Who Are You Calling “Soft?”
As an HR practitioner, you are a specialist in the area of people. It’s your job to understand how to interact effectively with managers, employees, board members, customers, vendors, and all the other stakeholders who play a role in the success of your organization. That means that competencies in the so-called soft skills are a big part of the capabilities you bring to your work every day.
But soft skills aren’t just for HR. Every manager or supervisor who makes his/her living overseeing and coordinating the efforts of others needs to understand and effectively wield soft skills on the job.
What Makes a Skill Soft or Hard?
What are soft skills? They are the capabilities that you use to interact constructively with those around – at work and in your private life. Communication skills, the ability to network with others, leadership, teamwork, emotional maturity, patience, and many other abilities fall under the heading of soft skills.
In contrast, hard skills are those that are much easier to quantify: they are the technical knowledge and abilities you need to do your job. Understanding of math or statistics, proficiency at using plumbing tools, computer programming capabilities, knowledge of HR-related laws and procedures, the ability to perform surgery – these are examples of hard skills.
It’s easy to see the role that hard skills play in accomplishing the work we do, but soft skills are just as important. Much research into both types of skills has been done, and a recent inquiry into the competencies that IT professionals need underscores the value of soft skills. From that source and other research, here are a few of the most effective soft skills that can help empower HR professionals and organizational managers.
1. Unless you sit in a room by yourself all day, the ability to communicate with those around you is an important facet of your work. Even if you do work alone and remotely, chances are you have to interact with someone, whether by phone or computer, so you still need good capabilities in this area. Cultivate the ability to talk with anyone at any organizational level and you’ll be well on your way to greater career success. If your company can’t help you with training in communication, you’ll find resources for improving your skills here.
2. The ability to influence others is a very valuable capability in any job. If you are an HR professional, can you even count the times that you’ve been called on to shape the behavior of others? Maybe it was as simple as conducting an effective orientation program … or as complex as helping to handle an employee in crisis. If you are a supervisor or manager, you spend your days exerting influence over others – assigning work, fine-tuning your team’s performance, or seeking new resources for your department. Dale Carnegie wrote the definitive book on the topic, and you’ll find tips from How to Win Friends and Influence People here.
3. As our workplaces become more complex and the work we do relies on the efforts of others along with our own, team-building skills take on more visible roles for HR practitioners and company managers. In a sense, an organization’s workforce is one big (or small) team. Within that group, teams of executives provide company leadership; teams of production workers build products; teams of marketers develop sales messages and processes; HR professionals make decisions about hiring and other activities; and the list goes on. And thanks to technology, many of the teams in today’s organizations work virtually – requiring even greater team-building skills from managers. You’ll find free resources on building effective teams here.
4. Selling skills are just for sales people you think? Not so! If you never sell a single product in your life, you still need selling skills. How did you get the job you have? You had to sell your employer on your ability to perform. How do you get funding to develop a new product? How do you explain to managers that HR can help them achieve business goals? How did you convince your spouse that you were “the one?” Fact is, most all of us sell something every day. Click here to learn about sales terminology, selling techniques, and more.
5. If you’ve experienced the melodrama that can occur in some workplaces (and who hasn’t at one time or another?), you know that emotional intelligence is a valuable on-the-job skill. One definition calls it the ability to know, understand, and manage not just your own emotions, but those of individuals and groups around you. Talk about a daunting task! But you know how empowering emotional intelligence is – just think of the last time you used mental discipline to psych yourself out of a bad mood. Or the times you have used a positive comment to help a colleague feel better or to motivate a team member to work harder. Follow this link to find out more about emotional intelligence and how you can pump yours up.