5 Hard Truths about Soft Skills

Whether you call it EQ, emotional intelligence, or soft skills. How you are perceived personality wise in the workplace will have a huge effect on where you get to. Someone once said to me, "Getting along is the real currency". I was a bit taken aback by this idea at the time, as one would hope that actual ability would be the most important factor, but I've seen this point proven on more than one occasion. If you think about it, I'm sure you have too.


Here are 5 reasons why just being intelligent or good at your job isn't enough.


Smart doesn't cut it.


MIT Economist Professor Rudiger Dornbusch once described an economist as:


"Someone who is good with figures but lacks the charisma to be an accountant."


We all know people in this realm and you may even be there yourself.


There must be nothing more frustrating for a very smart person than to watch people who are far less intelligent or skilled, move faster up the corporate ladder.  Sure politics may have come into play, (a topic for another day) but it may not be because the other person played politically or that the company is totally blind to the 'smart' person's talents, it may be that the other person has better soft skills. I would guess that in most cases this is the real culprit.


If you look at this from a management perspective it makes sense too. Productivity goes down when teams are affected by poor team-work… no matter what the skill level.


You won't be considered a 'Team Player'.


I think many people do enjoy working on their own. Less distractions, autonomy, no politics or discussion, just getting work that needs to be done, done.


But whether that is your preference or not, functioning well in a team environment is vital… and every environment is a team environment. Even if you work alone, you will need the skills to network, make sales, consult and work with others who you are helping, or who can help you.


Your hard skills become irrelevant.


I don't just mean less important (than soft-skills) I mean irrelevant. Think about it like this, I own Company X and have just acquired new software/location/business model. I also have 10,000 dollars available to train a dozen people for those new opportunities. Who am I going to train? That really eager new kid from down the hall, or Mr. Grumpy-pants who hates change and likes to work by himself?


As painful as this is, smart will lose out to easy to work with, keen, and energetic every time.


I know where you are coming from Mr. Grumpy-pants, you might think that other person isn't all that bright. You might think that he/she is a kiss-up. You might think that they are untalented. You might wonder why no-one sees through the nonsense and… you might even be right. But it doesn't matter because you lost out, and it likely has more to do with you than them. Maybe you could've been the best choice, had your communication skills been up to snuff.


You can't lead without soft skills.


Maybe you're the boss, there is no one who can tell you what to do. If they don't like it, they can leave.


And they will.


Apparently the number 1 reason people quit their jobs is because of their bosses.


A new survey by HR services firm Randstad found that more than eight of 10 of employees believe that their relationship with their direct supervisor has a big impact on how happy they are with their job.


It makes sense.


I am not saying be a pushover. I'm not saying to be everyone's best buddy. What I am saying is to put some real time into connecting, showing you value your team, and giving them control where possible.


Leadership is a tough bag to hold, and it requires more than this blog, but soft skills are a big part of what you bring to that table, and in today's world they are essential. It's not just your employees walking out the door, it's your money and reputation.


You can get burned... hard.


Here is where it really matters. It is a political world, not everyone plays by the rules, and unfortunately there may be some people who will want to gun for you, your job, your lifestyle. If they are politically more adept than you, you could be left in the dust.


One of your best defenses is to be respected and well liked. You don't have to play nasty games if you are well liked and considered to be a competent, kind, straight talker.


If on the other hand you are considered to be harsh and unapproachable, you will have a hard time being heard, even if things are being said which aren't quite true. People are creatures of bias... is the natural bias for you or against you?


Why not both?


Listen my smart friends, you don't have to be political, although I do recommend some knowledge in that area (look here if you are interested), you don't have to be a 'kiss-up', or everyone's very best friend either. But you do have to develop your soft-skills.


You can be smart and friendly.


You can be skilled and a team player.


You can be talented and easy/fun to work with.


You can be respected and liked, which is possibly the most effective combination anyone can have.


As a close friend of mine often says when presented with any two choices: "Why not both?"


Indeed, why not both?


-Mark Dawson



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