TTG - Developing soft skills
There is simply no mistaking the momentum that the development of soft skills is having in the business environment. In case this phrase is new to you let me quickly explain. Hard skills are the functional and technical aspects of your job regardless of the discipline you work within. e.g. can a marketer write a marketing plan, an accountant prepare a P&L account, can an HR Director develop a company wide appraisal programme etc.
Soft skills go much deeper and have at their core the ability to effectively communicate. There is much more developing soft skills can offer and communication opens the door to the others. One soft skill we can all develop is the ability to be great listeners. The challenge here is we have had built into our daily lives from day one a series of habits and patterns that our subconscious automatically kicks in when we hear something. If we do not like what we hear we invariably switch off because our brain either deletes, distorts or simply generalises what we hear. The result is we miss, construe most of the message or in our rush to formulate a reply we stop listening. In short we become judgemental. Stand back and truly listen to what is being said. Don’t jump to the first conclusion. Let me illustrate. Pick up a pen and sign your name on a piece of paper. Done that, great. Now change hands and do the same thing with your other hand. Given the first instruction to sign your name did you stop and think about which hand to sign your name with? It was automatic. When we respond automatically to situations we miss so much. As I said stop and think before hitting the response button.
Thinking tends to follow well trodden paths. Faced with a proposition say to walk through a 5 metre path of glowing charcoal you mind responds with all the reasons why you cannot do it. Your thinking is full of limiting beliefs and most start with “I can’t do that”. “That will not work”. Now turn your thinking around. Imagine you have actually achieved this task and you are looking back on your success. You will create a list of all the steps you would have needed to fulfil to complete the task. This gets your mind thinking differently and it works. If you ask some members of your team to write down all the things that destroy your business you will probably end up with an impressive list. Why is negative impressive? Because this list far exceeds the positive list you might have been asked to compile and now the task is to look at the positives of those negatives.
All of us have unique communication models and in any team each member will be different. As a leader/manager if you use the same message to all of them you are likely to miss the target. Are your team visual, auditory or kinaesthetic people? Someone is asked a question and automatically they will think in terms of pictures, sounds or emotions. Your eyes sometimes called the windows of the world provide clues here. Our eyes move constantly when we are asked questions or just thinking. We all have a dominant movement pattern called sensory acuity. Generally people whose eyes look up more often are visual, to the side more often are auditory and down more often are kinaesthetic. So to a visual person you might say “I see what you are getting at”, to an auditory person, “That rings a bell” to a kinaesthetic person “I have a good feeling about this”. So if you think you are a visual person who has read this far “are you getting the picture”?
Before you launch yourself on understanding other people get a good grounding on understanding yourself. So how do you do this? There are lots of ways. You can observe the way you live your life now. e.g. do details bore you to death whilst the larger creative picture is naturally more appealing? When you are asked to observe what appears to be two similar shapes do you comment on the differences you see or do you just see sameness? If you were asked to outline a programme for a teambuilding session do you think you may present a fixed agenda or one that has a series of options? Just those three examples alone provide a clue as to how we live our lives and the impact that can have in our business dealings.
During workshops when I ask a participant a question sometimes the answer I get is “I don’t know”. Not an uncommon answer and it is given in the hope that you the facilitator will ask someone else. Not me – my response is “I know you don’t know but if you did what would do you think you would say”. As if like magic answer an is forthcoming. What we are doing here is it to get the brain to think differently which is how we will start to produce solutions to what seem unsolvable problems.
Soft skills are very helpful in dealing with difficult people and some of us have that challenge at this very moment now. As difficult as it may sound whenever you are faced with that difficult person always keep your emotions under control. Introduce emotion into the equation and all rational approaches are abandoned. Difficult people you work with need your help. Invariably these people are not that clear with there instructions and whilst they think they have issued clear instructions they have in reality been unclear in what they want. They also believe that no one can do a job as well as them and sometime shave difficulty delegating. Adopt this line of reasoning in your own mind “How can I persuade this person to see/accept this point of view.” Whenever you meet with this type of person be absolutely clear as to what they want. e.g. they say “I want to see an outstanding report on this project” hat is vague and general. Ask questions, like this when the instructions are unclear like “Can you be more specific on what you mean by outstanding”, or, “Can you clarify what outstanding means”. It also helps as I mentioned above to communicate on their level. If they are a detail person they present your project findings in detail.
Soft skills are rapidly catching up and overtaking hard skills as the primary force in business. A major USA University researching what emphasis buyers of products and services placed on hard skills or soft skills when making a decision, 86% commented that soft skills were crucial as it identified those sales people who genuinely made an effort to understand their problem and had a desire to solve the buyer’s problems with creative solutions within a meaningful business relationship. - think about it?
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