The Real Value of Soft Skills
What is the difference between hard and soft skills? Hard skills are technical skills, the “how-to” of a job or activity. They generally follow consistent rules, are teachable and easy to quantify. Examples of hard skills include computer programming, machine operation and learning a foreign language. What we think of as soft skills are better defined as behavioral skills. Soft skills relate to how people interact with other people. Soft skills require the ability to adapt to different situations. They are harder to quantify.
There are two types of behavioral skills, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Examples of intrapersonal skills include time management and planning. Interpersonal skills include leadership, team building, listening, and questioning. They all involve effective communication.
Not only are behavioral skills important, they may even be more important than technical skills. The cost of poor communication can be identified in inefficient meetings, lack of understanding and coordination of corporate vision and goals, morale issues, greater conflict, increased turnover, difficulty attracting high-quality employees, decreased productivity and customer complaints. These symptoms translate into real costs.
- A business with 100 employees spends an average downtime of 17 hours a week clarifying communication, translating to an annual cost of $528,443. (Source: 2014 Siemens Enterprise Communications)
- 86% of employees and executives surveyed cited a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures. (Source: Salesforce.com)
- The cumulative cost per year due to productivity losses resulting from communication barriers is more than $26,000 per employee. (Source: SIS International Research study)
- $62-83 billion dollars a year are estimates of the cost of poor customer service to US businesses (Source: various)
Conventional wisdom has been that soft skills are not teachable, based on the erroneous assumption that they are simply a matter of common sense. You either have them, or you don’t. In fact, they are most definitely teachable. A first-time supervisor can learn how to make the transition from one of the team to a management role, manage their time more effectively, conduct performance reviews and handle difficult conversations. Customer service providers can learn how to ask the right questions and listen effectively to better understand customer needs and diffuse upset customers. Managers can develop skills to foster better employee engagement or help employees navigate change. Future leaders can become more creative, inspirational and strong role models.
What behavioral skills, if improved, would have the most impact on your bottom line?