The Lost Art of Soft Skills

It’s common knowledge that “hard skills” are in demand in today’s workforce – skills like UX Design or Python for machine learning. These hard skills help young professionals land their first job. Unfortunately, it’s not what keeps them at their job. The saying goes… people get hired based on their hard skills, but fired based on their soft skills (lack thereof).

Google’s Project Oxygen shocked everyone when it concluded after extensive analytics that out of the eight top characteristics of their best performing employees, STEM knowledge was last, and the top seven were all soft-skills like interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, being a good listener, and being a good critical thinker. 

Soft skills refer to the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately, resolve conflicts and recognize and respond to coworkers’ emotions. In fact, these so-called ‘people skills’ are a better long-term determinant of success in the workplace than hard skills.

Houston, We Have a Soft Skill Problem

Today, high school students are focused on acing advanced calculus or AP physics, not on how to hold a fork at a business lunch.

Outside of school, fewer and fewer young people hold summer jobs. A summer job is where young people learn to navigate a bad boss or become adept at solving a thorny interpersonal problem. I remember as a teenager, my boss in the construction business routinely “forgot” to pay me, so I had to learn how to ask for my paycheck, and then of course keep track of my hours to make sure the amount was right. 

All of these practical “street smarts” have fallen by the wayside. Instead, parents are laser-focused on tutoring and extra-curricular activities… anything that will get little Samantha into the right college.

Not only are “soft skills” overlooked in the hiring process, most companies do not have a way to remediate new employees in this critical area. Unlike hard skills, soft skills cannot be taught easily at work, because soft skills take a lifetime of acculturation and experience.

So, you are an employer... how do you get these young hires up to speed on the soft skills they need?

A Way Forward or Employers 

 I’ll be blunt. If you want to keep your new hires and improve their soft skills, you need to invest in training.  

The benefits of soft skills training are many, and they start with stronger awareness of emotional intelligence, also known as EQ. (You can read more about EQ here.) There are four components to developing a high EQ:

1.     Self-Awareness--  This is the ability to recognize your own emotions. It requires the ability to pause and reflect on how you’re feeling, and understanding how those feelings may affect what you do and say.

2.     Self-Management – This focuses on taking responsibility for your own actions and managing your emotions in the workplace (and elsewhere). Effective self-management is realizing when you’re angry and choosing to take a walk to cool down instead of throwing a stapler at your boss’s head or sending an ill-advised email.

3.     Social Awareness – Just as important as recognizing your own emotions is the ability to recognize others’ emotions and respond in an appropriate manner. It’s knowing how and when to show empathy and choosing the right way to communicate with someone whose emotions may not be lined up with your own.

4.     Relationship Management – Learning how to navigate interpersonal connections at work is critical to developing successful business partnerships, increasing productivity and ensuring effective and efficient communication.

One of the biggest overall benefits to increasing soft skills is developing a much better Generational IQ in the workplace. Generational IQ is understanding how to effectively navigate communication, relationships and teamwork across the multiple generations in today’s workplace. Boomers and Second-Wave Millennials often see each other as alien and out-of-touch, which leads to conflict. (And Millennials don’t like conflict.)

Any Ideas?

Yes. Do your research and find a good partner who specializes in this area. We’ve developed customizable, in-person training for both new Millennial team members and the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who manage them. This helps bridge the generational divide and the communication gap that leads to so many challenges. Training in soft skills can, in turn, lead to higher productivity, happiness at work, better engagement and much less costly turnover.

Learn more about Slay the Job, Manager 2.0 and interGen, and contact Second-Wave Learning to set up yourself and your team members for success.




Warren Wright