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The Hard Truth About Soft Skills

June 14, 2017

Employees are often hired for what they know and fired for what they do.  They can have the hard skills or knowledge required to do a job, but if they require the development of soft skills such as self-motivation, dependability, a positive attitude, the ability to work well on a team, or other communication-based skills, employers will look elsewhere for talent.


Most leaders do not believe graduates have the soft skills businesses need.  If colleges are not preparing employees, what can be done to develop personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people?  That is the question leaders must address to combat the problem of poorly developed soft skills.


Leaders often view soft skills as a form of professionalism, which may be critical to success.  CareerBuilder found that most leaders stated they found soft skills are as important as hard skills because they indicated how well an employee could problem solve. Among the top 10 soft skills sought include:


  • Work ethic (73%);

  • Dependability (73%);

  • Positive attitude (72%);

  • Self-motivation (66%);

  • Team-orientation (60%)

  • Organization skills (57%)


It is important for leaders to have a clear understanding of the things that fall into the category of soft skills. Visualizing how a doctor uses them, may help to distinguish between hard and soft skills.   For a physician, soft skills might include empathy, understanding, active listening, and a pleasant bedside manner.  Whereas hard skills might include comprehension of illness, the ability to interpret tests results, and a thorough grasp of anatomy and physiology. 


The good news is that soft skills can be improved.  Some of the most critical skills leaders should consider for employee development include interpersonal relationships, collaboration, adaptability, problem-solving, critical observation, conflict resolution, and many other communication-based abilities.  Interpersonal skills and empathy are two key components of emotional intelligence. 


These are some of the critical soft skills that can be assessed through emotional intelligence assessments like the EQ-i.  A study of 500 organizations demonstrated that people who scored highest on EQ measurements rose to the top of organizations.  Another study of 1,171 U.S. Air Force recruiters found that the best recruiters were those who scored the highest on assertiveness, empathy, interpersonal relations, problem-solving, and optimism.


Emotions play an important part at work since they are also involved in workplace engagement, aka an emotional commitment to one's job. Only 13% of workers feel engaged at work.  Managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement based on the research that came from Gallup. 


Leaders must understand the importance of soft skills, emotional intelligence, engagement, and other communication-based issues. Poorly developed soft skills can be a costly problem for organizations.  Stress caused from working with a manager with ineffective interpersonal skills costs American companies $360 billion a year.

  • Research has shown that 60-80% of all difficulties in organizations stem from strained employee relationships.

  • Businesses with leaders who communicate effectively are 50% more likely to have less turnover.

  • The average manager spends around 25-40% of his or her day dealing with workplace conflict.This means a waste of that percentage of the salaries of all parties involved.

  • Around 85% of employee dismissals are due to a personality conflict.

  • Studies show that 75% of newly-hired executives have difficulty with soft skills.

One of the first things leaders can do, is to have employees take assessments to determine a baseline emotional intelligence measurement.  Assessments like the EQ-i can provide feedback and guidelines for how to develop in key areas. It is important for leaders to take the time to go over the results with employees. 


Leaders should get into the rhythm of providing frequent communication.  By demonstrating that they care about employee growth, leaders can help employees become more engaged at work.  Showing recognition for employees’ improvement is key.  It may be important to encourage difficult conversations.


When employees need help, they often either do not recognize the need for it or are embarrassed to ask for it.  The effective leader creates an open dialogue that invites two-way feedback.  Some key ways to improve soft skills include:

  • Mentorships - It may be important to offer mentorships and align employees with others who have strong skills that employees may need to development.

  • Training – Courses in communication, conflict management, and leadership can be an excellent addition to training programs.Community colleges often offer similar courses.

  • Volunteering – Encouraging employees to volunteer or making volunteering opportunities a recognizable goal, can help build empathy, team-building, and decision-making skills.

  • Self-Reflection – Encourage employees to work on self-reflection. Having regular feedback sessions where leaders promote two-way communication may be important.

  • Set Goals – Encourage employees to have soft skills-related goals with clear steps of measurable ways to achieve and practice them.

  • Individual and Group Practice – It may be important to have group-related activities where employees can practice team-building and communication-based skills.

If employees have been hired for their knowledge and fired for behaviors, leaders need to focus on hiring practices and training requirements.  If employees’ soft skills are well-developed, employers can reap the benefits of improved performance, less turnover, and reduced conflict. 


If organizations can improve key skills, they can avoid ineffective employees and managers that cost them hundreds of billions a year. Soft skills training is an investment that no organization can afford to neglect.


In addition to being a nationally-syndicated radio host, award-winning speaker, author, and educator, Dr. Hamilton is a thought leader in the fields of leadership, sales, marketing, management, engagement, personality, and motivation. To help improve relationships in the workplace—and performance as a result—Dr. Hamilton draws on her decades of work experience in software, computers, corporate training, pharmaceuticals, real estate, mortgage lending, social media, education, and publishing.


Incorporating her nearly four decades of real-world experience, Dr. Hamilton provides strategies that are ready to implement and create results. With a Ph.D. in Business, she has taught over 1,000 business-related courses and is a qualified Myers-Briggs and a certified Emotional Intelligence instructor.


Reach her at, or at




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