Soft skillsSoft skills matter a lot. The cliché is that people get hired because of their hard skills, but people get fired because of their soft skills. When employees have significant gaps in their soft skills, there are significant negative consequences:

  • Potentially good hires are overlooked. 
  • Good hires go bad. Bad hires go worse. 
  • Misunderstandings abound. 
  • People get distracted. 
  • Productivity goes down. 
  • Mistakes are made. 
  • Customer service suffers. 
  • Workplace conflicts occur more frequently. 
  • Good people leave when they might have otherwise stayed longer.

Bottom line: When soft skills are missing, the gap robs employees of greater success and causes many managers aggravation and unnecessary costs.

But what exactly is meant by “soft skills” as opposed to “hard” or “technical” skills?

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Defining Soft Skills

Because soft skills often seem less tangible and harder to define and measure, we’ve been trying to define them as part of our ongoing research at RainmakerThinking. Not surprisingly, we’ve uncovered that while definitions vary, essentially soft skills refer to the entire array of non-technical skills. More importantly, after reviewing thousands of behaviors raised by managers in surveys, interviews, focus groups, and seminars, we’ve identified twelve critical soft skills that are in great demand in nearly every organization.

  1. Self-evaluation: Regularly assessing your own thoughts, words, and actions against clear meaningful standards. Also assessing your performance against specific goals, timelines, guidelines, and parameters.
  2. Personal responsibility: Staying focused on what you can control directly—principally yourself—and controlling your responses in the face of factors outside your control.
  3. Positive attitude: Maintaining and conveying a positive, generous, enthusiastic demeanor in your expressions, gestures, words, and tone.
  4. Good work habits: Wellness, self-presentation, timeliness, organization, productivity, quality, follow-through, and initiative.
  5. People skills: Attentive listing, observing, and reading; perceiving and empathizing; effective use of words, tone, expressions and gestures -- verbal, written, and otherwise; one-on-one and in groups; in-person and remotely.
  6. Proactive learning: Keeping an open mind, suspending judgment, questioning assumptions, and seeking out information, technique and perspective. Also, studying, practicing, and contemplating information and skills in order to build your stored knowledge base, skill set, and wisdom.
  7. Problem solving: Mastering established best-practices—proven repeatable solutions for dealing with regular recurring decisions—as a way to avoid reinventing the wheel. Using repeatable solutions to improvise when addressing decisions that are new but similar.
  8. Decision making: Identifying and considering multiple options, assessing the pros and cons of each, and choosing the course of action closest to the desired outcome.
  9. Respect for context: Reading and adapting to the existing structure, rules, customs, and leadership in an unfamiliar situation.
  10. Citizenship: Accepting, embracing, and observing not just the rights and rewards, but also the duties of membership, belonging, and participation in a defined group with its own structure, rules, customs, and leadership.
  11. Service: Approaching relationships in terms of what you have to offer—respect, commitment, hard work, creativity, and sacrifice—rather than what you need or want.
  12. Team work: Playing whatever role is needed to support the larger mission, including coordinating, cooperating, and collaborating with others in pursuit of a shared goal and supporting and celebrating the success of others.

As you review these critical skills, ask yourself: What are the highest priority behaviors for your organization, for your team, for different roles on your team, and for the specific individuals on your team? What’s more, try to pinpoint which behaviors are crucial to success—and which offer the greatest potential to increase competitive differentiation.