I’ve often blogged about the importance of words because our words have a powerful impact. It’s the reason I chose the word “human” instead of “soft,” in the heading of this post. To me, the idea that essential communication skills are “soft,” suggesting they are less important than “hard” or technical skills, is just plain wrong.
Not long ago I worked with a group of IT professionals who develop and deliver business solutions for complex projects. Their technical expertise was impressive. But they had one big problem — many of them couldn’t explain the solutions to the stakeholders who invested a great deal of money into those projects.
There was one fellow in particular who was frustrated because most people didn’t seem to understand his presentations. Yet, his colleagues, his fellow IT experts, he would tell me, didn’t have a problem understanding him. So what was wrong with the stakeholders? And why did his manager give him such a hard time when he’d complain about the stakeholders “not getting it”?
It took some time. But I eventually got him to understand that to communicate effectively in business requires more than just technical skills. You need the human skills, as well. If the stakeholders or the clients can’t understand you, it isn’t their problem; it’s yours! You have to change the way you communicate if you want to be understood, especially if you want to secure future advancement opportunities. (After all, frustrating your boss is not a good career move!)
Coincidentally, I had a conversation recently with a director of an association in the technology industry. He told me that his members view the “so-called” soft skills as being of less value than technical skills. He suggested that in order to get members to consider signing up for a business communications course, he would have to use a word other than “soft” to describe it. It was fine with me, because there’s nothing “soft” about having strong communication skills!
Of course, in business there’s always the bottom line to consider. Over the years, technical skills have given employees a financial advantage. But, as Scott Stirrett, from Venture for Canada noted in a Globe and Mail article, a 2017 report by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship suggested that “nearly 42 per cent of technical jobs are at risk” due to the growth of artificial intelligence and automation. As well, in 2016 the World Economic Forum published an article noting that, in five years, over one-third of skills considered important in the workforce would have shifted. Well, it’s already two years into that five-year projection, and the need for critical thinking and emotional intelligence aren’t going the way of many technical jobs.
That’s why it’s essential for businesses to make sure employees have the human skills training they need to be successful. As a blog post at Everwise succinctly puts it: “…technical skills will get you in the door today, but soft skills will open future doors.”
So what are the most critical human skills needed for career advancement? I’ve worked with organizations in a number of sectors. Regardless of the sector, the same three key skills come up again and again, as being essential:
- Good written and oral communication skills
- Emotional intelligence
- Problem-solving skills
Just as technical skills can be taught, so can human skills. People, who don’t have strong human skills, and/or work in fields where AI is threatening the importance of technical skills, need not be left behind. But employees (and some employers too) do need guidance and coaching, in order to develop those human skills. And that’s exactly what we do at The Language Lab.
Get in touch with The Language Lab to find out about our human skills courses and coaching.