Needed soft skills for maximum performance

Organisations are usually looking for people with two skill sets: ‘hard skills’ and ‘soft skills.’ ‘Hard skills’ are specific and can be defined and measured such as writing, reading and so on. By contrast, soft skills are less tangible, harder to quantify, challenging to teach and, sometimes, difficult to describe. These skills are related to the concept of ‘employability’ which is the greatest attribute any candidate for employment can aspire to meet.

It refers to the ability to transfer the knowledge embodied in the hard skills into applied productivity in real life. In order to do this, ‘hard skills’ must be supplemented by ‘soft skills’ because ‘soft skills’ are those personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people to make relationships and ventures harmonious and productive.

For a long time, candidates have been excluded from employment or dismissed from their jobs because of non-possession of ‘soft skills’ regarded as relevant to the job or employment. This has always been the outcome of the non-possession of ‘soft skills’ because it was considered impossible to learn ‘soft skills.’ Now, the good news is that, like any other skill, ‘soft skills’ can be learnt. And another better news is that boosting of ‘soft skills’ not only gives one a leg up on a new job or promotion, but also have obvious applications in all areas of a person’s life, both professional and personal. Furthermore, they ultimately contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of organisations.

Larry Buhl, a reputed American business news reporter in the world today, while reporting the outcome of a survey of more than 2,000 businesses in the United States, revealed that employers opined that entry-level workers in a variety of professions were lacking in several areas, including communication skills, problem solving, conflict resolution and critical observation. He then noted that it is now fashionable to see these ‘soft skill’ showing up in job descriptions, next to demands for technical qualifications or ‘hard skills.’ He concluded that employment experts agree that while ‘hard skills’ may get you an interview, these ‘soft skills’ will get you the job—and help you keep it while contributing to the effectiveness of the organisation.

Today’s institutions want people who play well with others and can effectively work as part of a team. According to Lyne Sarikas, the MBA Career Centre Director at Northeastern University: “That means sometimes being a leader, sometimes being a good follower, monitoring the progress, meeting deadlines and working with others across the organization to achieve a common goal.” This is especially important for more-seasoned professionals to demonstrate in order to counter the often erroneous opinion that older workers are too set in their ways. Again, Sarikas opined that: “To succeed in most organisations, you need to have a passion for learning and the ability to continue to grow and stretch your skills to adapt to the changing needs of the organisation.”

Employees are also expected to have the skills to solve problems as organisations want people who can be left on their own to figure out how to resolve conflicts and avoid chaos and ill feelings. They are also expected to be able to identify and spot potentials for conflicts before they fester into full-blown crisis. Indeed, the ability to persuade, negotiate and resolve conflicts is crucial if you plan to move up. On this, Sarikas also observes that employees and potential workers need to have the skills to develop mutually-beneficial relationships in the organisation to influence and persuade people.

Organisations are now looking out for people who are able to make critical observations. Since the world is fast changing and issues are becoming more complex, the people in charge of important organisations must be able to observe and critically assess the impact and consequence of developments as they arise and, sometimes, even before they arise.

Soft skills have everything to do with one’s attitude. Attitude is so important that most other coveted attributes flow from it. According to Shawn Ashmore, “style is a reflection of your attitude and your personality” while Hans Selye opined that “adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.” American writer and poet, Maya Angelou, wrote that: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

Similarly, American motivational speaker, Lou Holtz observed that, ‘virtually nothing is impossible in this world if you just put your mind to it and maintain a positive attitude.” Former American President, Thomas Jefferson, once affirmed that “nothing can stop the man with the right
mental attitude from achieving his goal and nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

A good relationship can be established only when employees demonstrate a positive attitude towards their work and colleagues. Through positive energy, work becomes a pleasure and employees find it easier to achieve their goals. Benefits of positive attitude in work place include: career success, productivity, team spirit, strong interpersonal relationship among others. A positive attitude at work is, no doubt, beneficial not only to the organisation, but also to the employees on an individual basis.

On a final note, the following immortal words of famous Swiss executive communication coach, Dorotea Brandin aptly sums up the imperative of positive attitude in work place: “No matter what we do, each instant contains infinite choices. What we choose to think, to say or to hear creates what we feel in the present moment. It conditions the quality of our communication and in the end the quality of our everyday life.” It is this model that the Lagos State Government wants to enact among its workforce through its numerous training programmes and from all indications, the investment is progressively paying off.

Dr. Benson is the commissioner for Establishments, Training and Pensions, Lagos State.

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Larry BuhlSoft Skills
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1 Comment
  • Thank you for this terrific overview. I would just add that knowledge about soft skills contributes up to 80% of professional success because you won’t get far on subject-matter expertise alone in most fields nowadays. The challenge is often one of our self-awareness about critical soft skills. Most people are good at assessing others, but tend to me wildly positive when it comes to self-knowledge. Not only individuals but entire institutions, too. McKinsey did a study that showed that 72% of educators believe new graduates are ready to work, while only 45% and 42% of students and employers, respectively, agreed.