Importance of soft skills for workplace success | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Importance of soft skills for workplace success

15 March, 2020

At the outset, let me differentiate the meanings of hard skills and soft skills: Hard skills are specific and knowledgeable abilities such as computer technology, marketing, project management and engineering.

These are teachable abilities that can be defined, measured and are easy to quantify. In contrast, soft abilities are subjective skills and personal attributes that enhance an individual’s interactions, job performance and career prospects.

Unlike hard skills, which are about a person’s skill set and ability to perform a certain type of task or activity, soft skills are interpersonal and more broadly applicable. Soft skills include common sense, people skills and positive attitude towards all aspects, professional and personal.

Soft skills is a major differentiator not only for employability in Sri Lanka but also for the success in personal life. A study has found that arguably, 80% of achievements are determined by soft skills and only 20% by hard skills. This means, soft skills will be the job decider at an interview in Sri Lanka in a very short time. Many Sri Lankan employers are already into this practice. Expert opinion is that soft skills training should begin at least at the high school stage to perform productively in a future workplace.

While soft skills are an essential part of employment success, the lack of it can limit employees’ potential and productivity and may lead to the downfall of a business. By developing soft skills such as communication abilities, leadership, teamwork among the staff, the employer can positively influence the results of their job roles. Soft skills have an extremely powerful impact on winning and retaining customers in a business.

Although there can be various types, may be hundreds, of identifiable useful soft skills to aid professional and personal lives, I will discuss, briefly, a few important and most relevant skills in this article as these common skills play an exceptionally vital role in the workplace.

Communication is one of the principal skills every person is compelled to possess in practising a career and success of professional and personal life. Paying close and proper attention to what the other person is trying to convey is good listening.

It is said that a person must be a good listener first to be a good communicator. Body language, eye contact and tone of voice are important ingredients in non-verbal communication when performing a duty. Confidence in your voice when delivering a message to a colleague, superior or subordinate is important. Your firm belief about the message gives this confident voice. While one must pick the correct medium to communicate, other criteria such as clarity, concision and friendliness in voice, respect for the other party and empathy are valuable elements in effective communication.

A person’s ability to maintain attention and achieve the desired outcome by presenting a point to a customer, a superior or a colleague or any other in the workplace is presentation. The presentation of a message can be short or long. Nevertheless, such presentations must be done through a proper understanding of the skill.

However, in this article, I focus on customer presentation which many of us have to practise in our careers at one time or the other. Adapting to the surroundings is important in a customer meeting as it makes you more comfortable. A suitable greeting starts a meeting with ease and puts you and the customer in a more understanding position. Imagining yourself as a winner is positive visualisation and thinking you will get along with the opposite party is a good characteristic of a presentation. A smile on your face, appropriate pauses, not presenting too many details in a single coverage and engaging the customer actively are some other decisive factors in presentation skills.

Influence/persuasion skill or ability to win over perspective or decision making while letting the other faction think that they made that decision on their own is another vital soft skill everyone must learn.

Persuasion is not manipulation but an art of getting people to do things that are in their own best interest while it also benefits you. Persistence is a key factor in persuasion and winning a situation. A good example of persistency is about how Abraham Lincoln who lost his mother, three sons, a sister and failed in business before he was elected the President of the United States. Reciprocity, sincerity, truth and building rapport are the other criteria in persuasion skills.

One’s ability and capacity to work effectively with colleagues and other stakeholders in a situation is teamwork skill. We hear this phrase every day at one place or another. ‘Without team work, success in the work place can often be a failure’.

Team members must demonstrate a sense of cohesion with openness, trust and self disclosure, support and respect.

In a successful team, members bear individual responsibility and accountability. They participate in problem solving irrespective of personal gain or loss. They also understand the role of each member and perform individually and collectively to achieve a goal or solve a problem.

Even though this seems somewhat selfish, it is of paramount importance that you subtly promote your skills and work results to people in power and influence to build your own reputation.

When a person starts a career at young age, he or she must have a career ambition which makes a person assertive and adjusts to critical situations he will encounter in the career and in life.

I come across colleagues who started their careers several decades back, like me, who are still working as sales representatives or agents even at retirement age.

However, many of my contemporary colleagues have gone up the ladder as a result of our self promotion skill displayed at the right place at the right time.

The billionaire American media executive, talk show host and philanthropist, Oprah Winfrey knows when to be loud and when not to be, because she knows herself and how to use self-promotion skills.

Negotiating, networking, time management, creative, interpersonal and leadership skills are some of the few other useful and functional soft skills in everyday life. These are personal characteristics that can easily form valuable relationships, create trust and influence people in your career and personal life.