It is abundantly clear that If you want to be successful in your career, you need strength in soft skills, in addition to your strength in hard skills (professional qualifications, technical skills).
A survey of over 500 executives found that EQ (emotional intelligence) was a better predictor of success than either relevant previous experience or IQ. Competency research in over 200 companies and organisations worldwide found that emotional intelligence was twice as important as technical and cognitive ability in distinguishing top performers from average ones. In senior leadership positions, it was four times as important.
Soft Skills versus Hard Skills
There is often debate about the relative importance of soft and hard skills and this can imply a competition between the two. However, they are both necessary and complementary to one another.
Laura Wilcox, Director of Management Programs at the Harvard Extension School, says “Emotional intelligence is no soft skill. We should see hard and soft skills as working in concert with one another. Emotional intelligence bolsters hard skills, helping us think more creatively about how best to leverage our technical expertise.”
You usually start with hard skills because these are great career preparation, comprising your professional and/or technical qualifications. You progress them further with training in systems, equipment operation, economic analysis, strategic planning, project management etc.
Your strength, or weakness, in soft skills tends to become apparent when you deal with customers, are in high-pressure situations and start managing teams. In each of these areas, your soft skills (interpersonal skills, EQ) are critical to not only your success but to the way others relate to you and view you as a professional. Your ability and willingness to listen, to build a strong team, to manage your emotions appropriately (ie. not say that your frustration or sharp remarks were justified!) are all critical soft skills.
These skills can be learned and must be cultivated. All of us are predisposed to be stronger in some soft skills than others. To fly in your career and work well with your team and your customers you need to continue to focus on improving all your soft skills.
Assessing your Soft Skills
The first step is to follow the advice of Socrates, to ‘know thyself.’
You must be willing to take inventory, very honestly, of your emotional skills and tendencies. How often are you truly listening, as opposed to waiting for an opportunity to have your say? What situations or which people cause you to withdraw or become defensive or judgmental? Conversely, what are you doing right when you inspire and bring out the best in others?
Stress, fear and frustration all decrease your ability to read the room and read others well. Your emotions are often very apparent to others in your facial expressions, the tension in your shoulders, the tone of your voice. When you are aware of, and manage your emotions appropriately you are able to engage more deeply with others and with the ‘big picture’. You step beyond your more limited individual perspective and your empathy increases.
In accepting and managing your own emotions, you also become better at identifying and managing appropriately the emotions of others, so that you are much better able to achieve outcomes together, even in high pressure or difficult situations.
Hard Numbers Back up the Value of Soft Skills
Hard numbers back up the value of soft skills. Extensive research, including by Daniel Goleman, has shown: “When IQ and technical skills are similar, EQ accounts for 90% of what makes people move up the success ladder. In fact, a survey of over 500 executives found that emotional intelligence was a better predictor of success than either relevant previous experience or IQ”.
Competency research in over 200 companies and organisations worldwide found that EQ was twice as important as technical and cognitive ability in distinguishing top performers from average ones. In senior leadership positions, it was four times as important.
Successful recruitment is essential in the armed services. After the Air Force began using EQ tests to hire their recruiters, they found their ability to predict who would make a successful recruiter increased three-fold.
The importance of developing high levels of both soft skills and hard skills was summed up well by former General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt. He also rejects the false dichotomy between hard and soft skills. Great leaders, he says “need to be able to do really hard things – change a strategic direction, sell a long-valued division, lay off an employee – with… a deft touch.”
So often the ‘what’ requires our hard skills and the ‘how’ requires our soft skills. Together they enable successful outcomes, business growth and a strong culture.
Fortunately soft skills, those skills associated with a high EQ, can be learned. However, the fact that they can be learned does not make them easy to learn! This is largely because you often need to unlearn some old habits relating to the way you react, communicate and collaborate before you can practise the new habits.
It is worth fast-tracking this process with practical training and workshops so that you move from ‘recognising’ that soft skills are important to gaining strength in your soft skills in reality. Our GREENLINE program is the perfect place to start. CLICK HERE if you would like to LEARN MORE.