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“Soft Skills” Training – What is That Anyway?

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I occasionally get requests asking for “soft skills” training. My next question is usually, “What are you trying to fix, improve, or solve?” In order to come up with a solution, I need to have something, preferably a task or series of work tasks, that are deficient in some way. The answer should not be, “They just need to be better at their soft skills!”  This doesn’t help me.  

What does “soft skills” even mean? Every person I speak to has a different definition.  Let’s assume that soft skills are everything that is not technical or specific to selling or closing the deal. I guess that would leave everything else as a “soft skill,” including the following: 

Professional appearance, being a team player, being goal-oriented, being adaptable, having self-control, taking responsibility for errors, having patience, being able to handle surprises well, keeping your cool in tense situations, managing time wisely, having empathy, following rules, speaking in an intelligent manner, using positive language, not taking things personally, and being open to learning. I’m sure there are some things I missed. 

Keep in mind, it is important that whatever the person’s deficiency in soft skills may be, there must be an observer to take notes as to what the person is doing incorrectly or not well enough in order to train them. It is very important to be specific in the training that will be offered to ensure that it targets the specific issue. In the next few articles, I will focus on the listed soft skill deficiencies and how to resolve them through training and practice.  

This article will focus on using positive language. 

Let’s assume we have a team member who has had several customers comment negatively about the way they handled a situation or spoke to them during a service call. After observing the employee, you may notice that this person tends to use negative language and focuses on how bad things are, rather than the good opportunities that are available to the customer. For example, let’s say a technician determined that an HVAC system that is over 15 years old should need replacement or a major overhaul. Rather than saying, “I have some bad news, it’s shot,” the technician must realize that they were called there to resolve an issue, not cause a panic. Whatever the outcome is, it must be relayed as good news, because a solution is available. The information needs to be communicated in a positive way.  For example, the technician should say, “Great news! We found the cause of failure and now have several options for you to choose from to resolve it.”  

During one of my workshops, I speak about positive communication and use an example of what a doctor may say regarding a surgery that you need. The doctor could tell you something like, “The surgery is very complicated, will save your life, and has a ninety percent success rate.”  Let’s say the doctor speaks negatively, and instead focuses on the worst-case scenario by saying, “The surgery is very complicated and will save your life, however, keep in mind one out of ten people die during or shortly after the procedure.” It is still a ninety percent success rate but sounds so much worse!  

When working with an employee about negative and positive language, develop a scenario and ask how they would explain something to the customer. Note whether it sounds negative or positive. If it focuses on the negative, ask the employee if there is another way to say it that will let the customer know things are going well, and that the issue can be fixed.  Fear tactics are never recommended. No one ever wants bad news, so don’t be the one giving it to them. No matter what, there should always be good news, or at least a solution to a problem. That’s why you are being paid, to make their day better, not worse.   

Occasionally follow up by spending time with this person and see if speaking positively has continued or they have gone back to old habits. Technically skilled people learn much easier by doing rather than watching someone talk in a classroom setting or on video. Remember, good coaches make people practice over and over again. It is the best way to learn and improve. 

I will elaborate more on the other “soft skills” and how to change negative habits and correct deficiencies in employees tasks over the next few articles.  

Frank Besednjak

Posted In: ACCA Now, Training

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