myths about soft skills in the workplace_Verb

According to the latest Gartner research, leader and manager effectiveness is the most important HR focus for this year. This means that leadership development training must be a central aspect of L&D programs right now – and for the foreseeable future. This also means that developing soft skills among employees is going to continue to be more and more important.

As an HR leader or talent development expert you’re aware of the bad reputation that soft skills get. The term itself comes under fire and many even choose other ways to talk about “soft skills”. But regardless of what they’re called, the current corporate environment is requiring soft skills from new hires and existing employees at a higher rate than ever before. One survey of hiring managers revealed that the overwhelming majority (92%)  prioritized soft skills over hard skills in recruitment.

If soft skills are really so important, why then are they so often misunderstood? We’ll explain what soft skills are and why they matter in the workplace. Then we’ll discuss a few of the common myths that still persist and share some data that undoubtedly proves their value.

What are Soft Skills exactly?

There are many terms for “soft skills” these days. People skills, power skills, human leadership, interpersonal skills, transferable skills – ultimately they all refer to the same thing: the ability to interact with other people in a professional and productive manner. Soft skills are commonly contrasted with hard skills which are technical and measurable abilities such as project management, programming and statistical analysis. Soft skills refer to personality traits and the ability to demonstrate humane qualities in leading and directing others.

Soft skills can include:

  • effective communication 
  • problem-solving
  • growth mindset
  • openness to feedback
  • teamwork
  • adaptability  
  • empathy
  • emotional intelligence
  • creativity

These are all vital qualities for success in today’s corporate environment. Research has shown that by having a well-rounded set of soft skills, leaders and managers can significantly increase productivity and also weather difficult and challenging periods in business with greater success.

RELATED: What are Soft Skills & why should we call them ‘Human Skills’

Why Soft Skills Matter in the Workplace

Some senior executives may still need convincing around the value of leadership development and soft skills training. Fortunately, HR leaders today are well aware. In fact, 89% of talent leaders say that bad hires typically lack the right soft skills to be effective in their roles. Soft skills behaviours are proven to increase productivity, boost employee satisfaction and build strong corporate cultures that attract top talent. Ignoring the need to upskill leadership in soft skills is a costly risk to companies today.

Take workplace conflict for example. Historical studies have calculated the cost of workplace conflict to be at least 2.8 hours or working hours each week, a total of $359 billion dollars annually in the US. And while valuable work time is used on resolving miscommunications and other conflicts, there are other costly impacts that can follow. Low morale, interrupted decision making, stress-related medical issues and even legal action can emerge, all at the expense of productivity for the company.

How Soft Skills Help an Organization be more Productive and Efficient

A Gartner study in 2022 demonstrated that Human Leaders – those who actively demonstrate high levels of authenticity, empathy and adaptability – boost employee engagement and productivity. For example, teams led by human leaders show an impressive 37% increase in percentage points for high employee engagement, when compared with average leaders. This translated to a 27% lift in their teams performance. The soft skills needed for human leadership also benefit company productivity and efficiency through:

  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Fewer workplace conflicts 
  • Higher intent to stay (retention)
  • Improved teamwork and collaboration 

As uncertainty and economic instability continue in the current year, soft skills are necessary to help everyone to cope. Executives and leaders need them to manage stress and maintain stability. Managers and team leads need to use them when delivering difficult news. Employees need them to communicate with empathy, clarity and respect. Soft skills are crucial for businesses to run successfully today. Let’s explore some of the common misconceptions about soft skills and why they are actually false.

Myth #1: Soft Skills are for the Weak

On the contrary, soft skills are the hallmark of best-in-class leaders and managers today. Top research shows that the current corporate environment is asking more of leaders than ever before. Their jobs are becoming more complex and they are being asked to take on learning new skill sets to manage the rapid changes in the workplace. This is not a task for the weak. Like any worthwhile skill set, patience, discipline and practice are required to develop a high level of competence. It takes an immense amount of strength and commitment in order to build one’s emotional intelligence. It also requires a willingness to be vulnerable. 

The fact is that effective leaders need both hard and soft skills. They need more than just the technical competencies required for their job function. They also need effective communication skills and the ability to be empathetic to effectively lead teams in today’s business environment. For those who were never schooled or trained in soft skills (as many leaders are not), this means extra dedication is required to onboard and develop these new abilities.  

Leaders and managers must demonstrate a high level of maturity and confidence to develop and master soft skills. Ego, pride, insecurity and self-centeredness are traits that get in the way of developing these skills. Leadership development programs are necessary to counteract these traits and help with building the skills managers need today.

Myth #2: Soft Skills are Irrelevant at Work

This is another erroneous notion likely connected with the lack of prior training in soft skills discussed above. Soft skills have not historically been taught in traditional business education. Hard skills were typically thought of as the only relevant skills that mattered in the context of work. Today soft skills in the workplace are now more often perceived as being just as or more important than hard skills.

Good communication and interpersonal skills enable leaders to get their message across more effectively, build trust and collaboration amongst team members, make better decisions, solve problems, and ultimately motivate everyone towards a common goal. These soft skills provide a strong foundation on which hard skills can thrive – without them it would be difficult to reach high productivity levels.

As Gartner found in their 2022 study, many leaders balk at the concept of being empathetic, listening deeply and other acts of emotional intelligence for two key reasons:

1. They believe that it’s not part of their job description, and

2. They feel ill-equipped and untrained in these skills

This emphasizes the clear need for leadership development training opportunities. Bridging the skills gaps for leaders at work will support their capacity for better quality human leadership.

Myth #3: Soft Skills Waste Time

This is false. Investing time into honing soft skills can actually help employees become more productive while at the same time reducing stress levels. Many incorrectly believe that employing soft skills behaviours is time-consuming and laborious. However, studies show that soft skills can actually improve productivity. The best leadership development platforms offer training in a fun and engaging way so learners can learn fast and apply their new skills right away. 

While some may come more naturally than others, soft skills can be cultivated through training and practice, just like any other skill. Learning new soft skills is an important part of professional development – no matter where one is at in their career journey. Estimates indicate that soft skills have a life-span of up to five years compared with just two years for hard skills. That alone demonstrates the ROI. Companies that want a competitive advantage in innovation or in high-touch customer service need to rely on leadership development and soft skills training to achieve this.

Having technical knowledge without the corresponding soft skills is useless; without them, it’s difficult to make effective decisions, work with colleagues to find creative solutions, or efficiently manage projects. Investing time into developing both hard and soft skills enables individuals to excel in the business world.

How To Help Employees With Soft Skills Development

Soft skills are an often underrated advantage in business. Many myths still persist about the value of soft skills but this is changing rapidly. Clearly they are essential in the corporate world today, and are only projected to grow in importance. The more leaders and employees can build and develop their competence with soft skill behaviours, the more value they bring to their organization. 

Companies that do not provide opportunities for leaders and managers to learn soft skills, risk higher turnover and lower employee satisfaction compared with those that do. Verb is the digital leadership development platform that HR leaders turn to when standing up a leadership development program. It is specifically designed to support leaders, emerging managers and employees to build the soft skills competencies needed for the current corporate environment.  Over 100 hours of science-backed content by today’s top thought leaders, custom-curated and frequently updated to be always relevant.

Learn more about how Verb can help your team develop soft skills by scheduling a demo today.

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