Soft Skills Help People Succeed


Despite what many may think, being a hard-driven, number-crunching, all-business producer isn’t all that’s needed to get ahead in business. Your success also depends on an area often called the “soft” skills. And, don’t feel that, if you feel weaker in this area, that you can’t learn it – In fact, you can!

“There’s an assumption that relationship-cultivating skills can’t be learned,” says Tahl Raz, co-author of “Never Eat Alone.” “That’s particularly pronounced in (business)
where the relationship emphasis hasn’t been traditionally recognized.”

These relationship building skills are essential in many diverse ways, including your work:

  • As a supervisor with your subordinates
  • As a subordinate with your supervisor
  • As a team member in your functional groups
  • As a family member – a parent, a son or daughter, and as a spouse.

Good relationships are the “glue” in all aspects of our lives.

So what’s one of the best ways to nurture and develop the soft skills when that’s not always your strongest point? In fact, there are two suggestions we offer.

1. Become a PROTÉGÉ and work with a mentor who is well known for treating people well and maintaining good relationships.

The reasons are to give you specific observation opportunities, and to gain specific teaching and feed back in your learning areas. Here is what I suggest.

  • Enter into the relationship by clarifying immediately that the mentor’s soft skills strengths are one of the reasons you asked for them to be your mentor.
  • State that one of your goals is to learn relationship skills from their mentoring.
  • Of course, there can also be more work-related learning goals as well.

2. Become a MENTOR to someone who is either less experienced than you or more “junior” to you in the company.

Here as well, try to select someone who is well known for their good relationships. This relationship also will give you observation opportunities and teaching and feed back in your learning areas, PLUS practice opportunities to increase your soft skills and comfort in using them. Here’s how to proceed.

  • Seek a mentor training in which the desired relationship skills are discussed and specific strategies for good communications, good listening, and good relationship are taught, not just in the handouts.
  • During that mentor training, actively work, volunteer, and enter into the activities which target these skills. Ask others with whom you “work” in the training to provide you with feed back and suggestions to build your skills.
  • Enter into the relationship by clarifying immediately that the protege’s soft skills strengths are one of the reasons you wanted to be their mentor.
  • State that one of your goals is to practice and improve your relationship skills during the mentoring.
  • Tell your protégé that you want them to provide you with feed back and suggestions to build your skills, whenever you ask for it, and even when you don’t seek it.
  • Work prior to each mentoring meeting with your protégé to review mentor training materials and your notes, setting a specific goal and developing a plan for practicing one relationship building skill.
  • At the conclusion of the meeting, ask the protégé for what they felt was the area in which you were especially trying to improve. You may be surprised at the responses you get.

Some additional strategies come to us from a recent article, “Six Soft Skills That Will Help You Get Ahead in Finance”, by Kelly Eggers, in the October 1, 2010 – FINS, an
online division of the Wall Street Journal. Here are the six skills that career experts say are often-underrated, but are key for business career success.

1. Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

No matter what your position in your organization, you’re going to have some level of interaction with people — the question is, “How much interaction?” because that will vary depending on your position. “If you’re a solo business developer, you may not need extensive relationship skills,” said Roy Cohen, Wall Street career coach and author of the book “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide,” “but if you work with a project management group, you will really need to know how to manage relationships.”

Also worth considering is that, beyond your job description, the values that your organization and it’s culture will be another factors that influence the extent to which you need to be relationally skilled. “It’s not unintentional for a company like Goldman Sachs to put so much weight on relationships,” said Raz.

Many major firms use their extensive networks of Ivy-league grads and successful financiers to help edge out their competition. “They leverage [the relationships] of their employees, and cultivate their own relationships to sustain their success.”

The ability to expand your network could put you a cut above the rest.

2. Watch Your Mouth

Most businesses are hierarchical, so when you’re in a junior position, and looking to move up, be careful of what you say to those above you and of how you say it.

“Junior staff might think they’re being straightforward,” said Cohen, “but they also typically do not have access to all levels of information.” Your personal assessment may seem objective to you, but it can seem misinformed and poorly researched to someone else with more information.

Be sure that when you’re asked for a reaction or ideas that you give it honestly. You can point out that you know your information may be limited, so your conclusion is tentative. Then give a direct, descriptive, and non judgmental answer. Don’t back down and appear apathetic in an career known for powerful, strong people. “People like to know you’re genuine, and don’t have a hidden, selfish agenda,” said Dale Kurow, a New York based executive coach.

The takeaway? If you are a rookie, choose your battles wisely, and be sure to mind your manners.

3. Learn How to Prioritize

Every day, you will find yourself with more important work to do than time to do it. Without careful consideration, you may be tempted to do first what YOU want. Instead, learn how to prioritize. “Determine what’s important to your boss and to politically important people,” said Kurow, “and do those things first.”. Make sure your boss — who is responsible for your promotions, bonuses, and references — is getting what they need from you, especially if they are depending on you for help dealing
with a request coming from someone to whom they report.

In a 2009 IBM study, researchers found that employees with a strong connection to their managers were paid nearly $600 more a month — so if you’re looking for a hard, fiscal incentive, that should get your attention.

Of course, some days you will have an impossible task list and everything can seem to be critical. If your boss hasn’t clarified his or her priorities, how do you choose what comes first and what comes next? Cohen says, “First, you need to remove the distractions or you’ll continually have to waste time re-prioritizing.” Can you delegate any of these distractions?

Next, focus on those items with the greatest importance for the organization;s strategic initiatives and goals.

4. Keep Your Confidence in Check and Do Whatever It Takes

“A little goes a long way” is a great slogan to follow. Self-confidence is critical in business, yet that very important quality can easily be taken to excess and become a bloated ego and conceit. Self confidence”…is necessary at every level,” said Cohen, “but if it’s arrogance, or self-confidence without any ability to back it up, that’s when it becomes damaging.”

• Become known as the one who says, “No task is too small or unimportant.”

• “Don’t be negative and a complainer,” said Kurow. “Get on board with the objective.”

• Opt to be collaborative, meaning, co-labor with others to attaining the goals.

• Don’t become known as the one who takes the credit for everything.

However, be aware that the need to collaborate with others changes as you move up in the hierarchy.” As a team member … cooperation should always be conveyed,” Cohen said, “but as a leader … you need to shift to motivating (your) team to work together without friction.

5. See the Forest and the Trees

It is vital in business to keep an appropriate balance between daily details and finances and the bigger picture. The details that seem so important right now can change in an instant, so take them seriously right now but try not to “sweat the small stuff”.

Research has proven that if you can manage your emotions and the stress, pressure, and sudden change that are so common in business, you are more likely to get raises and promotions. How can you manage to do that? Keep your focus on the essentials. “Focus on your boss’ agenda,” said Cohen, “but as you advance, express your own strategic agenda that shows how you want to help the company.” and not just help yourself.

6. Be Good to Your Subordinates

No matter how much you advance in your career, never forget that you are a part of a team, and that you have been supported and helped by others. Here again, part of the success formula is giving credit where it is due. Doing that both avoids bad “press” from those junior to you, and it encourages those with whom you’ll have to relate in a future position to accept you on their team.

“A client of mine got a bad review from two people who worked under him, and it ended up affecting his bonus and promotion opportunities,” said Cohen. Good businesses, particularly those that hire from within, will not only look at your relationships with your peers, but they will also ask your subordinates how well you fit in with the team.

The key to it all are those “soft” skills, and mentoring is where you practice and build this critical set of skills.  Go for it!.