Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss perseverance or persistence, and why it plays a critical role in group dynamics.

Introduction

Graham ‘0:21’: Welcome to Episode 10 of Serious Soft Skills. I’m Bob Graham and with me as always, at least so far, is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. We each teach college; we collaborate on researching soft skills, and we both have used and seen others employ soft skills over the course of our long and illustrious careers, not that long and not that illustrious. We think our experience and expertise give us a unique lens for looking at soft skills. We’re going to show you that when we talk in the next few moments about perseverance.

What Is Empathy?

Porterfield ‘0:57’: Bob, you already let the cat out of the bag about what we are covering, but I am pretty excited. In these podcasts, we laid out the over 50 soft skills that we have identified through our research and we framed them into four groups — Individual soft skills, a big list with 28; ones where we interact with people, Nexus soft skills, where there are seven; then we looked at Group soft skills, where we work with a team or group; and Enterprise soft skills are the leadership ones.

Porterfield ‘1:32’: Now it’s time to dig in deeper. Today we want to get into one of those Individual soft skills, one of the 28. In our list, we call it persistence. The individual should bring persistence when going after an objective, to not let obstacles get in their way. Persistence is to vastly pursue when undertaking a task even when hindered by an obstacle or distracted by an obstacle.

Perseverance is different from being stubborn.

Porterfield ‘2:07’: We’ve worked with people who have are stubborn. Then we looked at other people who we admire because they persevere. It’s not usually the person who is stubborn that we admire. It’s perseverance. There’s a difference there that we want to make sure we unwrap today. We really need to understand what perseverance means for an individual and how an organization perseveres.

Graham ‘2:33’: Can I tell you a story, Toby? I have a great story about someone who persevered. And when I get to the end I think you are going to know who this person is. I think everyone will know this person.

The Story of a Writer Who Finally Succeeded

Graham ‘2:48’: For purposes of this story, I am going to call him Steve. And Steve when he was a child liked to write. He wrote his first story before he could even shave. His mother loved his story and said it should be in a book. He didn’t think a lot of it. A couple of years later, he sends one of his stories to a magazine to get published. They rejected it. He put the rejection letter on his wall and he keeps writing. He keeps writing. And he gets more and more rejection letters, but he keeps writing. Ten years later, he’s still getting more rejection letters. Now, he is 26 years old. He a teacher with a wife and two children and gets a telegram — back before the Internet — and the telegram is from Doubleday Publishing Co., one of the big publishing companies. They tried to call him on the phone, but he and his wife didn’t have enough money for a phone at that point. But he kept on writing and teaching. The telegram isn’t a rejection letter, but Doubleday wanted to publish his first novel. It was horror story about Carrie White, a teenage girl with telekinetic powers. He got a $2,500 advance for the book and not long after that, the paperback rights for Carrie sold for $400,000. That was the start of the person we know as Stephen King, one of the most prolific writers of the 20th Century and into the 21st Century. 

Graham ‘4:37’: I’m a writer so that story of course resonates with me profoundly. But that’s one of those stories when you talk about perseverance, he really stuck to what he believed to be true. He kept writing and knew he would find a place to publish one day. Rather than send the same story again and again, he kept working on his craft, modifying his approach and improving it. Eventually, Doubleday Publishing says they want to publish his book. When you talk about the difference between stubborn and persistence or perseverance, Stephen King demonstrates that in his writing. He didn’t send that same story he sent when he was 10 years old to every publication in the world, thinking eventually someone would publish it. Instead, he kept working on his craft and continuing to refine it and improve it, and getting better. I am sure his first story, the one his mother loved, wasn’t Carrie. 

The Challenges of Perseverance

Porterfield ‘5:52’: You bring out some of the challenges of perseverance. In the Stephen King example, it’s not just doing the same thing over and over again. It’s improvement and a commitment and as you said, a faith that this is what I am supposed to be doing. This is the right direction and I need to keep at it.

Perseverance is a lot about keeping at it at a real, continuing to improve way.

Organizations Must Persevere

Porterfield ‘6:22’: It really crosses over from the individual to the organization. For an organization that has a vision for what they want to be, the goal, the goals of what they want to achieve, staying after that regardless of what’s going on and persevering to work toward that goal is vital. At the same time, we mentioned the word distractions.

There’s a difference in being aware of our surroundings and being distracted and thrown off track fro where we are going.

Porterfield ‘6:46’: We can’t blindly go after things. We need to listen to those rejection letters and see what we are doing wrong, what was good and what was bad. Then we need to make those changes and improvements so those obstacles don’t become barriers. They become learning points and we move forward on them.

Another Story About Perseverance

Graham ‘7:15’: I have another story about perseverance. I had a student last year who wanted to go to medical school. She was an undergraduate student. She realized that she had to write a great resume and a letter about why she wanted to go into med school. She came to me. I had taught her a year or two before. She didn’t know how to write it. She wanted to meet with me and talk through it and show me drafts for comments as she went along. She came with a first draft that was pretty rough. We talked through it, and she took copious notes about everything we discussed. Then, she goes back and a week later and wants to meet again. She brings me a next draft, which is much better. And we talk about more improvements. She continues to improve it. She came to my office over about three months six times. By the end, she had a great piece. She was willing to persevere. She wanted to go to medical school. I am happy to say she got into medical school. I was one of those people who wrote a letter of recommendation. I knew she was someone who could do the work. It was easy to say that because I had seen all the work she did to get into medical school. She had her eye on the prize. The prize was medical school. The hinderance for her was getting that letter they need to be good enough for them to accept me. She knew where she was going and she knew what she needed to do to get there. It was just a matter of traveling that road. I can assure you a senior in college has plenty of distractions. All of her courses and friends, everything go on around her — but she kept to her commitment to get the best letter she could so she could get where she wanted to go. That’s an example of those whole idea of perseverance that is a little easier for us to appreciate. It wasn’t her saying I am going to do something unrealistic. Medical school was realistic. It was just a matter of her achieving these things to reach that objective.

Can We Get Better at It?

Porterfield ‘9:45’: You just got us to our next point. If we drill into that a little bit, we have to figure out how to practice, how to learn to be better at perseverance. Your student example gets at an element of that. She had a clear goal in mind. She knew what the obstacles were that she needed to overcome to get there. When we talk about obstacles and getting to a goal, I think of Randy Pausch, a faculty at Carnegie Melon University. We lost him a few years ago to cancer. A case of perseverance, but at the same time, he wrote the book, The Last Lecture, and did several videos on it. He talked about perseverance. He said that those obstacles are not there to get in your way. They are there to see how badly you want it and to keep the other people out. That’s sometimes a good way to look at things. Your letter is a great example of that in that medical school was the goal, a big obstacle for her was that essay, and keeping the eye on the prize. I’m going to get into medical school, but how do I get past this obstacle. Who can help me? What faculty members? Who can read it?

Perseverance has to start with choosing the appropriate goal. Once we know what that goal is, we have to know what the real obstacles are.

Graham ’11:09′: Isn’t it also being realistic with ourselves as well. Knowing what those obstacles are can be hard to admit. Admitting you are not a great writer and coming to a teacher for help is not an easy thing. It’s not easy at all. For me, it’s hard to ask for help all the time. I can only imagine that is fairly common for people. But before you can ask for help, you have to acknowledge that you are not as good at something as you may need to be. 

How Perseverance Helps Entrepreneurs Succeed

Graham ’11:44′: You look at a lot of entrepreneurial efforts going on and you see that someone has a great idea, but they need to bring other people into that to build that team that can achieve the result. Because they cannot do it themselves. 

Most of us don’t have the expertise to be able to do something start to finish. When we bring in team members to help, we give ourselves a huge advantage.

Graham ’12:07′: When we say, “Toby, you’re really good at certain aspects of what we want to achieve. I need your help to achieve these things.” We see it today in this podcast. We didn’t script it out real well. You have some real strengths that most people would not know, but it works really well. I have to acknowledge that because we had a discussion a couple of hours ago about how I was going to do this one by myself. Your contributions today are far more valuable than it would have been if I had done it by myself. 

It’s the acknowledgement that two heads is better than one, three is better than one, and building a team that allows you to persevere is important.

Graham ’12:45′: The other thing a team does is when someone is down, the other people pick them up. We think of perseverance as a uniquely individual quality. But a team can develop a quality of perseverance, too. You have the person who says we can’t win the football game. We’re down three touchdowns. And you have the guy on the team who says they can score three touchdowns in no time at all. And they get behind him. That person carries the team forward. 

We think of perseverance as an individual characteristic, but a team also develops perseverance. They help each other.

Porterfield ’13:30′: We are right on track with that. It’s such a necessary skill so we put it in the Individual soft skills category. If we’re really going to move organizations forward and we’re going to move forward in our own careers, we have to bring that perseverance to it. We can’t just be cast about and be going here and there. We have to keep on track. Having that group, having other people involved can be a benefit, especially if they are the right people.

Next Week’s Episode

Porterfield ’14:03′: Next week, we will be talking about project management, another soft skill. We are going to jump into another group this time. Project management has some controversy so we will have an interesting discussion. We’ll look at what it means and why it’s valuable to employees and organizations. Thanks for listening, good day, and good soft skills.

 

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss empathy, a soft skill that everyone can benefit from, but it’s a soft skill that is poorly understood and often overlooked. 

Introduction

Graham ‘0:24’: Welcome to Episode 9 of Serious Soft Skills. I’m Bob Graham and with me as always, at least so far, is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. We each teach college; we collaborate on researching soft skills, and we both have used and seen others employ soft skills over the course of our long and illustrious careers, not that long and not that illustrious. We think our experience and expertise give us a unique lens for looking at soft skills. We’re going to show you that when we talk in the next few moments about empathy.

What Is Empathy?

Graham ‘0:52’: But before we talk about empathy, we need to define it. Empathy is defined as the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions and experiences of others. Now, let’s compare it with sympathy, because we often confuse those two. Sympathy is being able to understand and support others with compassion and sensitivity. So sympathy is understanding, whereas empathy is being able to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions and experiences of others. Just in those two definitions we see that empathy is deeper than sympathy. Sympathy is a lower threshold of activity that’s going on. Can you go a bit deeper for us, Toby?

Dr. Tobin Porterfield ‘1:41’: This is one of those topics where we are going to have some feedback from you out there. We will hear about different experiences. I do struggle with the sympathy side. We do want to express that, but it often becomes just a polite response. “I’m sorry to hear that.” It can often be so superficial. When we talk about empathy, we’re really talking about a depth of, you used the word understanding, a depth of appreciation, a depth of really walking a mile in another man’s shoes. You really get it. You get why someone is frustrated. I am sorry you are frustrated and I really get it. And here’s what we can do about it.

The impact that empathy can have on an organization is that depth of relationship and the critical role of empathy in truly developing and maintaining relationships.

Empathy Is About Sharing

Graham ‘2:44′: It’s a shared experience. So if I talk about a situation that was difficult for me. For instance, my father died two years ago. I was talking to someone who had just had his father die and we were able to talk in a way that wasn’t just superficial. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” We started talking about how you hear your father’s voice at various times of the day. You’re in the club who lost their fathers, too. You are nodding with me. You know what that’s like. You could be empathetic in that case. Until my father died, I thought when friends’ parents died, I thought it was just terrible. It’s deeper now. You talk about that shared experience. With this person, we had a bond that is really deep that was built over that one, 90-second discussion about hearing the voice of your father even though he is gone.

Porterfield ‘3:47’: Can you find that thing? Think about it in a work situation. We aren’t usually talking about those types of tings. But that’s what’s going on underneath the layers of a work situation. There are family pressures and experience that people bring with them into the workplace and empathy allows us in a careful way to engage in those.

When there is a shared experience, that certainly makes empathy maybe a little easier. If I haven’t had that same experience, then it’s incumbent on me to use good listening skills and to ask questions and help me understand how that feels.

Empathy Builds Relationships

Porterfield ‘4:34’: We can’t just blow it off and say, “I’s sorry that happened.” But really we need to ask those more probing questions that allow me to understand what you are going through, even though I haven’t potentially. But then I can appreciate where are. Certainly from a personal level, that’s really important in relationships.

Graham ‘4:58’: At one point in my career, I was a newspaper reporter. So much of being a reporter is asking questions and being empathetic because you have to talk to that person who was involved in the fire, the plane they thought was going to crash, in a tornado, you name it. You are constantly asking people questions. They don’t respond if you just ask for their story. You’ve got to develop that shared experience, that rapport, and not make them feel like it’s a story. But it’s their story. That’s one of the things that empathy really brings about. We start to get to share what;’s our story, what’s behind the mask, or what’s behind the surface. 

As we get into being empathetic, we start to develop trust, shared experience and that leads to additional opportunities.

Building Trust

Graham ‘5:59’: You and I have certainly seen it. At our first breakfast, remember, we were reading a book together and talking through it. We’ve come far from there.Now, we share very detailed, intimate things because we have shared a lot with each other. That grows over time. And frankly, that’s what enables us to do these podcasts. We have a shared trust for each other. This is not as scripted out as some people might think. We pull curveballs on each other. If someone pulls a curveball, it’s because one of us thinks it’s the right thing. And we trust each other to know the right thing. That’s different than just us saying, “Hey, let’s do a podcast. Here’s what the topic is. Go.” That’s a great example of what empathy allows us. Empathy allows us to deepen a relationship, build that trust and it opens door to additional opportunities, which is where the value is to an organization.

Porterfield ‘7:05’: Exactly. And let’s turn to the organization. As you are listening to this discussion, there’s that possibility that you might hear this and say I just need to be sappy at work with all those conversations that go on. At the same time, we don’t want to turn this and say that there’s just this ulterior motive. Please pretend to be empathetic so you can benefit. What we want to see for organizations is that by understanding, knowing and engaging at a greater level, I know more about the people I am working with, the experiences they have, where they might just be responsible for developing this or doing that. Suddenly, I realize that you have experiences we can use. Bob, you used to be a journalist. Bob, maybe you can help us understand this thing.

With empathy, we have the opportunity to be innovative, to look at things in new ways, to be creative, to solve new problems because now there’s additional levels that we can draw from that at the surface we would be at resume level.

 

Porterfield ‘8:12’: I see you know Microsoft Excel. So go make a spreadsheet, which is great.

But if we can operate at a level when I understand and appreciate your experience, I haven’t had that life experience, but you bring it, and we can integrate it into some of our operations, we are operating our organization at whole new level.

Empathy Fuels Other Soft Skills

Graham ‘8:34’: That new level leads to additional opportunities. It really does spark creativity at all levels. The other thing that I keep repeating is it engenders that trust that’s really critical to be able to take the next step in organizations. If you don’t trust the people you are working with, it’s really hard to advance anything. Everyone is worried about their own skin. Am I going to have a job? Is this going to work out? What’s in it for me? If you are in it to win for the organization, then everyone gets cared for along the way because you are leveraging your strengths. When empathy allows us to see people’s strengths, it really helps us to position ourselves and others in better positions to succeed. It makes each workday a whole lot more fun. If I had to do spreadsheets for these podcasts, I would go crazy. The production stuff I do is great. You do some of the other things for it. We have a really good partnership because we know each other’s strengths through those discussions and understanding of our life experience. If we had to do photography, I would have you do it because I know you have done photography. I wouldn’t take a picture. That’s silly. You’ve done it. When we get to writing, we tend to fall more toward me. That’s really the key. A lot of organizations have that sense of empathy that’s not real. It’s the surface empathy, or it may only be sympathy. If you start to look at people’s challenges and what the lessons were from that which could help 

Porterfield ’10:53′: We have been drawing on some of the information published by the Center for Creative Leadership. They have done some work on empathy. They put out a white paper. They drill it down as empathy is certainly positive. Showing you care is part of it. That authenticity, being aware of the needs of other, are also parts of it. That’s the edge we always get into with emotional intelligence, that awareness, which is a big part of that emotional intelligence. But it also gets down to building and maintaining relationships. Think about that. We know people might be saying there’s nothing new talking about empathy.

But we are dealing with a multi-generational workforce right now where we don’t share the same life experience.

A New Workforce

Porterfield ’11:46′: You and I deal with it in the classroom. We are dealing with millennials, who have very distinct life experiences. They have seen things as they grew up. They have experienced technology that we didn’t. It’s wired into them. Now we are looking at the next generation. That edge generation has a whole other set of life experience. To be effective in this multi-generational workforce, we need to understand each other. We need to truly empathize with each other and get those barriers broken down. Empathy is really going to be a hot item as we figure out how to deal with this new workforce.

Graham ’12:31′: It’s funny you bring up millennials and the classroom. Last semester, I was having trouble with the technology in my classroom. I used the same classroom for both two classes. In the first class, I had a student come up because I couldn’t get the technology resolved. The student said to me, “It must be hard for you because of all this technology.” My reaction was that he wasn’t being helpful. Let’s do class without the technology. In the second class, a student came up as I had the same problem, and he said, “Let me try to fix that for you while you go ahead.” That was really empathetic. That student was clear that he and I had different experiences, and my student could understand how hard it is to be in the front of the room when your technology doesn’t work. The one student didn’t do much. The other student gave me that wow. He showed me something. I asked the student after class why he came up, and he told me he had been in the classroom last week and he had to give a presentation and the technology wouldn’t work. He did it without his PowerPoint. He had lived what I was going through and he wanted to make sure I didn’t go through the same thing because he knew the feelings that went behind that, along with the frustration and difficulty. 

The Key Is Listening

Porterfield ’14:09′: We want to wrap this up with what we can do about it. It does start with the listening, not the asking. It’s the listening. When someone shows frustration, stop and say, “You seem really frustrated with this assignment. I have seen you do similar assignments before. What’s different this time?” That’s an opportunity to engage. You might find out that it’s new software that they aren’t comfortable with. Or they have some distractions. There’s some tension in work, with a co-worker, or outside of the work situation. It really starts with us intentionally listening and watching for those cues. Instead of letting them go or doing that passive “Oh, I’m sorry” is to really go ahead and ask that question. “Tell me, I don’t understand. How can I help you?” Really take that breath.

Porterfield ’15:11′: It’s also what we see with that other part of the argument. Empathy takes a lot of energy. It really does. Especially for some of us, it’s really taxing. Harvard Business Review last year had an article that said empathy isn’t worth it. It takes a lot of energy; it’s exhausting; there’s a zero-sum game. It’s like empathy is in a bucket. If I give you a cup and him a cup and her a cup, then I won’t have enough when I get home. There’s some twisted visions of empathy. But I will accept the fact that empathy does take energy.

From an organizational standpoint, we see the positive side and we see it as a return on assets and a return on investment.

Shifting to Person-Focused

Porterfield ’16:01′: Yes, I can’t spend all day at the watercooler having open sessions to bond with my group. But I can do need to be ready to engage at that level at the right time and then move back into doing the work. It’s a tight edge that we have to walk.

Graham ’16:21′: You mentioned that white paper from the Center for Creative Leadership. I want to read one sentence from that white paper. It talks about leaders. It says, “Leaders today need to be more person-focused and be able to work with those not just in the next cubicle, but also with those in other buildings and other countries.” They set that up and I like the phrase “person-focused.” Empathy really gets at person-focus, not task-focused. A lack of empathy is really task-focused. Person-focused is really who is the right person for this task, who can achieve this result based on past experience, past success, what they bring to the table. 

Using empathy allow you to look at a person or a team more holistically and drawing on that to make your best assessment of how to move forward.

Graham ’17:14′: We probably should draw the line there. That’s quite enough. My head is spinning from all of that empathy talk. I think we did make some headway. 

Porterfield ’17:29′: Let’s be empathetic for you, our listeners. Hold it, we have just dumped a whole lot on you. We will put up some notes on this and you can look at the articles we mentioned. You can map your own way into this.

Next Week’s Episode

Graham ’18:15′: Now, I am going to tease next week’s episode. I am going to be a little vague. We have a little debate on what the next soft skills we will talk about is. We are trying to do this in a non-strategic order. One of us usually has one of the soft skills speak to us for the week. We’ll see what comes next week. Thanks for listening, good day, and good soft skills. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham look at the soft skills that guide an organization and its culture toward change and a shared vision.

 

Bob Graham (‘0:00’): Coming up, we’re going to talk about the list of soft skills that play the most prominent role in organizations and organizational change. That and more in just a few seconds.

Introduction

Graham ‘0:20’: Welcome to Episode 8 of Serious Soft Skills. I’m Bob Graham and with me as always is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. We each teach college, (not this month, but soon we will be back at it, we’re getting close); we collaborate on researching soft skills (boy, do we), and we both have used and seen others employ soft skills over the course of our long and illustrious careers, not that long and not that illustrious. We think our experience and expertise give us a unique lens for looking at soft skills. Let’s get to it.

Captaining the Ship

Graham ‘0:55’: We talk about organizations big and small needing a leader, someone who can chart the course for how the company is going to evolve. Without leadership, there’s no captain to the ship. That’s the analogy I like to use. You’ve got to have a captain. Even if it’s a one person company, there’s got to be a captain. We both know examples of businesses that are rudderless, that no one is steering, that they are just blowing in the wind. We’re going to talk about the soft skills that make captaining of a ship, whether it’s a business or an organization, possible. But before we get into that, can you sort of explain where we are? We have been going over these soft skills in groupings we created over the last three or four weeks. I thought you could set it up for us.

Dr. Tobin Porterfield ‘1:43’: In our research, we identified over 50 unique skills that make up what we consider that soft skill set. That number certainly is overwhelming, and where do you even start? We took the approach of how do you eat an elephant: One bite at a time. We took that 50+ and broke it into four groups. What will be challenging for us is that we formulated those groups based on where those soft skills are applied in the organization. We first started with Individual soft skills (Episode 5), which include loyalty, time management, things that the person internalizes and brings with them. Then, we moved onto Nexus soft skills (Episode 6), which are those soft skills you use in one-on-one interactions. Then, we expanded out to Group soft skills (Episode 7), which are obviously those special skills you need to operate in an environment with several people or more. Now, here we are with the top group, which we call Enterprise soft skills, because they really separate themselves. What is really challenging about these Enterprise soft skills is that they also apply in other levels, but what makes them distinct and the reason we pulled them into the Enterprise soft skill level was that they can be very clearly applied in a strategic way. 

An Example of Enterprise Soft Skills

Porterfield ‘3:10’: Let me just give you an example. Being persuasive is one of the soft skills we put at the Enterprise level. Certainly at all levels of communication, we want to persuade people to our thinking, we want to be able to communicate our ideas. So we want to have that influence factor. But that is so much more critical to the leadership level or in a broader sense, when we are influencing the organization. You mentioned earlier that the leader developing as a leader, but there is that ultimate leader of the organization. There are also times that the ultimate leader is going to pull together team members from that organization or virtual organization to set policy, to set strategy, and all of those people are going to be bringing these type of soft skills to the table.

Graham ‘4:03’: We are using the term leadership pretty broadly. So a leader could be someone who is charge of three or four colleagues for a project or a three-month assignment. It could be a formal VP or a sales manager or a charge nurse, and it could be as high as the CEO or some other executive-level position.

Porterfield ‘4:30’: When we look at leadership, we are looking at someone who has responsibility for making sure that others are moving in the direction to support the goals of the organization.

How We Got To Here

Graham ‘4:41’: I like that definition. That clarified it for me. Just for people who are listening us for the first time. Toby was talking about Individual soft skills that was our Episode 5, then he talked about Nexus or one-on-one soft skills, which was Episode 6, and the group soft skills he talked about was Episode 7. If you want to go back and catch up and listen to those, you can. And if you really want to go back to the beginning, you can start on Episode 1, where we define what soft skills are and are not. We are not doing a lot of review. So I wanted to put that out there for our newcomers.

Listing the Enterprise Soft Skills

Graham ‘5:30’: When we talk about these Enterprise soft skills, can you give us the list of what we’re describing as those soft skills so we can start to chew on them.

Porterfield ‘5:44’: We only have eight Enterprise soft skills, which is a more manageable group. But the application and development of them is much more challenging. Let me go through the eight, and then we need to talk about the gap issue we mentioned before.

  • The ability to be persuasive
  • To identify, analyze and solve problems
  • Manages projects, with a strategic focus
  • Manages relationships
  • Uses conflict-management skills
  • Uses critical-thinking skills
  • Leads change
  • Manages people and human resources

Porterfield ‘6:26’: I want to cast all of those in a very strategic direction of the organization. Also, that gap that I mentioned a moment ago, these soft skills don’t allow the leader to move into a place with these and not have the other soft skills like listening and time management. We positioned our other groups to complement on each other. They somewhat build on each other. If you get into a level of leadership and don’t have those soft skills of listening, empathy and communication, for instance, it becomes very difficult to be persuasive, to manage change, to draw people in. To really analyze a problem, you need to look at it from different perspectives. That ability to communicate and develop that rapport with a group are skills that we have mentioned in other sections. Those soft skills are critical to developing these Enterprise soft skills as well.

Seeing The Forest, Not The Trees

Graham ‘7:22’: To me, it sounds like putting them together, these soft skills are about developing and being consistent toward a shared vision of what an organization is going to look like. It’s not the tactical, day-to-day stuff anymore. It’s the big picture. It’s seeing the forest through the trees. Often, employees are looking at their various trees. I have to do this project today and this project tomorrow. The leader is taking these eight soft skills and looking at the big picture. Where are we going to be in three weeks, three months, three years? What could happen industry-wide, politically, socially? All of those big picture things that you can’t really grab hold of unless you have a lot of good things going on with the other soft skills we have talked about and have manifested them into these eight. Is that another way to say it?

Porterfield ‘8:20’: That is right where we are. To look at different levels of these, whereas a person leading a team may want to carefully select skills and abilities at a very tactical level. At this point, when we talk about managing people and human resources at an Enterprise level, we are really looking at what kind of corporate culture do we have. How do people work together? Who are those integrators? How do we work with our outside firms and leverage their resources?

Enterprise soft skills involve a much more strategic and holistic look at the organization.

The Classroom Analogy

Graham ‘8:57’: Toby, I am wondering if you could take this to a really simple example that strikes me. I am catching you off guard, but I think you can pull it off. That would be in the classroom. We both teach in classrooms. Could you apply these Enterprise soft skills into a classroom setting? We have all been in classrooms. Some of us may have worked in big organizations, some in small ones. We have all been in classrooms. It strikes me that if you could walk us through how they show up in a classroom, it would crystalize for us.

Porterfield ‘9:28’: That’s a good way to look at these Enterprise soft skills. At least we all have common ground in that. But when it comes to the classroom environment, you and I know that when we conduct a course and that course runs over several weeks or months of time, there are normally some very important learning objectives that we have. For instance, we want students to understand business statistics, the tools to do that, to apply it to businesses situations, to run the analyses and interpret them. In the background, there are these learning objectives. For a company or organization, we would see those as being the strategic goals of the organization. That’s what’s trying to be accomplished. The people experiencing the class or the organization may only see the tactical like we have negotiated the contract or we have developed the product. They see the mechanics. The leader has a very close eye on those strategic objectives and orchestrating and moving that group to it. For us, as instructors in the classroom, that means being persuasive, being convincing of the importance of the topic. It means conflict management, being able to draw people into different perspectives, and maybe even getting to the point of disagreeing with you or with their peers. To have that opportunity to sort through it and use critical thinking and understand different perspectives, to crystalize an understanding.

I like using that term orchestrate because that’s what the leader is doing. They have a bigger picture than the others do.

Porterfield ’10:56′: And whether that’s a team leader or a department leader or a division manager or the CEO, each one of them has that set of strategic goals going on and they are orchestrating bringing members into concerts to get that done. That’s why we see conflict management and critical thinking, as we try to draw those people into those engagements.

Graham ’11:22′: If I’m in the classroom and I am a student. I am looking for the A and the three credits and move toward graduation. Your job as my teacher is to get me to realize that or cajole me into learning the things I need to learn that the grade goes away over time. No one’s going to take it away. But no one ever asked me at a job interview asked to tell them my grade in a course. They asked what did you learn and the skill sets, those types of things. That’s a great analogy for us to work through. An individual student in a classroom is focused on very specific things. They are not thinking about those learning objectives, that big picture, the fact that you chose one textbook that complements other textbooks, that gives a different perspective. I know this analogy resonates with me right now because it’s August and I am putting together my fall courses. I am doing that vision creation part of my world right now, knowing full well that my students will never say to me, “Hey, why are we doing this sequence of the textbooks? Why is the guest speaker coming this week, not that week? Why did you assign me that outside reading this week?” What they are looking at is, what do I need to take and learn to get the A on the test so that I can get a high grade and I can get my three credits.

Porterfield ’12:44′: In a work situation, similar to the grade, we could be fixated on the salary or renumeration, or the bonuses or something like that. If we look bigger picture, we might ask, what’s your job satisfaction? How much did you enjoy your career? When you get to retirement, is it just that sum of what you earned each year or is it what you accomplished, the contribution, the skills you learned, the impact you had? You are right. It is the same tension we deal with in the classroom. We want you to pass the course, we want you to graduate, but we want you to accomplish these other things that we have running in the background. The skills and the knowledge you will need to be successful.

The Leader’s Duel

Porterfield ’13:30′: It’s not unlike a company, where you have this duel. The leader understands the dichotomy of the two and how to blend them together.

Graham ’13:41′: That leads us to next week’s episode, where we talk about Empathy, which is really a key. That will be Episode 9, where we will talk about one of the soft skills that will help you be more aware of how people are reacting to you in that Enterprise area.

The List One More Time

Graham ’14:00′: It strikes me that without even trying put a really nice bow on things for today. Do you think we are at a good place to stop right now?

Porterfield ’14:08′: Let me just wrap this up with when we looked at leadership then, those soft skills that really are influencing the organization, we saw these Enterprise soft skills. We look at the person’s ability to persuade. There’s a lot underneath that. How do you persuade a group? If there’s no followership, there’s no leadership.

Graham ’14:29′: That’s persuade, not order them to do things. That’s developing a shared set of objectives to reach this goal together. That’s not you clean the carpet and you clean the walls and I’m going to sit here and marshal you through.

Porterfield ’14:47′: As our perspective is more long-term. Short-term, you can drive into submission. But in the long term, the organizations that are more effective persuade and get that group loyalty going. Next on the list of Enterprise soft skills is identifying and solving problems. Managing projects or having a project management perspective, which we will talk about more in a future episode.

Graham ’15:12′: That’s managing more than one project. That’s being able to manage the list of projects and make sure that the right resources are applied to each one.

Porterfield ’15:22′: What we really call a portfolio of projects.

That group of projects is really an investment for the organization. We want that investment in projects taking us to the best cumulative effect.

Porterfield ’15:37′: Managing relationships is another Enterprise soft skill, along with conflict management, critical thinking, and obviously, change management, which will get us back to that empathy issue. And managing people and human resources. It’s still a difficult list, but fairly focused at eight items.

Graham ’15:54′: It is certainly high level.

Our Podcast Goes Global

Graham ’15:57′: Thank you, Toby. We’re going to wrap it up. But before we do that, I am going to share something with you that I haven’t told you. I want you to guess a country where we have people listen to our podcast from. Besides the U.S.

Porterfield ’16:13′: I’m going to go with a real oddball because I think I have got you on this one. Kazakhstan.

Graham ’16:19′: I’m so sorry. They have not registered yet. But let me give you the list of countries that have. We have had people from Japan, South Africa, Canada, India, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the Netherland. So we are truly international. We are big-time. 

Previewing Next Week’s Episode

Just for people who are new to us or people trying to figure out the easiest way to access us. We are available on iTunes and Google Play. I worked hard to get that set up. You can download the podcasts from there and make it automatic. If you like what you hear, please review us. We would love your feedback. You can do a review in iTunes and on Google Play. Reviews help people decide what to listen to. We hope you will give words to what people can expect form us so more people join in our group of people interested in how soft skills play out. That would be a big help to us. Now, I need to tease about next week a bit more. Next week, we are going to talk about Empathy. You could easily say it’s a soft skill that everyone can benefit from, but it’s a soft skills that is poorly understood and often overlooked. We’re going to help people see it’s value and how to develop it in our next episode. We hope you will join us next Wednesday when that episode comes out. Until then, thank you for listening, good day, and Toby, your favorite thing in the whole wide world, good soft skills.

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham talk about specific soft skills that fuel innovation and guide you when you are working in a group.

Bob Graham (‘0:00’): Coming up, we’re going to talk about some specific soft skills that guide you when you are working in a group. That and more in just a few seconds.

Introduction

Graham ‘0:19’: Welcome to Episode 7. It’s already been a week. I’m Bob Graham and with me is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. We each teach college, we collaborate on researching soft skills, and we both have used and seen others employ soft skills over the course of our long careers. Not that long, but long. We think our experience and expertise give us a unique lens for looking at soft skills. We’re going to show you that in the next few minutes.

Setting the Stage

Graham ‘0:56’: Toby, let’s talk about soft skills being used in groups. But before we do that, can you just set up where we are in this whole continuum. We have been doing this look at soft skills in various categories we created over the last couple of weeks.

Dr. Tobin Porterfield ‘1:08’: We’ve got our four groups of soft skills. We started out in Episode 5 with Individual soft skills. We talked about loyalty and time management and others that you bring to work that are really internal and you need to have to operate successfully in the work environment. Then we moved outside the individual to those we call Nexus soft skills that help us interact one-on-one with others. In Episode 6, we talked about written and oral communication, patience, empathy, emotional and social intelligence, those types of things.

Sorting Out Your Soft Skills Inventory

Porterfield ‘1:51’: I hope that as our listeners heard those and processed through some of those soft skills, they said some of those come naturally in me. Maybe there are others that you look at and you say that you don’t even think about it. You already developed that skill, maybe it’s making presentations or writing. You were just trained in it and you just have it as part of who you are now. To that, we say, that’s great. We hope that you recognize those soft skills that you have and you use them. We hope you look at the others and say how can I build strength in those? How do I bring those into play? How do I make them part of how I naturally engage?

Soft Skills for Innovation

Porterfield ‘2:31’: We are excited now to share some of these soft skills that really make a difference in groups. I was just thinking, if I have to be put on one more team at work, I am going to go out of my mind. It’s all about groups and teams these days. Someone the other day said to me that when it comes to innovation in the academic world and in the classroom, you aren’t going to lock yourself in a room and suddenly come out with a great idea of how you are going to innovate in the classroom. It’s going to be in a group. It’s going to be people bringing different experiences with technology, things they have done that worked and failed, but it’s when a group brings things together.

When a group gets together and problem-solves, that’s where our real innovation comes from.

Organizations that Work in Groups

Graham ‘3:15’: You see that over and over. Look at NASA, a great example of an organization where you get a lot of people around the room to solve problems. Anyone who you meet who works at NASA will tell you that they have big teams that solve big problems and small problems. No one does it alone. We see that with SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company, and we see it even in small companies. I work with some of my clients and they will get all of the employees around the table to troubleshoot a customer service issue, a technology issue or even just something they are worried about that might be a competitive worry.

Porterfield ‘4:00’: Right on track, Bob. Let’s go ahead and nail down what we identified as being the Group soft skills so our listeners have an idea of what we are talking about. These are much more recognizable and actionable. You see those in people who are able to effectively influence a group. 

The Group Soft Skills List

Porterfield ‘4:29’: The Group soft skills list includes:

  • the ability to delegate
  • the ability to make decisions and be decisive,
  • the ability to be analytical (to bring in different aspects, thoughts and perspectives and understand how they fit together)
  • the ability to communicate at multiple levels (not just what we talked about before, but to communicate up to leadership so they understand where you’re group is headed, and to also be able to communicate down and across, that wide spread)
  • cultural awareness (because in groups you are going to find people from diverse cultures, which is a huge benefit when we are trying to solve problems and be innovative; to be aware so that you aren’t making everyone be the same, but to leverage those differences)
  • to conduct and facilitate meetings
  • to mentor and develop others
  • to be innovative (to be sensitive to find those new ideas and drawing them out, while not looking for those marginal improvements, but to really look at something that jumps the curve and really changes things)

Revolutionizing Industries

Porterfield ‘5:56’: We talked about the Guy Kawasaki TED Talk video, where he talks about the key elements of innovation. He recognizes that the people who used to cut ice out of the ponds were not the people who created ice machines. The people who created ice machines weren’t the people who made refrigerators. They missed that ability to have huge innovations. Other groups came in and revolutionized industries. That innovative juice to work in a team, to be a team member, to be a team player and to be able to lead and direct and build teams and to collaborate is what this list is all about. It’s hearty list for us.

Graham ‘6:42’: Is it fair to say that we have shifted gears here because I am thinking of this list and comparing it to the Individual soft skill and Nexus soft skill lists that we created and this one really sounds like manager-type qualities. You are going beyond getting the work done. Now you are looking at the work and how to achieve it in a broader perspective through working with different parts of an organization or different stakeholders, whether it’s customers or vendors or maybe even competitors or different divisions within a company. So that all of those things are upping the ante here and moving to a higher level in some ways. It’s also important that as we talkthrough these Group soft skills that we are pretty good at the ones before these. 

It’s not like you could jump the rails and skip the Individual ones and that Nexus ones and just go to this Group soft skills list and be a great manager.

Moving Past the Peter Principle

Porterfield ‘7:53’: That’s what most of us can identify with. We’ve seen that person who officially moves into the management role and isn’t able to delegate, isn’t able to make decisions, isn’t able to collaborate. So we often term that as the Peter Principle, or someone who has been promoted beyond their skills level. That’s our issue here. We share this view. When we look at these soft skills, we could have someone who is not in a management role and they could have these Group skills. They are having significant influence on their workplace, in groups, in one-on-one and beyond. Our hope is that organizations and individuals grasp these and not only want to develop them, but make sure that the people who have these soft skills are the ones that get promoted.

Porterfield ‘8:51’: We see it in the job descriptions. We did a huge study of job postings and we saw some of these soft skills come out. But for an organization to really be able to pinpoint these soft skills, they have to say these are the specific soft skills we are looking for in a leader. Once you pin the soft skills down, how do you articulate them? How do you identify the person who has the ability to to delegate, to be a team player? Not only do you have to ask for it, but you need to be able to assess it and recognize it.

Squandering Soft Skills Mavens

Graham ‘9:24’: What comes to mind for me is that someone who has these soft skills in an organization and they are being squandered. Someone is going to see that person is really good at those things and make them an offer. I know of someone who was working at a coffee shop that had really good delegation skills in this coffee shop. When she worked, everyone knew that things would get done. Everyone got their order really efficiently. She was there for two months, then she wasn’t there. I asked one of the other baristas what happened and they said, “One of the customers offered her a job making four times as much as what she made at the coffee shop.” She left and the other employees were really upset about the situation. That’s what happens. if you don’t leverage those soft skills within the employees within your organization, you have a flight risk because people want to use those so0ft skills. 

As you develop these soft skills, your opportunities and chance to get paid more at work increase greatly.

Graham ’10:39′: The person who hired this girl saw that they could use her soft skills to help their organization and they wanted to compensate her well for those soft skills. Foremployers, they run a risk here when they are not properly assessing these soft skills and not leveraging them within their existing employee base, as you say, when they are not hiring and thinking about them. 

Drawing Attention to Your Soft Skills Strengths

Graham ’11:06′: For that person who is demonstrating these skills, it’s an opportunity. These soft skills increase your value within the workplace. These soft skills give you the ability to do other things. You may need to remind your bosses that you can do these things. Sometimes they are not looking at it. 

An Example of Leveraging Your Own Soft Skills

Graham ’11:27′: I had a job where they needed someone to go around the country and do presentations at hotels. No one else wanted to do it. Other employees didn’t want to travel around all summer. I offered to do it because I can do presentations. They knew that because I had done some webinars and other public-facing stuff. They said, “Sure, Bob, go ahead.” It was a great opportunity. I got a summer where I got to pick the cities around the country that I went to and I got to use a really powerful skill of mine, which was connecting with people through presentation, in an organization where they would have had to bring someone in to do that. Fortunately for me, when the opportunity was made available, I raised my hand and said I would love to take this on. What I find is that people either don’t know about the opportunity because employers are not doing that inventory of soft skills or putting these chances out there. Or the employee is going, they should know that I have these skills so they will ask me to use them. 

One of the things we are finding is that the connection between the employer and employees on these soft skills isn’t always as finely tuned as it is with the technical skills.

The Manager’s Edge

Porterfield ’12:42′: I agree. We also could speak to the managers. Those people who are already in a management role and have a team. Are they recognizing the value of their employees’ soft skills? Are they appreciating their employees’ soft skills and giving credit to the employees who exhibit them? The appreciation goes a long way to helping people feel recognized in an organization. it can diffuse some of that flight risk.

Graham ’13:19′: We are more engaged employees when we are using our strengths in different ways. 

Using our soft skills makes us feel more invested and it makes us feel like it’s more fun to go to work each day than to just be doing the work stuff. Having these extra soft skills opens doors to different outlets for creativity.

Graham ’13:31′: Some people do like to only move the widgets from Point A to Point B. But some people want to be challenged in new ways and be evolving in an organization. That’s another part of this list.

That Group Soft Skills List Again

Graham ’13:54′: Could you give us that list of Group soft skills one more time? 

Porterfield “14:09′: For Groups, we have identified 12 soft skills. They include:

  • the ability to delegate
  • the ability to make decisions
  • to be analytical
  • to be able to communicate at multiple levels
  • to be culturally aware
  • to gather locate and share information
  • to conduct and facilitate meetings
  • to suggest improvements
  • to mentor, develop others, inspire
  • to be innovative
  • to work in teams, be a team member, team player
  • to lead people, direct others, build teams, collaborate

Getting Better at Each One

Graham ’14:46′: That’s quite an extensive list and a lot to chew on. As we have said in other episodes, the first thing to do is to take an inventory of where you are on these things. Take that list and rate yourself. So 5 is the best and 1 is where you need a lot of improvement. Do that inventory, then pick off one or two and work on them first. For instance, say I am going to work on my delegation skills. What would that look like? I’m going to inventory the tasks that come in to me each day. I’m going to say, am I the best person to that task or would someone else on my team be better at it. All of the soft skills need you to start thinking about it. And once you start thinking about it, you start to do things differently. Over time, hopefully, it becomes part of your DNA. You get good at something so it becomes part of you. It just is. You don’t even think about it anymore.

Previewing Next Week’s Show

Graham ’15:45′: With that, we should probably draw this episode to a close. Let me tease next week’s episode. First, let me ask people to subscribe to the Serious Soft Skills podcast, if you are new to us. You can subscribe on iTunes. Give us a review. We’d love to get your feedback. You can contact us at anytime at podcast@serioussoftskills.com. Or you can tweet us at @realsoftskills. Those are two ways to get in touch with us. You can also go to our website, SeriousSoftSkills.com. We hope to hear from you. We want this to be a dialogue. We would love to hear your questions or insights. If you give us an insight or question, I promise you, we will put it on the air in an upcoming episode. You have my word on that. So with that we will close this episode with a quick tease for next week, when we will talk about Enterprise soft skills. That’s our fourth category of soft skills. They’re really the ones that help you influence how an organization moves forward. So we hope you will join us next week. Our new episodes come out every Wednesday. Until then, thank you for listening, good day, and Toby, your favorite thing in the whole wide world, good soft skills.

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss the soft skills necessary to foster good one-on-one communications.

Bob Graham ‘0:00’: Coming we’re going to talk about the specific soft skills that can make or break your discussion with another person. That and more in just a few seconds.

The Opening

Graham ‘0:17’: Welcome to Episode 6 of Serious Soft Skills. I am Bob Graham and with me is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. We each teach college, we collaborate on researching soft skills and we have both used and seen others use soft skills in a variety of jobs over our careers. We think that experience and expertise give us a unique lens to look at soft skills through. And that’s what we are about to do.

Podcast Housekeeping

Graham ‘0:48’: But first, Toby, I need to do some housekeeping. I was doing some driving earlier today and I happened to listen to our Episode 5 in the car. I know. It sounds very self-absorbed or something. I just wanted to see how it sounded in a car because I hadn’t done that. It’s now available as a podcast on iTunes so I was able to download it, which was cool. I was fascinated when I realized that I could play my voice at 1.5 or 2 times the speed or at half speed. I won’t tell you that I almost crashed my car while I was doing it. But I almost crashed my car doing it. I wanted to share that with our listeners. You can actually accelerate our voices and get through our 18-20 minute podcasts in as few as 10-12 minutes. 

Where You Can Find Us

Graham ‘1:50’: One last thing, Toby: You can also see our episodes, literally see them. We have videos of each of these podcasts on our website, SeriousSoftSkills.com. You can also see our show notes for each show there. We have elaborate show notes for each show. I am literally writing out a lot of what we do in each show. It’s taking a bit of time, but they are really great show notes. I find when I am putting them together, I get some new insights from what we say. Those show notes are for each episode and they are on the Blog/Podcast tab on SeriousSoftSkills.com. We also write some blog posts there, as well, on other topics related to soft skills.

Framing Our Discussion

Graham ‘2:34’: Let’s get on with the show. Toby, why don’t you start things off and frame where we are here in the whole world of soft skills because we are working through them over a series of episodes, starting with Episode 5.

Dr. Tobin Porterfield ‘2:45’: We last time laid out the Individual soft skills, those skills that are really critical for a person to engage successfully in their work environment. Things like taking responsibility, being responsive, being a learner. There was a long list, almost 20, and we have that list available on our website. But those type of skills that are really about the individual. Today, we wanted to stretch that out further and look at how people engage one-on-one with others in the work situation. So we have that next layer and we have used the term Nexus to describe this. I am going to throw it back to you to explain the term Nexus, which they might not have heard before.

What Are Nexus Soft Skills?

Graham ‘3:27’: Nexus, if you know anything about the word Nexus, is a word I had not used a lot. But I had seen it. It’s actually a connection between people or things. In our use of it, it fits perfectly with this one-on-one communication because we are really talking about that connection between one person and another person. Just as you said before, but I want to underscore it, we are not saying that all soft skills are related to one-on-one communications. We are breaking the soft skills into four different categories to make it easier to understand and appreciate and develop them. Last week, we talked about Individual soft skills that we really position as the soft skills that you use internally, that you come to the table with, like loyalty, being proactive, time management. These are things that you do on your own. They are foundational. We build on those. The second group that we have are the one-on-one soft skills or Nexus, as we call them, which are really showing up when you are dealing with one other person. Before this show, Toby and I had about a 10-minute exchange, where we talked about what we are going to do with this show and made some jokes about guitars. We had to come to an understanding about what we were going to talk about. We each gave our ideas. We had to listen to each other and all those other things that Individual soft skills describe. But then we had to go to the next level. Does that get us where we need to be to start, Toby?

Porterfield ‘5:12’: It does. The Nexus soft skills are a shorter list. Let’s go through those and really identify specifically those skills that we are going to talk about. When we look at those Nexus soft skills, certainly, it’s that interaction with another person and it starts with communication. So we have those skills related to oral communication, written communication and I add onto that, not that it’s separate, storytelling. It’s so important today. Not just the bit of information, the sound bite, but the context of it, sharing it in such a way that it’s compelling information for that other person. That term storytelling is really becoming popular. A couple of others we use when we interact with another person — patience, empathy, respect for the other person and customer focus, depending on the type of relationship we have with the other person. And then we have that one that so many people talk to us about — emotional or social intelligence. That’s one that’s gotten a lot of attention over the years. It’s not all encompassing, but it’s certainly part of that soft skill portfolio. It’s so crucial to those one-on-one or Nexus interactions.

Storytelling Is More than the Story

Graham ‘6:28’: You talked about storytelling and I was focusing on that one because I like how it involves my world and I do some marketing work that’s all about storytelling. That one jumped out at me in the sense that we have to be able to communicate in ways the other person responds to, that grab them emotionally. The worlds that come to me is creating emotion about whatever we are talking about. If we are just giving you this list today, you probably don’t care. But if we can tie a story to it, if we can give some sort of something that makes you catch it more deeply than just a list of skills, if we can help you see where it fits in, then you are likely to hold onto it longer. We see that in this podcast, on TV and in movies. It’s that emotional connection. That also sets us up for how we have to deal with other people. To create an emotional connection with someone else, we have to use those Nexus soft skills to understand that other person.

At its core, Nexus soft skills are really about understanding that other person.

Graham ‘7:51’: When we talk about patience and some of the other Nexus soft skills, it’s really that one-on-one.

Porterfield ‘7:57’: Let’s tie them all together. Nexus soft skills are much more integrated than the Individual soft skills we talked about in Episode 5. When we are talking about storytelling, that is knowing your audience. That’s empathy and patience. Let’s talk for a moment about emotional intelligence. They have heard the term; they have seen Goleman’s book out there or several books out there. It was such a revelation that we need to be aware and sensitized to not only our own emotions, but the emotional context of the person we’re dealing with. That all comes into that storytelling. If you are going to draw someone into the conversation, you need to understand where they are. You really need to bring them to where you need them to be.

An Example of Learning Emotional Intelligence

Graham ‘8:42’: Let me tell you a story about emotional intelligence. I debate whether I should tell this story. There are at least three women that I worked with about 10 or 15 years ago who, if they hear this, will be quite fascinated. It was one of my first management jobs. I went to this job and I had a really difficult time connecting with them in positive ways. I was supposed to lead them and we were supposed to be achieving tasks. My employer was nice enough to get me a coach to help me with my communication skills. This coach said to me at the first meeting, “Bob, you’re talking in Bob Speak. That doesn’t work for these women.” It was a revelation to me. No way, I am using the words. I am using perfectly good language. But she showed me at various meetings how what I said wasn’t what they heard. She tell me to describe a situation with these employees, where I was communicating, the words I said. She’d then ask me to tell her all the ways it could be interpreted. I thought there was one way to take it. Sometimes I could find 5 or 10 different ways to interpret what I said. She’s say, “That’s the problem. You think you are saying it in your words and they are hearing it in their ways. And there is no connection.” I really took that to heart and as I have matured, I’ve started to realize that Bob Speak doesn’t work really well. In fact, it doesn’t really exist in the realm of success because if I talk in Bob Speak and you don’t understand what I am saying, we have no success. We have no communication. That nexus, that connection is null and void. That’s what I learned from working with these three women. I blamed them. Then I realized it was on me as the manager, it was my job to figure out the words I needed to use to help them understand.

Validating Soft Skills Value

Porterfield ’10:47′: That’s right on target. The value of those inner connections, that personal emotional, that social intelligence, is really valued and we saw it today in the Wall Street Journal in an article on the Stern School of Business, up at New York University. They have enhanced their Master’s of Business Administration degree application process, where they are actually requiring people to go beyond just providing those references where we have our boss fill it out or have someone who supervised us over time. They are asking specifically for a recommendation of someone that you have had a high level of one-on-one engagement with who can speak to your ability to use emotional intelligence in your interactions.

That’s a huge message out to us that if a school of that caliber is started to put soft skills like that into their selection process, it’s something that we all need to be more aware of.

Graham ’11:52′: This news gives validation to the whole idea of where soft skills fit into things because when you start talking about an MBA program looking at soft skills, that’s really something. I know you actually looked at the NYU application for that MBA program. Can you tell us more about that?

Porterfield ’12:10′: I was amazed at the way they had focused it in and sharing our perspective. I will quote from it. “We seek exceptional individuals who possess both intellectual and interpersonal strengths.” That’s what we have been saying pretty strongly.

It’s that combination of technical skills and the soft skills in an individual that are really going to be necessary for success in today’s business world.

Porterfield ’12:30′: When you see a program like that seeking these soft skills from applicants, you are really saying something loud.

Graham ’12:38′: MBA programs are very selected as you and I both know. They are looking for a way to further narrow their pool and they are using these interpersonal aspects as a way to find the perfect person who has more than just technical skills, the aptitude to the work stuff. They want someone who can do the work stuff, but also contribute in their classrooms and also take the things they learn in the MBA program, the tactical stuff, and marry it to the soft skills they develop there.

Helping Non-MBA Candidates

Porterfield ’13:20′: For our listeners, you’re not necessarily applying to the MBA program at NYU. But if you went to someone and said, “Can you give me a recommendation on how well I exhibit those soft skills our interactions?” — would they say you are a really good listener, you really understand where I am coming from, you are able to articulate information and tell stories. Would someone in your circle give you that kind of recommendation. Or would they zero right in on facts and figures, what jobs you had? You want them to talk about how you interacted in that position. 

Graham ’14:09′: That’s a great takeaway. Maybe having someone that you respect and trust giving you that inventory of those Nexus soft skills, those interpersonal skills, could really help you understand how you are perceived. Like Bob Speak, I really believed in my heart I was saying all the right things. So we all have our Name and Speak tied to it. Finding out what we do well and what other people see we do well, and sometimes it doesn’t match up, is a place where we can start to build. 

Nexus Soft Skills Again

Graham ’14:45′: Toby, can you run through that list one more time. It would be helpful to look at it one more time so we can have it fresh in our mind as we go on with our day.

Porterfield ’14:56′: One thing to keep in mind if you can’t remember them all is that they are the things that enable that good communication. We are talking about:

  • written communication skills
  • oral communication that brings us to storytelling
  • patience
  • empathy, taking on that understanding of where they are, their history, their perspective and incorporating that into how you approach them
  • respect for others
  • customer focus
  • emotional and social intelligence

Graham ’15:37′: That’s quite a list. The other thing that comes to mind is that it’s a continuum. We can always improve on these things and get better over time using self-reflection, mentoring and just being aware, which is really the first step.

Next Week’s Show

Graham ’16:01′: I am just going to do a little preview of next week’s show. Next week we’re going to dig into the third category of soft skills, one we call Group soft skills, and how they help us become more effective at work. We hope you will join us next time. Until then, thanks for listening, good day, and good soft skills.

 

 

 

 

Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham take a deeper dive into one of the key areas of soft skills: Individual soft skills. We’re also going to talk about how best to get moving toward improving your soft skills.

Bob Graham ‘0:00’:  Coming up, we’re going to take a deeper dive into one of the key area of soft skills: Individual soft skills.

Graham ‘0:23’: Welcome to Episode 4 of Serious Soft Skills. I am Bob Graham, and with me, as always,  is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. We each teach college, we collaborate on researching soft skills, and we both have used and seen others use soft skills in various jobs over our careers. We think our experience and expertise give us a unique lens for looking at soft skills and I think we are going to show you that with what we are about to discuss. Right, Toby?

Tobin Porterfield ‘1:01’: It should be an interesting topic today.

How We See Individual Soft Skills

Graham ‘1:03’: Every topic is an interesting topic when you and I are looking into it. Let’s get right into it. In one of the past episodes (Episode 3), we looked at listening skills as one of the most important Individual soft skills. I made the case that it was the most important and we sort of wrestled with it a bit. Today we’re going to talk about more of those Individual soft skills and how they show up in people’s lives and in their work. Can you sort of help us set this up?

Porterfield ‘1:31’: In our research we have found over 50 specific skills that are part of soft skills. We talked about how that list can really be overwhelming. We have broken that list into four groupings, with one being Individual soft skills. We call them that because they are so much more internalized.

Porterfield ‘1:54’: Let me list out some of those Individual soft skills so our listeners can get a feel for the type of items. I think they will be able to connect pretty well with them. Working independently, being proactive, attention to detail, positive attitude, being a lifelong learner, being loyal, stress management, ethics, and of course, good old listening skills, perseverance, self motivation and time management. I would think that people could see how we put those together as something that’s foundation, but they’re also ones that we looked at how those soft skills play out in the workplace. So we found these and brought these together because they are ones you bring to the workplace, as opposed to ones you might use when engaging one-on-one, in a group or the ones we would use when we are trying to influence the greater organization. These come much closer to home.

Breaking Down Being A Life-Long Learner

Graham ‘3:13’: As I heard you go through that list, those soft skills seemed like the ones I can work on within the four walls of my cubicle or the four walls of my office. I can be improving on them without dealing with other people. I can be thinking about being a life-long learner. How does that show up? It’s as easy as doing an online seminar, or to prepare for our podcast, I had to learn about podcasts. I listened to about 15 or 20 different podcasts on podcasts. I read three books on podcasting. I spoke to people on podcasting and how to do a podcast. Rather than going, I don’t know how to do it, I’ll never know it, I took the time to develop those expertise. Is that an example of an individual doing the work to develop one of these soft skills, lifelong learning? Of course, that makes me more valuable. And being able to administer this podcast process really helps our company in a lot of ways, as well.

Porterfield ‘4:25’: You touched on a good point here that I hope our listeners pick up on that nuance. We are talking here about the soft skill of being a lifelong learner. But you spoke about being able to manage the software, being able to write the scripts, to do the editing. We’ve said before that soft skills and hard skills go hand-in-hand. The two feed off of each other. Being a lifelong learner means I may be developing my soft skills or I may be developing my hard skills.

Graham ‘5:08’: You just said that and my first thought was oh, I just screwed up in what we are talking about. But I guess they really do go hand-in-hand. It’s not so much being a lifelong learner develops that soft skills, but as we see with the podcast, it helps develop that hard skill.

Being able to do something more is why we are developing any skills, whether it’s technical skills or soft skills. Our goal ultimately is to be more valuable in the workplace, both to achieve better results, but to also position ourselves for better things within an organization or an industry.

Creating Value With Soft Skills

Porterfield ‘5:56’: That’s correct, but also, let’s flip it the other way. If you went out and said I am going to learn how to do video editing and audio editing, and you developed that hard skill by itself, what good does it do you?

You put those communication skills, time management and other soft skills to it, and now you have taken that hard skill that you developed and you have created something of value.

Porterfield ‘6:26’: My struggle is that I believe our hard skills aren’t value creating. They’re resume items; they’re interesting.

It’s fun to learn new things, but I believe we would agree that soft skills are then what takes those hard skills and brings value to yourself and your organization.

Porterfield ‘6:52’: That’s really an exciting side of this and we will get into a few more of these soft skills.

Soft Skills in this Podcast

Graham ‘6:55’: When I came to you with the idea of the podcast, I had to sell you on the idea. There are some soft skills at play there.

Porterfield ‘7:08’: We have to be able to articulate our ideas, our passions, our vision. That’s where we see some difference. We talked in an earlier podcast about listening as an enabler of influence, and clearly you wanted to influence me to commit to and invest in putting this type of information out there through a podcast.

Hard and Soft Skills are Married

Graham ‘7:33’: So the technical skills and soft skills really are interconnected at all levels in a way we saw in the research we talked about in Episode 4 and as we talk through this today. Technical skills and soft skills are really tied together in a variety of ways.

Porterfield ‘7:46’: As we look at a few other of these soft skills on the Individual side, we start to see some of the nuances of them. We look at something like time management. Sometime a person in our circle might say we always show up late and can’t seem to get the priorities done each day. A lot of times that’s attributed to our ability to manage time. That’s one where there are certainly tools out there to help people to organize and structure their time. There are apps all over the place these days to do it. Some of these Individual soft skills – managing our time, setting our priorities, organizing ourselves so we accomplish what is important each day – there are materials out there to provide the knowledge in how to get that one going.

Obviously, Not!

Porterfield ’8:50’: But there are others in that same set of Individual soft skills – like loyalty, and similar to that – where those are not so obvious. There’s not an app for perseverance. Unless you get your app for exercising and it motivates you to persevere and to get out and do your steps each day. That’s a little removed from actually developing the soft skill of perseverance. What we see is that these soft skills get developed through experience, as we have mentioned before. We need to have that experience of successfully persevering, successfully being proactive and seeing the positive results from that. Sometimes we can go through a self-reflective process, the need to persevere. If people self-reflect and then act upon that, and they say there’s this issue and I have been meaning to talk with my coworker about. I am going to take that effort and go out and do it and see those positive results. That’s great, but having a peer coach to come alongside us and tell us, “Hey, you said you were having trouble being proactive. What’s one thing you want to address this week?” Have that followup. Have that accountability, some coaching, some mentoring, some followup. Others of us might be able to lead ourselves through a self-reflective process and self-evaluation to be able to make progress on that.

That process of making progress on soft skills is one of the challenges of soft skills and one of the reasons why soft skills haven’t gotten the attention they deserve.

Porterfield ’10:54’: Learning algebra, learning to do an analysis in statistics – we can cookbook that. We can give problems, exercises and homework. We can give feedback on that. And then people go back and work on it and get better. Those hard skills are learned still through experience, but it is a different experiential process. It’s different from developing a soft skill. We see some of those difficulties in developing a soft skill compared to a hard skill.

Why People May Walk Away

Porterfield ’11:28’: The difficulties might encourage someone to say, “That’s too tough. I’m not going to deal with it.”

Soft skills can get sidelined.

Graham: ’11:37’: There’s another way for me to develop some soft skills, which is just watching people who are successful and saying this person is did this, they achieved this. What can I learn from that? What did they do? To me the lesson in perseverance is to look at one we talk about a million times: Steve Jobs and the glass screen on the iPhone. If you want the movie or read the book by Walt Issacson, you see it was going to a glass screen. They said it can’t be a glass screen. And Jobs said it has to be a glass screen. They said it won’t work, it won’t work, it won’t work. But lo and behold, he perseveres and achieves. Whenever I am faced with a situation in my career where I don’t think I can succeed, I go back to Jobs and say, “Maybe this is my glass-screen moment.” And I need to persevere. It can be a big thing or a little thing. That’s just one example from me.

Finding Other People’s Gold

Graham ’12:48’: I like to look at other people, what they do that’s successful and what they don’t do that might have made them successful. Some of them have great ideas and achieve great results. Some have great ideas and don’t achieve great results. Sometimes dissecting what didn’t work can be very instructive in knowing what in the future could work.

Porterfield ’13:19’: Let’s tie it a little closer to home to the eye of the hunter. By now, I hope our network is a little more sensitized and they are seeing those soft skills in action. It might be something where we can be just a little more attentive to our interactions with a group of people and see soft skills in action in other people. We can look at how they persevered, when they pulled back on a topic and let it ferment some and when they introduced it. How did they manage that conversation to, in the end, influence the direction things would go? We all probably have some great examples in our own circles that we can draw. That approach also gives us the opportunity to speak to that person and say, “Wow, I saw how you did this in the meeting. Wow, how did you learn to do that? How do you know when to do that?”

We all have that opportunity to create what I call an ad-hoc mentoring relationship.

Porterfield ’14:24’: It doesn’t have to be a formal relationship, but we can say, “I respect how you did that. Help me understand it because I want to be able to use that soft skill.”

Trying Someone Else’s Glasses On

Graham ’14:37’: I have been blessed in my career with people who I have been able to go to after a meeting or after they did something and say to them, “Walk me through your thought process.” It is amazingly insightful to hear someone describe their thought process in using a soft skill. You realize that their internal logic is somewhat different from your own.

It can be incredibly enlightening to see how someone else perceives how something happened.

Graham ’15:10’: All it requires is to ask someone. Usually, they are very interested in the opportunity because it’s a way to recognize someone who’s doing something successfully. It doesn’t have to be formal. I hear from my students all the time is the question of whether it should be a formal mentoring relationship, a written contract kind of thing. Mentoring doesn’t have to be formal. It can be as simple as I want to be more like Toby in some way, and I may never tell Toby what that thing is. I just start to look at how you do that thing and I start to think about how I can do it better from watching you do it.

The First Step To Start Improving Your Soft Skills

Graham ’15:46’: The other thing I wanted to throw out there because we are talking about this and how we do this as an individual, saying, “I’m going to be a better listener” or “I’m going to manage my time better.” We have to ask what would that look like? What are the steps I need to take to make that happen.

The first step is really saying to ourselves, I am going to try to be better at this soft skill.

Graham ’16:23’: We have a list of over 50 soft skills. It would be impossible to work on all of the soft skills at one time. If you could work on two at any given time, that would be great. You may also find the case where you are working on your listening skills because you have a day-long retreat at work and that‘s a great day to work the soft skill of listening. But another day, you are meeting with a vendor and you may have to be working on the soft skill of being proactive because you know problems are coming up. That soft skills landscape changes situationally. Just talking through this, you can’t always know which soft skill you need to be working on. It changes quite quickly and sometimes we might be addressing more than one.

Those Individual Soft Skills Are…

Porterfield ’17:12’: That’s a good way to assess it. Let’s wrap it up with what we identify as those Individual soft skills. Maybe people can use it almost as a scorecard. We can provide the list of these soft skills on our website at SeriousSoftSkills.com. If you want to go through and kind of rate yourself, we’ll have them there. Let me go through them. You can see where you rank on them and think about where you might want to do some work to get better.

  • Working independently
  • Being proactive
  • Being detail oriented
  • Having a positive attitude
  • Being a lifelong learner
  • Being loyal
  • Stress management
  • Listening skills
  • Persistence
  • Self-motivation
  • Time management

They are in no particular order, but those are the soft skills we pulled together out of the 50 soft skills and said those are the ones that start with me.

Making Improvements

Graham ’18:18’: I counted five that I need to work on. I guess I have my work to do before the next episode. Some might say I need to work on seven or eight of the list of what nine or 11 we put out there. No one has to know that you are doing this. This is something you can do that you can assess this on your own and do this on your own. You may find someone saying you are different or better. For instance, someone might say, “You’ve been on time to meetings a lot more. What’s going on?” Or you may never get that kind of feedback. But inside, you know you have gotten better at these Individual soft skills, which start the ball running toward some of these more complex soft skills.

Next Week’s Episode

Porterfield ’18:59’: Bob, this is a good point to wrap up this episode. We’ve spelled out and identified those Individual soft skills, which are really close to who we are. In our next episode, let’s expand from there and look at those soft skills we use in one-on-one interactions.

Graham ’19:15’: Thanks for doing that closing, Toby, but you forgot two things. You forgot to thank people for listening, telling them to have a good day, and of course, your favorite thing, good soft skills.

 

 

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham share some cutting-edge research on soft skills we obtained from a survey of almost 500 business people. They further dig into results among various groups, including people seeking jobs, workers without leadership roles, mid-level managers, executives, and the self-employed. It’s great stuff that will give you new insights on soft skills.

Bob Graham ‘0:00’: Coming up, we will share some cutting-edge research on soft skills we obtained from a survey of almost 500 business people. It’s great stuff that will give you new insights into how soft skills are really being used in the workplace. That and more in just a few seconds.    

Graham ‘0:28’: Welcome to Episode 4 of Serious Soft Skills. I am Bob Graham, and with me, as always,  is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. We each teach college, we collaborate on researching soft skills, and we both have used and seen others use soft skills in various jobs over our careers. We think our experience and expertise give us a unique lens for looking at soft skills.

Graham ‘0:59’: So today, Toby, we are going to do things a little differently. We’re going to talk about some research we have done in the field of soft skills that we have only released to a list of very few people. So this is breaking news. If I had a glass, I would break it. This is big stuff.

Why This Research Matters

Graham ‘1:29’: Before we get into the research, Toby, why don’t you set up for people what the research found. Of course, whenever you are looking at research, the first question is who did you ask the questions to? Can you walk through how we got this data we are about to share?

Dr. Tobin Porterfield ‘1:45’: Bob, I am going to throw you a curve ball because I think we need to actually take a step further back because one of the problems with research is you have to cover why. Otherwise, you can look at all these results and people say, “Who cares?” Let me frame it up with why we even got into this and why we reached out to our network for some answers. It started with us looking around. As we were developing that sensitivity to soft skills, we’d have observations. We’d say that we had seen leadership do this and I see the importance of communication. We usually refer to these as anecdotal or experiential evidence. We get these little snippets. They almost turn into sound bites that you might hear on the news. We’ve even seen this in news clippings. We start to pull all these pieces together, but as people who look at research, we have to stop and say, “Hold it. Is that really a unique experience I have had and it doesn’t apply to anyone else, anywhere else?” That is what brought us to doing the survey and reaching out to our network to ask the question and validate that soft skills are really important, which soft skills are important, and who are they important for.

Porterfield ‘3:06’: Our initial survey did that and it cleared up a lot of items and it brought some focus in. It also motivated us to say this kind of work needs to be done. Back to the survey. Bob, can you give us a little background on how we reached out to collect that data?

How We Found Participants

Graham ‘3:24’: We went new school, I would say. In the past you would try to find people to do surveys by mail or by fax, and I can remember doing some surveys that way. But here, we actually used some new stuff called social media and email. We leveraged LinkedIn. We used databases we each have of LinkedIn connections. Those connections we sent an email to asking them to fill out a short survey. It took less than five minutes. It wasn’t real long and involved. We also posted it on social media, on our Facebook pages, on LinkedIn and on Twitter. We got really good response there. And we did some networking, one of the soft skills. I sent it out to a few people in my network, who were kind enough to share with their networks of people. We saw a spider-web kind of thing. We received almost 500 responses to this in a very short time, less than a week. We continue to get responses to this day, which highlights to me, one, how valuable social media is as a networking tool, and two, how important this research is to people. They want to contribute and they want to know what we are discovering.

Graham ‘4:54’: Toby, tell us now what that led to.

Porterfield ‘4:57’: Certainly it’s encouraging when you see a large response like that. One, for us, because it shows that it’s a topic that’s really important and when you send a survey out and you don’t get any response, you hear crickets, you probably aren’t into something interesting. But when you get this level of response this quickly, clearly it’s a hot button for a lot of people.

A Diverse Pool of Responses

Porterfield ‘5:16’: What we saw in the results was really exciting because we asked people for age ranges so we would get an understanding where they are in their lifespans and their careers. We have great coverage over people who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50, and 60s. We even had a couple of responses from people in their 70s. Really a nice cross section. In previous podcasts, we talked about how we think that soft skills are really critical in all phases of a career, and I am really pleased that we received responses from across that generational workforce.

Porterfield ‘5:56’: The other thing that we see that is a positive is that the responses are representative of our potential audience. We saw in the ages and we saw a fairly even split between male and female participation, and we saw participation across what we call employment strata. We saw responses from people who are unemployed, people who are employed with no supervisory responsibilities, people with supervisory responsibilities and senior leadership. We’ve got that spectrum to see where soft skills are really being valued across that spectrum. It’s the kind of pool we want to be looking at when we look at that data.

Graham ‘6:40’: That would mean the data is largely valid because it’s a large brush stroke, not highlighting one specific group. I also just want to clarify that if I recall correctly, it wasn’t unemployed, it was people looking for work at the moment.

Porterfield ‘6:57’: Correct.

Graham ‘6:59’: There is a difference. So everyone in the survey was in some way involved in the workforce. The other thing that struck me was we had five or six categories for people that were preset for their job level, and we had the Other category. The Other group was really large, with people who described themselves as entrepreneurs, self-employed, as brokers. It was really an eye-opener to me because all of these people took the time.

For both of us, it was a moment of discovery that soft skills really are legitimately making a difference.

The First Results

Graham ‘7:38’: With that as a backdrop, Toby, why don’t you tell us what some of those results actually were?

Porterfield ‘7:42: As we have discussed before, we have identified over 50 soft skills. We didn’t want to burden the respondents with all 50 of these. We didn’t think we would get a usable response. We would really wear out our people. We chose a few representative soft skills from each of our groupings. Some are more internal, personal type soft skills. Some when you are dealing one-on-one with people. Some when you deal with groups. And then some that address the greater organization, the soft of enterprise issues. We asked them to rate those six items to get some feel across that spectrum of employment situations.

Porterfield ‘8:30’: What we found was that the No. 1 group was one-on-one, the communication skills. That came out on top. We asked respondents to rate them on a scale of 1 to 5, and that came out with a 4.65, which is really high for an average.

Graham: ‘8:46’: Five would be the high, correct?

Porterfield ‘8:48’: Yes. Communication came out on top, followed by critical thinking, the personal enthusiasm, which is a really internal item, then teamwork, stress management and cultural awareness. As a ranking, that is interesting in itself. But it also can be a bit misleading because I said the lowest ranking one was cultural awareness. That doesn’t mean it was rated very low. It had a 3.96 on a 5-point scale. None of these categories were truly low. What is interesting is that those communication skills are coming out on top.

Digging Deeper

Graham ‘9:38’: That is consistent with a lot of the research we’ve seen. I know that the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) does an annual survey and that survey typically talks about the needs of employers. Employers want in that survey employees with more verbal communication and written communication skills. We see that in other research we have done and again, that keeps cropping up. What’s different is probably is we’re taking this broad cross-section. Most of the other research we’ve seen has been really focused on one specific group — employers, college graduates, university programs or alumni. I am not familiar with any other broad cross-section of this nature that really gets at the bigger picture.

Porterfield ‘10:32’: Definitely saw some new information and some affirmation for those anecdotal issues that we see in the news, that we have experience. When you can reach out to a group of nearly 500 people and get confirmation, that’s a good indication that we are headed in the right direction.

There’s a need for soft skills for those people in those positions that they are already recognizing.

Porterfield ‘10:56’: What we asked them was to please rate these soft skills on a scale of 1 to 5 based on how much they affect your success.

The people who are identifying these communication skills and critical thinking and so forth in the ranking are recognizing and attributing them to their success in their current roles.

Porterfield ‘11:19’: I think we have really struck something here.

Graham ‘11:22’: One of the things I think we saw is that soft skills are relevant at all phases of a career, based on these survey responses.

Everyone Sees The Value of Soft Skills

Porterfield ‘11:35’: Yes, and what we saw was that as we broke the respondents into groups based on how they identified themselves, as whether they were non-supervisory, supervisory or senior leadership, we could then compare how they rated each of those groupings of soft skills, how the soft skills are used across the different roles across an organization. True to what we thought we would encounter, soft skills are seen as being critical to success across the organization. We did see some slight variations in it.

Supervisors, Non-Supervisors See Same Needs

Porterfield ‘12:17’: The non-supervisory people identified those one-on-one type of soft skills as being the most important, which is not totally surprising. But it’s good affirmation. Similarly, we saw that with the supervisory people. If we looked at that and asked if that sounded right, I would say, yes, because a supervisory person, to be successful in their work, needs to be developing their employee group. A lot of times that’s being done in a mentoring, coaching and one-on-one type of situation. So I was very pleased to see those types of skills being rated highly for both supervisory and non-supervisory employees.

Graham ‘12:55’: It’s also the kind of work they are doing. In that capacity, I don’t want to say lower levels, but at the more tactical level, you’re really trying to make things happen that are specific tasks. These employees aren’t focused so much on the visions part of the organization. They need to worry about the get-it-done part. That would suggest you would have more discussions one-on-one about how do we achieve this result, if it’s getting more widgets in the warehouse on a Friday afternoon or staffing over the weekend because Trudy’s going away or something like that. Is that consistent with what you think we found?

Porterfield ‘13:37’: Yes. True to that, we move to that senior leadership group and look at what they ranked highest. We did see that senior leadership reach more toward those enterprise soft skills, as we call them, like change management, critical thinking, those types of soft skills, where they have much more influence on the organization as a whole.

Porterfield ‘14:00’: Seeing that dichotomy — the valuing the one-on-one type of connection and valuing the higher-level soft skills — it’s really good to see that differences across all the strata of employment.

Soft Skills and the Self-Employed

Porterfield ‘14:17’:  We had another interesting discovery that we had not expected to tease out. But as you mention, we had many people reply Other to specifying the role in their organization. They identified themselves as being self-employed, entrepreneurs, brokers, clearly people who are running their own businesses or are independent contractors. They also had similar valuations of soft skills and we saw again, those one-on-one skills came out on top, followed closely by the Enterprise grouping.

The independent contractors, the self-employed jump right from the one-on-one interaction to change management, critical thinking, shaping the organization.

Porterfield ‘15:03’: Again, that wasn’t what we were expecting, but once you look at it, you say that wouldn’t be surprising for a person who has a very strong independent role or is the champion or leader of a company or an entrepreneur.

Summarizing Our Findings

Graham ‘15:24’: We’ve given a lot of bullet points, big picture and small picture. Can you sort of summarize this so we have a couple of takeaways?

Porterfield ‘15:32’: Number 1 would be that we validated that people value the role of soft skills in the organization and in their personal success. That interest in soft skills spans ages, genders and roles across the organization. The communication-oriented and critical thinking skills are perceived as the most important across that bandwidth of employees. Roles within the organization influence the sets of soft skills they find most valuable. The soft skill set may change over the span of a career.

Graham ‘16:19’: That’s a great summary. Thank you. If you would like a copy of the white paper we put together with even more details on these results, you can go to our website, SeriousSoftSkills.com. If you would like to comment on what we have been talking about today or if you want to send us suggestions for show topics, you can send an email to podcast@serioussoftskills.com or you can tweet us at @realsoftskills.

Next Week’s Show

Graham ‘17:03’: That’s it for this week. Let me tease what we are going to do next week. We’re going to take a deep dive into something we touched on this week, Individual soft skills. We’ll look more closely at them in our next episode. Until then, thanks for listening, good day and good soft skills.

Today we are going to look at arguably what is one of the most important soft skills, one that sets the stage for so many other soft skills to appear. Will you agree or disagree with our host?

Bob Graham ‘0:00’: Coming up, we are going to look at arguably what is one of the most important soft skills, one that sets the stage for so many other soft skills to appear. That’s coming up in just a few seconds.

Graham ‘0:26’: Welcome to Episode 3 of Serious Soft Skills. I am Bob Graham and with me, as always — well, it’s only our third episode — is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. Hey, Toby?

Porterfield ‘0:36’: I am looking forward to this episode today because I think the topic one that we don’t completely agree on. So it will cause us to have some discussion over it and I think we are going to hear some interesting responses from some of our listeners.

Graham ‘0:55’: We’ll get to that in a few seconds. But first, let me set up who we are for someone who might have come into this cold. We each teach college, we collaborate on researching soft skills, and we both have used and seen others use soft skills in various jobs over our careers. We think our experience and expertise give us a unique lens for looking at soft skills and that’s what we are going to do right now.

The Most Important Soft Skill?

Graham ‘1:22’: I’m going to tell you — are you ready for this, Toby?

Porterfield ‘1:29’: Let’s have it.

Graham ‘1:31’: I am going to make the bold pronouncement that listening is the most important soft skill of the over 50 that we catalogued. I have been working on our book project and I was writing about listening and the more I wrote about listening, the more I realized it is really the key soft skill. Do you want to argue that right away or do you want me to make my case?

Porterfield ‘2:00’: I think I will start with a slight agreement in that listening enables so many other soft skills — innovation, teamwork. There are so many ways that listening is, I’ll use that term, enabling that it’s an important one. I’ll give you that. Let’s see what you have to say about listening.

Graham ‘2:23’: Okay, I was going to go with you just accepted my case. We can call it a day and people can get on with their lives. But  now you are going to make me do a little work.

Porterfield ‘2:36’: Absolutely.

A Leader Who Didn’t Listen

Graham ‘2:38’: Did you know that Marissa Mayer, 20th employee at Google, female software engineer, one of the most visible employees at Google. She left there to go to Yahoo! to be its CEO, not a programmer, but the CEO at Yahoo!. Over her tenure of four or five years, things were a bit rocky, to say the least. And more recently, if you have been following the headlines, you know she has sort of ushered the company to be bought by Verizon Communications. And she’s basically on her way out the door. Her choice, she’s resigning. But if you look at her tenure at Yahoo!, what she really was supposed to be doing at Yahoo! was rebuilding Yahoo! Again and again in the reporting on her and Yahoo!, and this came up frequently, her inability to listen to people — she was one of those people who thought she was the smartest person in the room — and she tended to articulate things without listening to the people in the company who were trying to help her. We see this in companies all the time with leadership trying to help the leader because failure to them means failure to employees, which can mean bad things like uncertainty and other problems. I have certainly worked at several jobs where leadership challenges have made it hard to go in and do the job each day.

When you don’t have listening, you don’t have the opportunity for an organization to grow.

Listening Leads to Influencing

Graham ‘4:18’: That was my first piece of evidence. My second piece is really fascinating to me. I found some research on MBA students. What they did was they found that for people to be influential in leadership roles, they had to have listening appear first.

If you weren’t a listener, you couldn’t be a leader.

Graham ‘4:49’: That was the a-ha moment for me. Boy, if you are going to influence people, what are the things you need to be able to do. You have to listen because you have to understand what other people’s motivations are; what their fears, concerns, interests and goals are; and you also have to understand their language. Good leadership comes from using the language of that organization. I have worked at a lot of different jobs and the language at each job is different, the way people interact is different, the things that are acceptable norms are different. The first thing you have to do at a new job is really listen. Is it a culture where when they ask you to go to lunch on Friday, you better go to lunch or you are jeopardizing your potential there? Or is it a place where they ask you to lunch because you are the new guy? That’s what we do, but we really don’t want you to accept. Those are two examples to me where listening really shows up as a critical entry point to broader soft skills engagement.

Porterfield ‘6:11’: That connects back to what I started with. That is influence. You talk about listening and the MBA study that said if you are not a listener, you are missing a big part of being an influencer. I think back to John Maxwell, who has several books on leadership. The tagline I remember, and I may not be quoting this exactly, but it is leadership in influence, plain and simple. To be a leader, you certainly have to be an influencer. Also, pushing further into his book, he says that influencing isn’t just for the leader in the organization. Each one of us has an informal leadership position. We are each leaders in our own right, whether it is in our personal life, our volunteer life, our social life, our business life. That’s where when we talk about who needs listening skills, we all have the opportunity to influence the ecosystem we operate in. Influence is a really important part of it. Listening is so foundational to that.

Graham ‘7:33’: Someone, maybe my wife or some other people that know me well, would say my listening skills are not the best. I want to acknowledge that because maybe my lens may be challenged in some cases. I wanted to throw that out there and it’s probably fair. I was listening to what you were saying I was worried that I was sounding like this incredibly great listener, that people come to me and I listen to every word they say, and I think you, having breakfast with me probably 300 times, know that is probably not my strongest suit. I’m probably a better talker than listener. Maybe that’s part of what makes me make that one such an important soft skill. We do need to have influence at every level of an organization and it is one of those things we often overlook. We assume, and I certainly assumed this when I got into my career and was the new guy, that I was going to have no influence. I was going to have to earn the ability to speak at meetings and make a contribution. But what we are seeing now is some of the students leaving colleges are sharper technically than their superiors often. They know how to use technology in ways we older people might not be as well versed in, and know when to say something and when not to say something. And also, for that person supervising that younger person has the expertise and knowing when to listen. I have been on both sides of that and that’s a little dicey.

Porterfield ‘9:29’: Even with that influence, what I will support is that listening is so key to our success, but you make a good point that it’s not something that comes natural to us.

Listening is also something in a new situation, we may be more inclined to not listen, to jump to conclusions.

Technology and Listening, Oh, My

Porterfield ‘10:00’: You have identified for us some of the issues surrounding listening for us. Can you lay out a few of those?

Graham ‘10:08’: Certainly, one of the big things that can be good and bad with listening, and we all live it, as my phone actually is buzzing in my pocket while we are speaking is technology. The ubiquitous cellphone, it is there at all times. It’s vibrating in my pocket and I am dying to know who is trying to reach me right now. Is it something important? If I take that right now, then that means I am not paying attention to you and this podcast. I see this happen all the time. I was out to dinner a couple of nights ago. I was at a beach resort area and there was a family of six and they were all on their technology, three on their cellphones, three on their iPads. And I am certain they considered it a family dinner. It was shocking to me that that could go on. But we see it all the time. I am not going to tell you that I am not guilty of that. I have checked out of discussions with people because my cellphone or my computer or because I am a great multi-taskers in my mind. I can be watching a TV show and writing something, or editing a podcast and watching TV, and suddenly I realize that one or the other I am doing better at, and I have to go back and recover. That is a reality we have to deal with.

Graham ‘11:36’: On the other side, technology can be incredibly empowering. You and I are doing this podcast over Skype. We are in different locations. We are 63 miles away from each other. I was texting with a relative in China two weeks ago and I had no idea he was in China until he told me it was bedtime. I was thinking it was kind of early in the morning for bedtime. Then he told me he was in China. So we have this ability to communicate and be engaged with people much more than we ever have been, but it comes at a cost.

Our need to listen is heightened now because we have an incredible amount of information being thrown at us everyday and you have to be able to determine what is valuable to you.

What may be valuable to you in what I am saying may be different for someone else. We have to be able to hear for what we need to hear. Do you hear what I am saying Toby, or am I just talking to myself?

Multi-Tasking Hurts More than Listening

Porterfield ‘12:46’: I’m sorry. I was just checking a text. Did you say something? Could you play that back again? That misnomer of multi-tasking, we deceive ourselves. You mentioned that when we are multi-tasking we really aren’t engaging productively and there have been studies that show there are some things we can do at the same time, but really when we engage with another person, multitasking really gets in the way. Not only does it interrupt that flow of information back and forth, but it also sends a message to the person you are speaking to that you are not as important. Let me check on my phone right now. That’s what really can take away from your ability to influence a situation and your ability to listen. I would push it a little further. At the heart of that is the relationship between people in that suddenly they know where they stand in the priorities of your life.

Coming Up Next Week

Graham ‘14:00’: We have given people enough to think about. If you listened to this podcast and agree that listening is the most important soft skill or disagree, we’d love to hear from you. You can email us at podcast@serioussoftskills.com or you can tweet us at @realsoftskills. We would love to have that discussion. There are more than 50 soft skills that you can choose from. We would be anxious to hear someone else describe what they think is the most important soft skill. With that we are getting near the end. It’s time for me to tease next week’s episode. Next week, Toby, I am really excited because we are finally going to share what nearly 500 people told us about soft skills in the survey we did a few weeks ago. It’s really good information about how soft skills are really being looked at in the workplace. We are going to share those results and talk through them next week. I think that’s going to be a real eye-opener for people. I know it was for the two of us that this isn’t just academic theory and concepts. This is actually where the rubber meets the road and it shows people are really starting to pay attention. That’s next week. Thank you for listening, good day, and your favorite line of all time, Toby, good soft skills.

Each summer more than 100 children of all ages come together to put together a summer production at a church located in Stewartstown, Pa. For more than 10 years, one or more of our nieces and nephews have been involved in this production, whether on stage, behind the scenes, in the orchestra, or playing a leadership role in the music or on stage. This summer, five of them will participate in some way in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Beyond giving the children something to do for the summer, the stage productions, which have included “Shrek,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “Godspell,” allow the children to develop their soft skills. They have to listen to directors and fellow actors. They work on their communication and presentation skills, two of the more important soft skills, based on what employers seek each year. They must be persistent, as learning lines and dance moves and other nuances of the show takes most of the summer. They have to adapt to change, for as anyone who has ever been on stage can attest, no two shows are the same. They develop their teamwork and leadership skills, helping younger performers and understudies to prepare.

None of the actors and actresses, the stage hands, the orchestra or anyone else is thinking about their soft skills development as they participate in the show. But when they have to sell themselves to colleges and employers with their resumes, cover letters, essays and discussions, they are likely to point to these hot summer nights and the soft skills they developed.

 

 

You may have heard about soft skills, but you may not know who in your office needs to use them and why. We’ll explain it all.

Bob Graham ‘0:00’: You may have heard about soft skills, but you may not know who in your office needs to use them and why. We will enlighten you in just a few seconds.

Graham ‘0:22’: Welcome to Episode 2 of Serious Soft Skills. I am Bob Graham, and with me is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. We each teach college, we collaborate on researching soft skills, and we both have used and seen others use soft skills in various jobs over our careers. We think our experience and expertise give us a unique lens for looking at soft skills. So let’s get to it.

We explained what soft skills were and were not in Episode 1. But before we get to our topic today, let’s answer a few emails we received.

Dr. Tobin Porterfield ‘1:06’: It’s always good to hear from our listeners.

Aren’t Soft Skills Just Being Nice To People?

Graham ‘1:09’: Tim asked, aren’t soft skills just being friendly and nice to the people you work with? Toby?

Porterfield ‘1:13’: Wow. That’s dangerous. While we certainly want to be engaging with people and interested in the people we work with, that’s an oversimplification. That casual smile and looking like you are paying attention are not what we are looking for. When we are talking about soft skills, we are talking about intentionality here. It’s not just being nice, it’s not just being there, but that’s important. It’s the intentionality of engaging in such a way that it enables us to apply our technical skills, our hard skills, in a new way.

Graham ‘2:19’: You aren’t saying we shouldn’t be nice. You’re just saying that soft skills are more than just being nice.

Porterfield ‘2:23’: That just isn’t going to get us where we need to go at work.

Why Did It Take So Long to Recognize Soft Skills?

Graham ‘2:27’: We also have a great question from Kaitlyn. If researchers working with the Army first coined the phrase soft skills in the early 1970s, why did it take so long for people to really start talking about them?

Porterfield ‘2:49’: The work for the Army in the early 70s is where they coined that term “soft skills.” I wish I had coined that term myself. It would have been a great thing. They were pretty forward-looking on soft skills. They really were able to grab hold of that. I don’t think we are arguing that soft skills didn’t exist way before the 1970s. People have been working in teams, using listening skills, perseverance. We have a country made of pioneers who persevered and captains of industry who built the economy that we live in today. It comes back to intentionality in what we have seen as we have progressed from the 1970s, the 1980s to today is, as we talked about in Episode 1, the economy has changed, the workplace has changed and there is a need now to approach work in a new way. We have emphasized those hard skills, we have a lot of disciplinary knowledge in so many fields, but those soft skills are what are coming into play today that are making us say, what do we need today to be competitive, innovative. We’ve got the hard skills and soft skills, but how do we mobilize them? That’s where soft skills really are coming into the discussion today.

Graham ‘4:26’: I want to thank Tim and Katlyn for their great questions. Keep those questions coming. You can email them to podcast@serioussoftskills.com or tweet them to us at @realsoftskills. We will answer more questions in future episodes.

Which Employees Use Soft Skills?

Graham ‘5:19‘: Now, Toby, let’s talk about which employees have to use soft skills. Is it the leaders, the new employees or only people who have to interact with a firm’s “customers”? I have heard all three of these.

Porterfield ‘5:46’: We both have heard all three of those and that is because all three are true. We use the term that we take a lens. We look in our camera and get a slice of it. Historically, we have seen a lot of that come to fruition when we looked at leadership. We saw these people who were moved into leadership, promoted into leadership and they weren’t able to rally the team and take it where it needed to go. Oh, that leader, they didn’t have the soft skills they need to be successful. And we get fixed in on that. Then we look out at the new hires and they come out of college with all these disciplinary skills and they know how to use the technology. And we are seeing in the job descriptions that oh, by the way, you need communication skills. You need self-discipline, self-motivation. Depending on which lens we flip to, we see those soft skills. I hate that pat answer where we say, “Everybody needs soft skills.”

The Story of Doug, Whose Soft Skills Were Lacking

‘7:02’: But let me share one more story that will frame this up a bit better. We have a shared connection, Bob, and I met with him for coffee recently. We were talking about these soft skills issues. He’s quite a leader. He has established a marketing and Internet company. And he had an industry career before that. Like us, he had that industry experience, then moved on to other opportunities. He shared from his technical background back in industry. He had this guy, we’ll call him Doug, and he was an incredible database administrator. He was just a genius with it. We could put anything we need in front of him and he would take care of the databases for their clients. Certainly Doug was an outstanding resource for them to have. But then as time went on, clients started to say they wanted to meet Doug. We want Doug to come to the meetings. And they started bringing Doug along, and pretty soon they found that he didn’t want to communicate what would be challenging, what would be easy. Doug clearly lacked those soft skills and even cost them some relationships. That is where we see that fallback. Oh, this person has the technical expertise. In most situations these days, we are seeing that those technical skills are not enough. Just being that technical expert and being locked in your office or your cubicle, and never having to interact is not feasible in a competitive environment. You can’t have a resource that needs to be locked away to protect them from anyone they might encounter.  

Graham ‘9:01’: You scare me when you tell me about Doug because you make me think there is no hope for Doug. The reality is we can all build our soft skills. If we want to be better at teamwork, then we have to put ourselves in positions where we have to work on teamwork. If we want to work on problem-solving, which is another soft skills, we need to work on solving problems. We can’t easily be in the work world and not be adapting to change. We all have the ability to improve on these things. It’s not like guys like Doug that you described are consigned to working in the basement of the building and never interacting with people.

Porterfield ‘9:54’: I would say that’s not going to be our most effective organization if we are going to have that type of situation. We probably need to devote a couple of episodes just to how to develop soft skills because it’s different than developing technical skills.

Soft skills can be developed, they can be strengthened, but it takes some different approaches.

Graham ‘10:22’: Probably the first thing is awareness, knowing, so someone like Doug realizing that he cost the company some business and someone having a hard discussion with Doug about the situation. He has to take stock and may say, “I had no idea.” We aren’t always aware of our weaknesses. It’s not like technical skills. If I can’t write a press release for a client of mine, I am in trouble. If I can’t teach the course I am teaching to my students, then I am in trouble. I get feedback almost immediately and I can make corrections right away.

But with soft skills, it’s a little more fuzzy and a little more in the background.

Porterfield ‘11:18’: Soft skills are hiding beneath the current sometimes. But for talent professionals, they really need to get an eye for those soft skills. They need to be able to detect and have an awareness for soft skills, which ones they need at the time and where the weaknesses are.

Seeing Soft Skills Everywhere

Graham ‘11:39’: Maybe it’s time for you to bring up the idea I idea you mentioned a few weeks ago: the eye of the hunter and how that might apply for people. I have found this idea to be a really valuable part of this discovery.

Porterfield ‘11:55’: We had that discussion because as we started into this process, we were looking at teamwork, we were looking at different aspects of the work situation, and soft skills started coming in to our discussions. We started to unwrap them ourselves and to demystify them. We found out that there are specific things that are soft skills, and as we started learning them and unwrapping them and started looking at what are the Individual soft skills and what do they look like, and other ways of looking at them, we ran across the idea of the eye of the hunter. I know with my father-in-law, he lives out in the country and when we are driving down the road, he will be looking around and he’ll ask if I saw that pheasant over there or that deer over there. I’m thinking, I’m looking around and you’re driving. I didn’t see any of this. That’s where the eye of the hunter comes from. Once you know what you are looking for and I have heard it described as when you look down a hedge row and you see that item. That’s not found in nature. It’s a rabbit. You have to know what to look for and you see it. That’s what we’re experiencing with soft skills. We’ve become sensitized to soft skills. We’re seeing them all the time. Unfortunately, we are seeing or not seeing them in ourselves. I realize that I wasn’t listening really well, was I? Or we see it in other people who have this idea or something they are trying to endorse, and they didn’t have the communication skills ready to put that out there. That’s what we want to help people with. We really want them to become sensitized to soft skills, but in an informed way. We actively identify them and then actively work to correct them or improve them in the situation.

We want that eye of the hunter for soft skills in everyone. We want them to be attuned to the soft skills.

How Soft Skills Can Change Us

Graham ‘14:09’: It’s interesting and fun to have this new set of skills that you can bring to the table and be more strategic and more conscious of them. I don’t want anyone to be listening to this and saying this too much work. I can’t deal with all this soft skills stuff. The me with awareness of soft skills is a much better me. I see things differently now. I find times that I might act differently now than I would have in the past and to good effect for me and the people around me.

Porterfield ‘14:57’: I guess what I am seeing is what we have started to promote and what we have started to promote. As a researcher and an educator in my current role, having sensitive to my soft skills and where I am weak, it’s really helped me apply my technical skills in new ways, in my research, in my engagement with students. It’s exciting.

Graham ‘15:29’: That’s probably a good place to stop things. The idea that it’s exciting allows us to continue on with this podcast week after week. Next week, I am going to make the case — be ready for it Toby — that this one soft skill is the most important, one that enables so many other soft skills to appear. If you think you know what it is that I am going to bring to the table next week, why don’t you send us your guess. You can email us at podcast@serioussoftskills.com or send it on Twitter at @realsoftskills. We hope you will join us next time. Until then, thanks for listening, good day and good soft skills.