015, Part 1

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Over the last two weeks we have been discussing “Soft Skills” on our weekly Lunch & Learn Call” and one of the first items we discussed was manners, etiquette, courtesy, rudeness, or whatever you want to call the process of “bad manners”. It seems that as we have moved from a formal business environment to a “business” casual environment, we have crossed a few lines that have resulted in a breakdown in communications, connection and engagement. Manners is one of those lines and I include them in the category of interpersonal communications in the workplace.

Brief Overview:

In a 2012, an academic exercise that was done by a group of students, from Eastern Kentucky University, where they conducted interviews of 57 executives who responded to a questionnaire that asked them to list and rank the attributes of soft skills they felt were critical for operations. They were to rank them by selecting 5 = extremely important, 4 = Somewhat important, 3 = somewhat important 2= not very important or 1 = not important.

All 57 of the executives agreed that Integrity and Communications were very important or extremely important. 84.2% of the respondents indicated that “courtesy” was an extremely important skill. I believe it is time that we begin to address this issue because in can have a very positive effect on business when applied correctly. Based on this we can assume “soft skills” is a major topic on Mahogany Row or at least it should be one.

Business leaders consider soft skills to be a major desirable attribute in applicants coming into the market place today. This study found that the top 10 soft skills ranked by the participants as most important were: Integrity, communication, courtesy, responsibility, social skills, positive attitude, professionalism, flexibility, teamwork and work ethic. Today we are focusing on only one of these, that of courtesy.

The term “soft skills” has been around in business and academic environment for years but little attention has been paid to it until recently. Generally, when we talk about skills we focus on “hard skills” or those abilities, knowledge, practice or aptitude to do something well. We also refer to a job, trade or job requiring manual dexterity as being hard skills.

The Collins English Dictionary defines the term soft skills as: “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge; they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude.”

“Soft skills” are really referring to character traits, qualities, attitudes, or behaviors that are desirable for a specific business, company or enterprise. Soft skills are continually developed during our work life and they are also transportable between organizations. They are also considered to be intangible, non-technical, personality traits that contribute to one’s strengths in an organization. The top attributes on every recruiters desired list today will be a soft skills, usually one or many of the top ten mentioned above.

For those who like to think in terms of formulaic methodologies, the team at Eastern Kentucky University came up with this:

Soft Skills = Interpersonal (People) Skills + Personal (Career) Attributes

Simple formula, but does provide the idea that Soft Skills are more than people skills, contrary to many theories today.

To add to the confusion with courtesy, manners, etc. we have become more casual in our relationships, personal and work. We often limit the performance of manners in favor of short, staccato interactions. Technology continues to have a major impact on relationships with remote working, global collaboration and objectification of measurements.

Mutual respect for each other seems to have come to an all-time low, in many arenas, regardless of title, race or ethnicity. In meetings, many people feel that they must dominate the conversation to make a point, there is little to no compromise.

If your organization is inundated with bad manners, fractured respect, or argumentative attitudes then change is the only way to ensure survival and growth. Keep in mind this should not be a mandated change. If you try to force good manners, it may work for a while but it will eventually create another drop in employee engagement.

To affect a change in rudimentary attitudes it must not only be defined by leadership but also lived and demonstrated by leadership. “Do as I say, not as I do” will fail every time in this 21st century business environment.

If you are not sure where to begin but you know you want to have some assistance, please check out our website at Transformative Leadership Group or call me at 630-454-4821. Our frameworks can help you sort it out.

If you would like to join our call on Thursdays from 11:30am to 12:30pm CDT just register at Eventbrite. Each meeting is freestanding so if you want to attend all the remaining please register for each one independently.

Next week we will post some suggested starting points for affecting change in manners, respect, etiquette and communications within your company.

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