Meeting facilitation may not seem like a soft skill, but it can easy serve as a gateway to more productivity and opportunity for leaders, managers and organizations.

 

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss the cost and culture surrounding ineffective meetings and why good meetings really do require strong soft skills.

  • In this episode, they discuss:
  • The incredible cost to American companies from unproductive meetings.
  • Why meeting facilitation is on the soft skills list
  • How technology makes meeting planning and management easier
  • Why technology makes meetings even more difficult to facilitate
  • Tips for leading productive meetings
  • Tips for how to be a good meeting attendee
  • Why some meetings might not be necessary
  • The two times that holding a meeting really makes sense
  • Examples of the best and worst meetings
  • The soft skills at play in meetings

Share your best or worst meeting story with them at @RealSoftSkills or at podcast (at) serioussoftskills.com.

Next week’s episode will feature a discussion of the environment in which soft skills operate and how different environments could mean using different soft skills to achieve the same tasks.

Soft skills are the true differentiator that helps people with strong technical skills earn jobs and transform their organizations, the hosts explain while answering listener questions.

Introduction

Bob Graham (‘0:20’): Welcome to Serious Soft Skills, Episode 16. With me is Dr. Tobin Porterfield.  For you newcomers and those of you who have been with us for a while, you may or may not know we have uncovered a list of 55 soft skills. We dug this list up though academic research and our teaching of college students and work in various industries. Paying really close attention to these soft skills we are now doing this podcast to discover what each of these soft skills means and how they fit into our lives. Today we are going to extend that into a new direction and take some listener questions. It’s always exciting. We’re picked some really hard ones. Hopefully, we can find our way through them.

Soft Skills Are Not Teachable

Graham (‘1:16’): The first one comes from Anonymous, and you are going to see why in a second. Anonymous says, “Why do you guys care so much about soft skills? We either have them or don’t so why are you spending so much time on them?” 

Dr. Tobin Porterfield (‘1:46”): I like to question things. I have a skeptical mind. I want to ask if this is real. The argument that sets it up most. We kind of tee this up in the beginning of our book. The business environment has really changed. The business world is hyper competitive. Things are changing quickly. Technology change is coming on. The workplace has changed. The type of work we do has changed. It has made soft skills more important. It’s not that they haven’t existed. There are ones of us that have stronger sets of soft skills, stronger in some areas. But it’s something that we need to bring to the workplace these days. A recognition of what they are is critical, as is a solid, honest self-reflection of where we each are on those soft skills is essential to the success of organizations. We have to say soft skills are there in the workplace, and if an individual has been able to avoid developing soft skills for a long time, that avoidance time is passed.

If we are going to be effective in the workplace today, soft skills are not optional.

Graham (‘3:02’): I would agree with all of that. I would add that you and I have countless examples of students we have taught who performed better when looking for a job and get the job because they have more soft skills. They are more in demand. We know that from research, and not just our research. Employers are looking for soft skills like problem-solving, written and oral communication. When they see people that can offer those skills, those are the people who are getting hired. I tell my students all the time that there are thousands of people just like you with that same engineering or writing degree, or whatever degree. How do you differentiate yourself? 

You all know the same technical expertise. It’s the soft skills, how you are going to apply them, how you are going to interact with people, that ultimately separates some from the pack.

Porterfield (‘3:57’): You said it and that is how we position soft skills. They are not in place of technical skills. It’s how we implement and integrate those technical skills in the workplace. The people and the organizations that have valued and strengthened soft skills are better performers. They are able to take the same engineering skills, which we can hire into any organization if we have the money to hire people, but whether we are actually able to innovate, solve problems or transform an organization using those soft skills, that’s where the soft skills are going to come in and make a huge difference. Soft skills are the differentiator between who gets the job and who doesn’t, between whose successful and who is not, and which organizations are successful and which ones are not.  

Did You Guys Make Up that List of 55 Soft Skills?

Graham (‘5:00’): Our next question comes from BiBi. I don’t know if that’s a man or woman, boy or girl. You talk about your list of 55 soft skills. Where did your list come from really? I think that question is code for, I think you guys are making this list up and just doing a podcast on stuff you made up. Can you walk us through how that list came about because you did the hard work on that list?

Porterfield (5:27′): I was at the same place. I’d heard of soft skills. I felt like this was soft skills. Then I  heard that that was soft skills and that was soft skills and other things were soft skills. We came together to do soft skills research out of frustration. We wanted to really figure out what soft skills are. We made the decision that we should look into the research, starting with academic research and books that have been published related to soft skills to see what all of these soft skills perspectives are. We went back through. I am embarrassed to say I don’t remember the number of articles, publications, journal articles, papers going back into the 1970s that somehow mentioned soft skills.

Chasing Down Our List of 55 Soft Skills

Porterfield (6:02′): The wonders of technology today enable us to search for the key words like “soft skills,” “professional skills,” “non-technical skills” and do these searches. We got back 10s of thousands of resources, but we wanted to find the best resources to explain what soft skills are and are not.  Let’s not look at blog posts and things like that. Let’s look at academic research that’s been done at credible universities and books that have been written by credible authors. Typical of research, as we started to accumulate that list, we started to see duplication of the terms — oral communication, speaking skills, being able to speak clearly. We saw that different terms meant the same thing so we had to link together the synonymous terms. We also had to separate the terms when they were new. We had to make those judgments. This one talks about presentation skills, which is a little different because it brings in the technology and the visual aspects. We parsed all of that and were left with a list of 55 soft skills. But as often happens when you are doing research, when you are searching for a topic, you find repetition. We got to a point where we said we think we have the full list. We got to a point where we saw repetition and nothing new coming in. We felt we had a good, comprehensive list of soft skills. But we also recognized that when we go forward with this list, someone’s going to read what we are writing or hear what we are saying, they are going to tell us that we forgot about this or that. I know there are probably more than 55 soft skills. I hope we get to that point. We are willing to add to that list of 55 soft skills. I think we have the most full view of soft skills that we have ever found. People came at them from different angles from their needs and their interests. We wanted to cut across that and come up with the real portfolio, because the list of soft skills is so large. Out of that set of soft skills, different people and different organizations need to say we need strengths in these areas and those other ones are not as important to us right now. The ability to treat it like a Chinese menu and pick off what you want is important.

Which Soft Skill Will Help My Career Most?

Graham (‘8:42’): That leads me now to the next questions. Trevor asks, If I want to improve my career, which soft skills should I work on first? Do you mind, Toby, if I take a stab answering that one?

Porterfield (8:56′): I was hoping you would take a stab at answering that one.

Graham (9:05′): Any one soft skill isn’t going to make all the difference in the world because we have that portfolio of 55 soft skills. As we discuss in earlier episodes, we talk about different groupings of soft skills. We talked about Individual soft skills, Nexus or one-on-one communication soft skills, Group soft skills and Enterprise soft skills. You could go back and listen to those episodes and you might do best to start with the Individual category that includes things like empathy, patience, respect, perseverance. Those soft skills are the ones I would think of as foundational. They are the ones we really need to have inside us to go on to the next level and really expand. If I was going to pick one to start with, I would start with the one Individual soft skill I am weakest at, then the next one and the next one after that. Even the ones I am really good at, I would ask people about how you are with them. The feedback can be that you aren’t excellent at it. They might tell you that you are not the worst or okay at it. That’s the thing about this list of 55. There’s always improvement to make. It’s like running. You can always come up with another personal record. If you shave 5 seconds off your time today, that means you get up tomorrow and you hope to shave off another second off that day. 

Porterfield (’11:03′): That really gets at the root of the issue. Do you have another listener question?

Should Soft Skills Be the Focus in Interviews?

Graham (’11:23′): Our last question comes from Evan K. If soft skills are so important, why aren’t they the focus of job interviews? And he asks the logical next question. Should they be?

Porterfield (’11:37′): We are starting to see soft skills being more of a focus of job interviews. Certainly, we have a lot of different types of organizations out there that are starting to focus more heavily on soft skills. With our research, we looked at job descriptions as a way to vet our list of 55 soft skills. We found them out there in job descriptions, online job postings, prevalently. It’s a process. Soft skills are recognized now. We are seeing them in the job descriptions. I know when we talk to our students when they come back from job interviews, they are often amazed that soft skills came up. They expected to be talking about their knowledge of marketing, or the case they worked on, or this supply chain problem I solved. They come back and tell us that you won’t believe that they asked a situational question. They asked the student to tell them a time that you had to persevere to get through to what you wanted to accomplish? The student says she wasn’t ready for that kind of question. I say cheers to the company. That’s great. Recognizing that those soft skills are important, even when it’s in the job description, and teasing them out in the interview process is difficult. Now, we are faced with the challenge in our classrooms to prepare our students to be able to articulate those soft skills in the interview. They can’t say that they are really uncomfortable with that question and not answer it at an interview. Not answering is the ticket to the door. The company wants to hear you think on your feet and really be able to respond to questions like tell me a time when you had to deal with conflict or tell me a time when you had to come up with an innovative solution. How did you drive that and motivate your group? We not only need to know what our strengths are with soft skills, but we have to be able to story tell.

Graham (’13:20′): With the students, it’s often about helping them to understand what soft skills are in the first place. If you are not aware of soft skills, it’s really hard to have that storytelling around them. It’s awareness of soft skills and their role in organizational growth that comes first, then how do soft skills fit into what I am doing now. 

Forecasting the Future 

Graham (’14:00′) Frankly, as we have evolve with soft skills, we are going to get to that place where people will seek out internships and opportunities to boost their soft skills, maybe as much, if not more than their technical skills. Typically, we choose internships and jobs on the technical skills. Wouldn’t it be interesting to choose a job based on your soft skills. If you have the ability to manage projects and solve problems, those are transferrable skills. Some people call soft skills transferrable skills. If you could take those skills to another job. You can learn how to make the widgets at a different company, but if you can manage projects, pretty much once you know what they are doing, you can manage a project. That’s part of the beauty of soft skills. They are no longer confined to one company. It’s no longer only what you learned at that company about how they make products or deliver their specific services that matters. When you go to a new company, you are no longer a blank slate. You are someone who has all that experience and all those opportunities to build your soft skills portfolio, and now you have the chance to leverage them at the new company.

Porterfield (’15:00′): That thinking is right on track with how we see soft skills and soft skills development., A lot of what you bring is experience to a job is your ability to apply your knowledge to the discipline. You have done that marketing campaign, you have done month close in accounting. Those are awesome experiences. But those experiences related to working in a group, teamwork, innovation, problem-solving, those are the ones that really bring great benefit to your current and next organization.

Next Week

Next week, we will dig into another one of the 55 soft skills. Look for that and more next week on the Serious Soft Skills Podcast.

Patience makes the list of soft skills. We’ll explain why and how it fosters opportunities at work and in careers.

 

Introduction

Dr. Tobin Porterfield (‘0:20’): Welcome to Serious Soft Skills, Episode 15. With me is Bob Graham. For you newcomers, welcome. Let’s set the stage. We have uncovered a list of 55 soft skills from our review of academic research and our teaching of college students, and our work in diverse industries. We use our keen eye on soft skills to help uncover how they work and how we all can improve them. We look at what they mean and why they matter in today’s workplace.

Porterfield (‘0:48’): Now we are going to take a look at patience. As I say that Bob, I feel like I need to take a deep breath. Let’s. Deal. With. Patience. I feel relaxed when I say it.

Bob Graham (‘1:00’): I have been waiting forever for you to ask me that question. I am at the edge of my seat. Could he have gone any longer with that introduction and the guy with the really good voice that we paid so much money for. Then back to you. I just can’t wait any longer. I am just going to jump right into it.

Porterfield (‘1:23’): Maybe patience isn’t your thing.

Graham (‘1:23’): It is not. I openly admit that. This is one that I cringe to see some of the people who are around me to hear that I am talking about patience. I am not a very patient person. I am hoping we can learn some things from our discussion. I did some research because it is not my strong suit.

Getting a Handle on Basic Patience

Graham (‘1:47’): There was a good article about patience in the Huffington Post in April 2015. It’s by Dr. Heiger Zayed. I apologize if i misstated that name. He really explained where we start with the idea of patience. He say:

Patience gives us the option to cool down and to extend the grace to ourselves and others in the immediate moment — when we need it most. To be patient means we don’t react mindlessly to minor irritations and inconveniences. Patience gives us the freedom to respond in a more kind and gentle way.

Graham (‘2:42’): He ends with a really interesting idea, which is that it is one of the greatest virtues in all religions. And if you think about that, it is really true. We really value patience — like we value gold because it’s hard to find gold. And it’s hard to find patience, and when I find it, it’s often by just luck. I don’t think I am consistent with patience at all and that’s part of the challenge with it. But you want to talk a little differently about patience? Can you explain why it’s a soft skill and why we think it’s important?

How Patience is a Soft Skill

Porterfield (‘3:18’): We cast patience as one of our Individual skills that we bring to the workplace, but it’s not one we naturally bring to any relationship. It is something most of us have to work on, myself included. It gets back to that core element. It can be so damaging to a relationship to not have patiences involved. My concern with including patience or encouraging it in the workplace is that it can run in conflict with the need to be proactive. We want to be careful that we cast patience and some similar ones that we talk about with respect for the people we work with. Empathy is one of them. Patience isn’t about how we deal with time management or how we deal with proactive or taking initiative. Patience doesn’t mean sitting back and letting things come, but as Zayed had said, allowing us to take a breath and think about that next step and not respond in a way that will be inappropriate or damaging. We really are talking about being patient with other people and being patient even with ourselves and our situation. We have to let that develop on its own before we take an action that we may regret.

Graham (‘5:06’): Where I am impatient, it’s usually when I am dealing with other people or team activities, with group assignments where it’s just so slow. I want to get things done. I don’t want perfection. I just want it off the checklist and move to the next thing. And the tension I have sometimes is with people who are perfectionists, who want to do it the right way or get everything exactly 100% right. I just want to get this book closed on Friday afternoon and move to something else on Monday morning. I have found that it’s a good thing to push in some situations, but it can also be detrimental when you start to erode relationships and people start to pigeonhole you as the guy who just wants to rush through things to get things done. Or if they say he’s the guy who doesn’t care about quality. Those can really be detrimental. You said it well when we were prepping this: There’s a natural tension between patience and taking initiative.

Porterfield (‘6:15’): Or even time management or being proactive. 

Recognizing Time Realities

Graham (‘6:19’): Patience also is recognizing that things take a certain amount of time. Trying to get a contract approved by the U.S. government is going to take more than a day. That’s just reality. If you are trying to do other things, it takes time. This podcast takes time. There’s no way around it. It takes time to plan them, to do them, to post-production and it takes time for people to start to listen to them. We could say we will have 1 million listeners on the first day. But that’s not realistic. Some of patience is about being realistic situationally. That patience varies from situation to situation and day to day. When you think about time management, it’s about resource allocation. Sometimes patience for me comes with the allocation of resources. We only have so many hours to devote to this extra project. We only have so many dollars that we can put toward hiring additional staff. That’s just the reality. Sometimes patience is the result of a realistic assessment of the situation. Is that something that comes into play in project management?

Porterfield (‘7:48’): That really gets us to an interesting spot in this discussion. We have talked about patience with other individuals, with dealing with patience with ourselves, and then going to that outer ring of the planet, and recognizing that we have to have patience with the environment. You used the term realistic. 

We have to set realistic expectations for ourselves, but also of how the system’s going to work around us.

Patience in Action

Porterfield (‘8:15’): It gets us to the third area that we need to bring in. We talk about Individual soft skills, where patience is one of them. We talk about Nexus soft skills  between people, but we also get to Group soft skills. We can’t avoid talking about how important patience is to a group environment. Over the last few months, I have been involved in several strategic groups working in an organization to identify new opportunities to really take the organization into a new direction. That is a slow process. We spent lots of time together as a group. Some of these committees had 10 people or 20. These groups can get a little bit large, but it was challenging for me to be sitting here and thinking I know where we need to go. I know what the answer is to the questions. Can I just put some action items on the board and can we move on? I just need to take that breath and let people explore and discuss and run down some rabbit trails. To my surprise, this group came up with some ideas I never thought of and we ended up with some outstanding new initiatives, places to head to that we never considered. They wouldn’t have been on my list of action items. Having that patience to trust that process and allow people that latitude to talk about stuff and just let them get it out on the table. There might be threads we can pull on. It launched another conversation and another conversation. We ended up with results that I would not have gotten to had I just cut off the group, if I had said we talked enough, we need to put stuff on the board.

Porterfield (’10:00′): At the same time, we need to maintain that focus that we are moving toward something. We can’t meet endlessly. We need to get ideas on the table. There has to be that tension point. We have to recognize when we have circled the field too many times. We need to land this plane.

Patience Fights Emotional Reactions

Graham (’10:15′): That’s a great example. I have had similar experiences. I think, really, we’re going to meet again. Then they throw you by coming up with something that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. What patience leads to ultimately is perspective. In that moment of being patient, we sort of back away from the emotion and get back to the issue at hand. The thing that I struggle with when I become impatient is my emotion gets the best of me. I just want to get this thing done and move on. I want to move to the next shiny object. Done, done, done. Check off, check off, check off. It’s all emotion. It’s not rational. It’s not like anyone is saying I need to get this thing done by Friday afternoon. It’s me setting an artificial deadline because I like to get things done on Friday. But the perspective is that sometimes having the weekend to think over things and reconvene on Monday really has a value. Getting that distance for two days and not thinking about it, then hitting the ground running on Monday can give us new insights. You can ask if anyone sees it differently on Monday morning.

Patience ultimately gives us perspective and that ability to look at things differently.

Patience as a Gift

Graham (’11:42′): The gift I get is a deeper understanding of the context in which I am operating. It moves away from an emotional reaction to more of a logical reaction over time. When we think about our soft skills list, there isn’t one about emotion. But there is one about thinking logically. Isn’t that what we ultimately are thinking about?

Porterfield (’12:13′): It comes back to something we talk about in the book. That is that a lot of these Individual soft skills — patience, empathy, respect for other people, for example — and those higher level ones like innovation. That’s where we need those foundational soft skills. We aren’t going to get to real innovation without these foundational soft skills like patience. We don’t want to say there’s an absolute cause and effect here. But these foundational soft skills are the ones that are going to enable future soft skills and their development. Really, what we are talking about is transforming an organization. That’s really where we want to go.

Graham (’12:52′): Toby, that’s a great place for us to stop. We’ve really offered some insights into patience and why it’s a soft skill. Anyone listening to this has probably given up all of the patience we can ask for. To go any further would be a bad choice.

Next Week

Graham (’13:08′): Next week, we will be answering people’s questions . Look for that and more next week on the Serious Soft Skills Podcast.

Self-reflection, while not a soft skill, plays an important role in how we develop our soft skills over time.

Introduction

Bob Graham (‘0:20’): Hello, I am Bob Graham and with me as always is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. We teach college, we research soft skills and we help our students develop these skills and have seen how they play out in a variety of work settings. We’ll show you that eye for soft skills in a second when we start talking about self reflection.

Graham (‘0:39’): Self reflection itself is not a soft skill, but rather a tool to help us develop our soft skills. Toby, can you explain that to us in general?

Dr. Tobin Porterfield (‘0:52): I can and our timing is great. The Harvard Business Review just this week has an article on the power of self reflection. I am getting the feeling that they folks there are listening to our podcasts and are buying into what we are doing.

Graham (‘1:12’): I love that. It’s a great leap.

Another Voice on Self Reflection

Porterfield (‘1:15’): No, seriously, I do feel like it’s just an affirmation of how powerful self reflection is and typical of the Harvard Business Review, they are looking to CEOs and how they dedicated large periods of time to quiet thought on their own to evaluate what’s going on in their lives, what’s going on, where the opportunities are. We look at self reflection a little differently. We are looking at it and saying the people we work with aren’t able to carve out two hours of their day. I know there’s value in self reflecting and spending that quiet time, but if I am going to spend two hours a day on that, I am going to have to get up around 3 AM. The realities for many of us in our workdays don’t support that. We stay so busy. That’s the pitfall of not self reflecting. It’s a great opportunity to grow, and that’s where we have endorsed it from a soft skills standpoint. You need to self reflect and in that time self evaluate on where you are with a couple of these soft skills and where are you growing. What were you going to try to improve from last week? You need to really be rating yourself and moving toward improvement. While it’s funny to look at the HBR side, but the reality that self reflection is a powerful tool.

What Is Self Reflection?

Graham (‘2:43’): Are we talking about self reflection in terms of journaling or is it just taking some moments to be mindful of what we’ve done and what we are trying to achieve? Or is it interacting with someone else and being accountable? Or is it all three of those or something else?

Porterfield (‘3:00’): We have to be open to how that self reflection takes shape in each of us individually. The No. 1 core element is dedicated time. There are great examples in the Harvard Business Review article, where some people say I do an hour of self reflection every day. Some people say I do six hours, but I spread it across the week, with one or two hours here and there. I have to get out of the office so I won’t get interrupted. I get up from my desk and on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I take 45 minutes and go down to the coffee shop, put my earbuds in so I don’t get interrupted and work on my self reflection. I go through my list.

Porterfield (‘3:37’): For many of us, self reflection has to have a writing component, where here were the things I was working on, here’s what I was going to do, did I do them? What am I going to do to make sure they happen next time? As you know, I am a person who journals. I find that productive because it introduces a personal accountability so I can look at last week and see that I was going to do that. For me, journaling is an important part of self reflection. That’s really a personal preference.

Bob’s Example

Graham (‘4:04’): You and I both teach college and each day when I finish a class, I reflect on the class as I walk back to my office. I think of what I did well and what I didn’t do as well as I hoped. I make mental notes of what I would do differently next time I teach the class or this topic. I would do these things. Is that reflection? Does that qualify? Or is that reflection lite?

Porterfield (‘4:30’): That’s a good example, but it’s not going to get us to our soft skills improvement. Unless that was something you were going to work on in your course. Those things you do are what the HBR reminds us are really valuable in self growth and in continuous improvement. But if we are really going to work on soft skills, it’s going to take a different type of dedication. The article goes the same direction. It says that having a coach, having that external person involved might be necessary. We have talked about this before on the podcast. That mentoring can help greatly. It might be a peer or a co-worker; it might be a formal or informal relationship. But having that external influence to hold us accountable for our growth and also to be able to ask us those tough questions. When I view my journal, I put down what I was going to work on. But I am not quite as tough on myself as I should be. Someone from the outside might ask us why we didn’t do something we said we were going to do. Not okay you are going to do it this week. But why didn’t you? What got in the way and what are you doing to keep it from getting in the way this week? That external component can really fast-track transformation.

How Self Reflection Can Work

Graham (‘5:53’): In a perfect world, I would pick one or two soft skills that I want to try to work on. For instance, delegating tasks would be one. It just popped into my head. It is one of the 55 soft skills. If I were going to do that, I would say to myself: Okay, this week I am going to work on delegating more tasks that aren’t an ideal fit for me at my job. I would set that as the goal for the week and then as the week unfolds, I would reflect each day on the how I handled tasks. These are the 10 tasks I had come through the door. I did 9 of them. But in reflection, I really should have only done 4 of them. I delegated 1, but I should have delegated 6. My question to you is that if that is the type of self reflection we do, what is the outgrowth of that self reflection that improves our success? To me, that approach feels like Dad’s going to spank me, just like when I was a child and I didn’t clean my room.

Porterfield (‘7:02’): You also uncover another part of self reflection. We have to self regulate or self motivate. I have to ask myself how am I going to delegate better? I am going to do it, but maybe I am going to spend a little time finding a couple of articles on improving your delegation skills. I am going to talk to Bill because he seems to always have people doing stuff and reporting back to him. He spends more time interacting with people and doing 30 minute updates more than he does work. What’s that all about? Bill has it figured out. Maybe the informal mentoring possibility could help. I am not interested in Bill as a formal mentor, but he could talk to me about how to delegate better. And can we come up with a plan for how I am going to try it. He can check on me over the next few weeks. I will get more comfortable with delegating. That doesn’t necessarily answer your question, but that’s an element we definitely need to bring into the discussion.

What Do You Mean Fast-Tracking?

Graham (8:03′): That all makes sense to me. But you said this fast-tracks things. I am probably putting you on the spot right now, but why do you think that is? I am sitting here as we talk through self reflection, I am struggling to figure out the fast-track aspect of self reflection. However, I will give you a moment to think about it. While working on our book, I remember a study that talked about a company that focused on self reflection. They had a group of employees who came in for training. One group did their training and the last portion of the day was for self reflection for 10 days. The other group just left. They found afterward that when they got these people’s customer service evaluations — and it was a big group — the group that had done the self reflection scored 23% higher on the customer service evaluations from customers than the non self reflectors. That’s a really big difference. It made me take notice. Self reflection might be something valuable. What they posited in the article was that the self reflection at the end of the day actually gave those people a chance to internalize the training, to make it part of them, by talking to themselves about what it does for me. It wasn’t concept alone. It was now I am trying to figure out what it means for me. Here are the action steps for me. If I am dealing with a nasty customer, I learned in a lecture not to get mad. But with self reflection, here are the three things I am going to do to not get mad. Here are my hot buttons, which I know from self reflection. If I know that up front, I can avoid that. I gave one answer based on the research. Can you add something?

Porterfield (’10:20′): That example of self reflection’s benefits crystalizes why we need to do it. We can’t discount the power of self reflection and the time we invest in it. My fast-tracking comment was that we can justify our actions about why we didn’t do something. That accountability from good self reflection, especially with someone else, who makes sure we get something done, that’s when self reflection really helps us improve our soft skills. It makes me get it done. The process is probably just a little more human nature that we would not hold ourselves as accountable. Someone else sets a higher bar of accountability. If I am working with someone else, then he or she is invested in me. He or she expects me to make progress, and he or she is going to be asking me each week. Chances are I am going to make some progress, or I will quickly discover I am not ready to make progress on. We just need to decide and move on to something else rather than me just going week after week that I wish I could get better at delegation or something else. Some things we need to know from the outside that we just can’t tackle now. I might have learned that delegation is just a bigger animal than I can wrestle down right now, and I am going to set it down and work on something else that I can make progress on. We’ll come back to that one. Having that outside influence will make sure that it doesn’t just drag on unaddressed.

Do You Need a Mentor?

Graham (’11:51′): You could do it without that outside influence, correct, and still be successful, depending on who you are and what you are? I tend to be much more internal in that process. I sort have a running monologue with myself all day.

Porterfield (’12:07′): How’s that working?

Graham (’12:10′): I got you to do a podcast.

Porterfield (’12:13′): People listening on the podcast are saying, “You always do have a running dialogue. We feel for you.

Graham (’12:20′): No, monologue. You are seeing a little insight into Toby and me. I hope you are enjoying that. Toby’s picking on me. I will get even later. Whatever form it takes, whether it’s me doing it internally or you doing it more with an outside person working with you, it’s really about — to use your word that you have used a couple of times in the last few weeks — intentionality. This is the soft skill I am trying to work on. This is how I am going to work on it. This worked or didn’t work, and when it doesn’t work, we try something else. Is that a good summary of what we are really trying to get at?

Porterfield (’13:06′): It’s using that other soft skill of perseverance. This is important and I am going to stay at it. I am going to find a way to move forward.

Setbacks with Self Reflection

Graham (’13:19′): And setbacks will come.

Porterfield (’13:22′): They will.

Graham (’13:24′): That’s the other part of self reflection. If you get too bogged down in how you messed something up, you can’t ever achieve what you are trying to achieve. It’s only human nature that you are going to have some less than successful experiences as you learn a new skill. Really, all of these soft skills are new skills in how we apply them in new situations.

Graham (’13:46′): With that, Toby, we should probably close. Do you have anything to add? I had a monologue, to use the words we have been using.

Porterfield (’14:00′): No, I am going to break off here and go self reflect for a little bit and look at my day. That’s the other thing. For some people it’s the beginning of the day. With others, it’s the end of the day, like that study showed. It makes a lot of sense to do it at the end of the day. But for me, I know that I normally have nothing left. For me, I need to start the day with it and look at how I am going to try things out. The next day, I literally write down how I did on the previous day on what I thought I was going to make progress on.

Journaling and Its Benefits

Graham (’14:28′): Do you ever go back and look at those journal entries?

Porterfield (’14:34′): I do, but then my tears make the ink run.

Graham (’14:36′): But would you look back to like six months ago?

Porterfield (’14:38′): Yes, yes.

Graham (’14:40′): How often do you look back? I am curious. 

Porterfield (14:43′): Not very often, but I will get to a point and think, hey, do I remember that I addressed this before? What happened with that? It allows me to look back and see that here it was back here and this is how it resolved. I actually do go back to them.

Graham (’15:00′): Wow, I did not know that. That’s kind of cool. It’s neat to have that record to check where you are and see your progress. One of the things about these soft skills is that because they are hard to put your fingers on, it’s really hard to see progress. I am actually starting to think that your written approach might be more useful. Who knows? I might get that monologue onto the page, which would make a really great memoir one day.

Graham (’15:30′): With that, Toby, we should wrap this up. If you are eager to talk to us, and I can’t imagine why. If you want to talk to us, share your opinions about our podcast or other episodes, share ideas for future podcasts, complain about our witty banter, whatever it is, you can always do that by sending an email to podcast@serioussoftskills.com or you can tweet us at @RealSoftSkills. We’re getting technologically saavy. We also post on the serioussoftskills.com website. We post blogs, links to old episodes and other information, including our show notes. You could access the Harvard Business Journal article so you can look at that yourself.

Next Week

Graham (’16:30′): Next week, we will be looking at another soft skill, one that I find really difficult. Patience. Look for that and more next week on the Serious Soft Skills Podcast.

Exploring the role customer service as a soft skill plays in the success of an organization om an interview with customer service expert Neal Woodson.

 

Introduction

Dr. Tobin Porterfield (‘0:21’): Welcome to Episode 13 of Serious Soft Skills. I am your host, Dr. Tobin Porterfield. Today we will have the second of a two-part interview that my cohost Bob Graham conducted with Neal Woodson. Neal has 35 years of experience across a range of environments, including 19 years in the event technology industry. Neal currently serves as director of service excellence for PSAV, where he helps management and line-level team members collaborate in driving service excellence. Last week, in Episode 12, Bob and Neal talked about the soft skills encompassed in good customer service and how the customer and employee can both use good soft skills. In today’s episode, Bob talk s more with Neal about the value of good customer service to an organization and how it’s developed. If you are involved in dealing with customers on any level, I recommend you start with Episode 12.

Automation Isn’t an Answer for Customer Service

Bob Graham (‘1:12’): With me is Neal Woodson. I can’t wait to get to the second part of this interview. We are going to dig into things a little deeper and he has a lot of great stuff to say. We have this business model that everyone is striving for — less interaction with the consumer. Do it all over the Internet. Automation, automation, automation. So as you say, the people are the company, we seem to be flying in the same direction in a lot of cases. What do you think happens when companies want more automation?

Neal Woodson (‘1:35’): It’s causing a lot of problems. This is a pretty heavy subject with a million tentacles to deal with. Over the last 30 years, we have had an increase in depression and an increase in teen suicide, and I now this is a big stretch from what you just said, but I will go back to the fact that we are social animals and social creatures. We have been working over the last 30-35 years hard, without even knowing it, to become more individualistic and not connected. Connected in a virtual sense, but that’s not the same kind of connection.

To be connected electronically, is not at all the same as being connected on a human level.

It Always Comes Back to People

Woodson (‘2:43’): I’ll give you an example. I fly in airports a lot. I fly all over the country. When I walk in airports, I see more of the tops of people’s heads than their faces. Their heads are buried in a phone. When I walk by that phone, nine times out of 10, they are looking at inane stuff. They are looking at Facebook or Instagram. It’s not even interesting. They are just flipping through it. They are bored. We have lost a lot of connections. This isn’t generational. We see it in all generations. We crush the millennials and say it’s all their fault. But it’s not. They happen to be better at it. They happen to be more ensconced in it. But that’s because we didn’t, I didn’t, grow up with the technology and they did. That’s a problem

This lack of connection among people is a problem.

Woodson (‘3:35’): I would say to every one of those companies that you so well explained that they are more electronic, every single one of them has a way to reach a human. You look at Amazon and think that’s probably the quintessential company. Go online, buy something, which is great for some things. But when you have to buy something that is really technological, I will bet at some point, you go somewhere and talk to a person and ask them what they would buy. We want to know at the gut level what you think. I don’t want to look at a bunch of stats or a bunch of numbers. I want to talk to a human being. That was my thing yesterday. It didn’t take but about 15 minutes for me to figure that out. I  need to talk to a person.

Companies are missing out; they are trading short-term goal for long-term success.

We Crave Human Connections

Woodson (‘4:40’):  If we can cut money and we can cut human beings, we can make our nut here. Instead of saying we need that human connection; we need to keep that. We’re looking over the long0-term. What will that get me? Over the long-term it gets you more success. If we can get back to more human connections, we will see a happier society.

Globalization Challenges Customer Service

Graham (‘5:10’): We are much more global, which means we are interacting with people with different beliefs, values and customs. If you work with some companies, they have people in France and take the month of August. You have to incorporate that into your business. I am not saying it’s right or wrong, bad or good. We have different holidays. Do you think that creates an additional challenge and do you do anything in your customer service work to be more culturally aware, which is its own soft skill. But it certainly plays into customer service.

Woodson (5:50′): I had something happen to me this week, where we’re trying to incorporate something into the process for our people who work in Mexico in the company I work for. One of the first questions I asked in the dialog was, is there something culturally different? I live in the U.S. I just don’t know from a cultural perspective from a Mexican perspective. There are a few issues with globalization. It’s a challenge. Part of that challenge has to do with fear. A lot of us fear leaving what’s comfortable. A lot of us do. We fear leaving that comfy couch. We panic. People go overseas, especially people who have never traveled. I have been lucky enough to travel all over the world. Once you do that, you see how exciting, how fun that can be. It can be interesting. So part of it is fear on the company behalf. It’s going to cost us more money. It’s not comfortable. It’s that fear and that’s part of the challenge.

Recognizing What’s Good Elsewhere

Woodson (7:16′): But what people miss is the excitement of it and the opportunity to learn more about others and there are other ways of doing things. Maybe we will learn something overt here that we can can bring to the U.S. Maybe they do something really well there and we can bring it here. Maybe there’s something great in India we can bring over here. We don’t have to go all over the world and infuse the U.S. culture into them. We might want to bring some of those things they do here. There’s a dynamic that we miss if we don’t sensitize ourselves to those other cultures. 

Yes, it’s a challenge. But it’s also potentially an exciting thing that could cause great innovation.

Sharing a Vision

Graham (‘8:10’): It goes back to that shared vision.

Woodson (‘8:18’): But everyone has to have it — from the CEO down to the vice presidents, to the managers to the field employees. Everybody has to have that vision. This is what we are going for. If we have to make some adjustments and we have to deal with change, then we do. We are all in this with you. We are all rowing the boat together.

Customer Services Takes Many Soft Skills

Graham (‘8:40’): You told me a couple of days ago that you had listed all the soft skills that are underpinning customer service. You said it was a huge list. How many was it because we have 55 soft skills that we found. How many did you find match up with the soft skill of customer service?

Woodson (‘8:58’): I wouldn’t say it was all 55 and I am still fooling with that list. It’s about 30 or so soft skills that influence customer service.

Because just about everything in customer service you can find a connection to soft skills.

Woodson (‘9:14’): You can find some connection that you can use this in customer service. You might say change management; why would I use that in customer service? But you know what, dealing with change happens on a minute-by-minute basis when you deal with a customer who walks into deal with your organization, no matter what you do. Nobody’s the same.

To me, sales is a huge customer service position.

Woodson (‘9:43’): If you do sales right, to me sales is a service. Imagine a sales person who has to learn everything about a business. And Business A could be different from Business B. Their needs can be very different, but you can serve both in some way. You have to be able to deal with the change and adjustments that go with that. So change management can go into customer service. There are some odd linkages with all that.

Worth Investing the Time

Graham (’10:33′): When you think about it, that’s what makes soft skills interesting. The more you unravel them, the more it becomes connected to everything else. You start to see the connections to everything else. They make a lot of sense. We didn’t used to think that way. You and I think a lot about soft skills, but most people don’t. Here’s my final question, Neal. To the person who never really thoughts about customer service this way and never thought about it’s implications, what would spending some time looking at soft skills and customer service do for their business or for their own career success?

Woodson (’11:12′): It would potentially help them move further in their career. The better you understand and are able to work with other people, which is ultimately what we are talking about, they are the people who move. I’ll give you a reason why I believe that. There’s an author named Matthew Leiberman, who wrote a book called Social. In it, some of the research he has done led to him asking people who would they say is a strong leader: the person who is task-focused, technical, or the person who is socially focused, or is it the person who is evenly balanced between the two. Exactly 14 percent said technical leaders are strong leaders; 12 percent said social leaders are strong leaders; and 72 percent said it’s a balance of the two. That’s telling. It goes back to something Stephen Covey said: You have to have competence, but you also have to have character. Competence is about technical skills, those management things. Character is about social skills and dealing with others. Your character plays heavily into that. When you have the two, you see those people move in the organization. They can deal with all of the competing things they face at work. It can help with marriage or with your friends. It’s an area that you can’t do without.

The people in my life that have been the most successful, inspirational and meaningful have a good balance of those two, technical skills and soft skills.

Graham (’13:26′): Neal, I want to thank you for taking time with us. It’s been really great. You have shed some light on some things.

Porterfield (’13:50′): Thanks, guys. Thanks, Bob. Thanks, Neal, for joining us. if you want to learn more about Neal Woodson, you can visit his website at http://nealwoodson.woordpress.com.

Next Week

Next week, we will be looking at another soft skill and the role it plays in careers and work. Look for that and more next week on the Serious Soft Skills Podcast.

The soft skill of customer service is often misunderstood. Serious Soft Skills Cohost Bob Graham interviews Neal Woodson, a customer service expert, in the first part of a two-part interview on the topic.

Neal’s view is that customer service is the most important aspect of what organizations provide, and it ultimately is what is necessary to find any success.

Introduction

Dr. Tobin Porterfield (‘0:21’): Welcome to Episode 12 of Serious Soft Skills. I am your host, Dr. Tobin Porterfield. Today we will have the first of a two-part interview, where my cohost, the sultan of soft skills, Bob Graham, talks to Neal Woodson about how he develops soft skills related to customer service. Neal has 35 years of experience across a range of environments, including 19 years in the event technology industry. Neal currently serves as director of service excellence for PSAV, where he helps management and line-level team members collaborate in driving service excellence by analyzing customer experience, coaching the development of actionable strategies, and creating education and training techniques that ensure consistent delivery.

Soft Skills at Core of Customer Service

Bob Graham (‘1:11’): It’s great to be here with Neal Woodson. I am really looking forward to the discussion….I hope for our listeners and our viewers that the weather is good for them. Let’s get right to it.

Graham (‘1:29’): You are an expert on customer service. Beyond being a great golfer and great friend, and I want to talk today with you about soft skills and how they apply to customer service because believe it or not customer or client focus is one of the soft skills we uncovered in our research. You’re someone who really spends your days working on it. Give us an overview of what it means.

 

Neal Woodson (‘2:01’): As far as customer service, I don’t know if I am an expert, but it is something I work with all day every day. It’s always on my mind. I don’t like that term “soft skills.” I know that is a popular phrase. I prefer to say they are any number of things: social skills, collaborative skills. That doesn’t even cover it all, obviously.

Soft skills have gotten shunted to a second-class citizenship. They have been pushed to the back of the bus.

Importance of Customer Service

Woodson (‘2:57’}: I don’t think people realize how important they are. I deal with business and how business works with customers. Everybody thinks that soft skills are what customer service people do. it’s not really necessary for what anyone else does in the business. So when it comes to like a soft skills training, they will send all of their customer service people or call center people to soft skills training. one of the things we forget about in business is that everybody in business deals with somebody. You deal with people no matter what. In my role, you would think that all I deal with is customer-facing folks. That’s not true. I’m a big believer that what we do all throughout a business affects the customer. In other words, the way the CEO operates and the manager treat the workers — all of that affects how the company treats the customer. The best way I can put that is that if you are a parent and you come home every day and you scream and yell at your kids. Would it be any surprise to you at all to see your kids screaming and yelling at other kids?

What we do with others inside the house impacts what we do outside the house.

Need to Keep Improving Soft Skills

Woodson {‘4:26’}: To me, it’s crucial that everybody in an organization works on continuously improves their soft skills. How does my job role connect to the end user customer. Say you’re in accounts payable. You say that your job doesn’t connect with customers. You just pay bills. Well, wait a second. If you don’t pay the bills, what happens to the customer. How does that impact the customer? if I don’t pay the bills for the company, then a vendor doesn’t get paid and he cuts us off. It’s harder to do our jobs for that customer to make us successful. So what you do does impact the customer.

Woodson (‘5:27’): So once everybody in the organization begins to understand that everything they do relates back to the customer, now we can start talking about or getting more granular about skills. We can start to talk about empathy, one of the key skills people need. When I talk about empathy, it’s that we can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. But when we talk about empathy one of the things that scares people or one thing that people think is that I don’t care what that person cares about. It doesn’t matter if you care about what they care about. It matters that you care that they are upset. Or that they are happy. That’s what matters. It’s not the fact that you feel it. For example, when my kids were younger, they’d hear about some pop star doing something and they would get all upset about it. I couldn’t care less to be quite honest. Who cares? But what matters is I care that they do care. I care how they feel. That’s a critical element.

The Iceberg of People

Woodson (‘6:38’): Along with that, I regularly talk about something called the iceberg. That is that what you see in people is 10% of what’s real. For example, you see a customer and they are all upset and they blow up at you for something. Nine times out of 10 it’s not because of something you did or said. It’s one of a hundred thousand other things that you know nothing about. One of the first steps about empathy is to recognize that in an individual. It’s to say, I know you have a lot going on in your world. And it’s going to affect how I treat you and interact with you. I do, too. We are both in the same place. You have to be able to say to them, I know how you feel.

Woodson (7:40′): When we say, take a few seconds and let me figure this out. And I am going to be here until we get this thing solved. That goes a long way. Now I am partnering with you. I have become your partner. I want you to be successful. Nine times out of 10 that’s what people want. They want someone who is here with you for customer success, whatever that is. Even if it’s something little. They just want to know someone is here that is willing to help them become successful.

Customer Service and the Customer

Graham (‘8:19’): Is there a way to turn this around to the customer focus so that if I am the customer, I can facilitate that partnership that we just talked about. It occurs to me that if I am the ideal customer, that customer service person trying to work with me is going ot have an easier job. I can fight or I can swim in the same direction. Can you sort of spin this around for us and look at it the other way? What are the things we can do as a customer to make it easier for everyone?

Woodson (‘8:49’): You are absolutely right. Now we’re just getting to the human element, beyond business. I will give you an example. Yesterday, I had a problem with my cellphone, and I called my provider and this wonderful young lady, Brandy, picked up the phone. We talked. I explained what was going on. I was very frustrated. It had to do with my volcemail. It was an automated situation, and none of the options fit my situation. I couldn’t figure out how to get in touch with a human being. That was the most frustrating thing. When I finally got in touch with her. She was nice and understanding. She told me she fully understood how I feel. She had problems with her phone. Now we were on an even keel. It was like I had somebody who had been here before so she knew how frustrating it was. Okay, I realized she is a person who deals with this all day long everyday. All she hears is people complaining. What’s the best thing I can do to make this better. I started talking to her about how long she had been working there. She had just graduated from college. My daughter just graduated from college. We connected on that. It was as fantastic experience. I left that experience feeling like not only did I get my problems solved, but I got a new friend.

From Company to People

Graham (’10;20′): That’s one of the things I find. Often my customer experience has more to do with the way the person handles me than the product. I also find that my loyalty becomes to the person who services me in these situations best. I told you how I had to go to the Apple store. I could have bought this cable I needed at three or four other places. But what love about the Apple store is I can walk in there and I can say, “I need a cable to do this.” They ask me a few questions. They asked how I am doing, do I like my computer. One, two, three, I have the right piece. The guy tells me his name and tells me he has the same computer. We have some common ground and I ask when he typically works. I now know to come in there when he’s working. He represents that company now. He represents everything I wan in that company. He values me so the company values me. We don’t think of companies as people. We don’t think of Starbucks, Apple and IBM as people. They are companies, not people. Some of this really is taking that brand of the company and isolating it to a person so that we have that one-on-connection.

Woodson (’11:59′): It’s interesting that you say that. The word corporation is from the word “corpus,” which means body. When you think of a company, it’s a living thing. It’s the people that make it up. It’s not the spreadsheets. It’s not the contracts. It’s none of that. It’s people that make a company or corporation. We really need to get companies back to understanding that everybody who works for you is a billboard for you not just for your brand, but your culture and what’s it’s all about and what you stand for. We get a feeling about your business by your people.

Closing

Graham (’12:50′): I can’t thank you enough for your time, for your insights and for just really saying some things in ways that people need to hear. When you talk customer service affecting everyone at all aspects of a company, that’s really a message we need to wrestle with and think about and apply to apply to any kind of business that we are trying to endeavor to create or build.

Porterfield (’13:10′): Thanks, Bob. Neal, thanks for joining us. If you want to learn more about Neal Woodson, visit his blog, where he offers some great insights on customer service, at NealWoodson.wordpress.com.

Next Week’s Episode

Next week, we will listen to the second part of the Bob’s interview with Neal, where they look on the impact of customer service on individuals and organizations.

 

Project management is not always considered a soft skill. Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss its role as a soft skill and discuss the criticism.

What Project Management Is

Bob Graham ‘1:06’: We should probably start out first off with defining what project management is and explaining why it fits into our list of soft skills because most people, or some people, might be thinking that they can take a course of project management in college. Why are you saying it’s a soft skill? 

Dr. Tobin Porterfield ‘1:23’: Let’s start that up. Let’s start with what project management is because we often see the term a lot. We see it in job advertisements. It’s prevalent out there. The term is often misapplied and misunderstood. A lot of time people say that it’s time management. Project management certainly has elements of managing your time and your resources. But it is another animal from what we consider time management.

Routine Tasks

Porterfield ‘1:55’: When I look at project management and I teach a lot of courses on it, I start my students with “Look, our whole lives, our work lives, our home lives — you can really bring everything you do into two areas: either routine things, the things I do everyday. I fill out my timesheet, I check my voice mail, I go through my email, I do my report, I do month-end close. There are things we do that are routine, that we just do. It’s what we do in our business world that just keeps the dollars flowing in. We sell appliances or we develop apps and we launch them. It becomes very routine.

When It Becomes a Project

Porterfield ‘2:31’: But when something moves to the elevation of being a project, that’s important. To be a project, it has to meet a couple of criteria. It has to have a start date and an end date. There has to be a time component. We need to get this done. A big one is that there needs to be a specific deliverable, a definable thing, so that when we are done we know what we really accomplished. The third one is a really easy one. That is that it uses resources. But almost everything we do uses resources. I kid my students by saying that me losing 30 pounds is something that needs to happen and it’s a project. But it’s not really a project because there isn’t a start and end date. So it’s not a project. In reality, it’s never going to happen. That’s what we see with organizations. They need to keep the routine going. They need to keeping doing what they do.

Executing projects is how they move the organization forward.

Porterfield ‘3:30’: It’s how they launch that new project, open that new location. For us as individuals, an individual project for us might be to complete a certification, to write that book that you always wanted to write. Projects fit that definition of start and end date, use resources and a definable outcome. They need to be treated differently. There’s a mechanical skill set to project management.

People Skills in Project Management

Porterfield ‘4:00’: There a whole lot of people skills issues that are in project management that in order to get things done that integration has to happen. That’s one of the reason why it earned a place in our list of soft skills.

Graham ‘4:14’: You looked at all of the academic literature you could find to create our list of 55 soft skills. Didn’t you find some researchers who had clearly put project management in the list of soft skills, not technical or hard skills?

Porterfield ‘4:34’: Yes. We didn’t just put it under our list although it’s an area that’s important to us. Studies were done that said project management clearly is a soft skill. Some could make the case that it’s not because in some fields like engineering and some business fields and some IT fields that consider it a hard skill. It’s an important technical skill, and learning how to design a project, to do a Gant chart, that network diagram and time estimates. There’s a mechanical-technical aspect to it, but those technical requirements are not universal across fields. Even within business, where we looked at a lot of Indeed.com job postings, we saw hundreds of occurrences where companies were asking for project management skills specifically specifically across marketing and engineering jobs. Btu still within academic training, when people are earning their degrees, even across engineering, project management does not occur across all engineering disciplines. Even in business, we normally only see it in supply chain management, MIS. We don’t see it in accounting and finance and other areas where it’s a skill that we’re expected to have.

Interconnections

Graham ‘5:47’: We can at this point tell people that they have to accept that project management is a soft skill for the purposes of this podcast and for your own benefit. Thinking of it as a soft skill probably makes it more valuable to you because you can look at it within the context of soft skills and how you interconnect with people, which is really the name of the game anyway. 

Because it’s all well and good that you can manage a project, but if you can’t do it with other people, it’s really going to limit our ability to be effective any organization of any size.

Not Certified, But Still Managing Projects

Porterfield ‘6:23’: We have experienced in actually being project managers while our titles never had that in them. It’s part of what we’ve done in many career opportunities, certainly in our educational/academic careers. We have routine tasks: I have to go in, I have to show up and teach my class, I have to grade assignments, I have to prepare that exam. That’s the routine. I just need to do these things as part of the job I do. It’s what we are expected to do. Porterfield ‘6:53’: If we didn’t do more, if we didn’t develop new curriculum and do new research projects, our organization wouldn’t move forward. We’d be teaching the same thing we were teaching 10, 15, 20, 30 years ago. The business world wold have moved forward and we’d be still using those overhead glassine on the overhead projector. We have seen things change, and we had to convert what we did to this new approach. We had to change what we’re doing. We’re going to introduce new courses, which requires a series of steps. I think we are good where the projects are different, but I think we need to dig in a little bit. We have learned as we do projects that it’s great to know the steps and the process of what has to occur.

It’s the people, the ability to motivate a group of people that makes the difference between a project being successful.

Porterfield 7:54′: Whether it meets that end date, it meets those stated objectives of what it needs to look like, it mostly comes down to getting people to buy-in and do their part.

The Soft Skills Inventory

Graham ‘8:09’: I was just going through all of the soft skills to manage a project. You have to listen, delegate, manage teamwork, lead people, adapt to change, collaborate with others — those are just off the top of my head. So you can see where just being a project manager isn’t just the mechanical aspects of managing a project. We should probably make clear that neither of us believes that project management is just telling people what to do. 

We should be talking to people and looking at what we are trying to achieve together and how to allocate those resources, your time and expertise and my time and expertise, to be the most efficient and effective to achieve that shared goal.

Getting More Resources

Graham ‘9:01’: I always worry that people are going to use these podcasts to say, “Hey, people, do what I say. Clean up your office now.” But it would be better to go to people and say, “Hey, if we all clean our offices before the vice president comes to visit our location, we probably going to look better, and that will mean that the chances of us getting raises and additional resources to do new things is available to us.” That’s the difference and distinction we probably need to make. 

Porterfield ‘9:47’: That’s a great example because projects can be these massive new locations. If it has a start date and end date it’s a project. The boss is coming in two weeks and we need to have this place ready. There’s a date, and what does ready look like. It looks like everything is filed away properly. We can treat small things as projects.

Yes, Project Management Fits Every Group

Porterfield ’10:12′: That brings us to another thing that comes up in our discussion of project management. We have four groupings of the soft skills — Individual soft skills (Episode 5), the Nexus soft skills we use to talk and integrate with another person (Episode 6), and we have the Group soft skills (Episode 7). But we put project management up in the Enterprise skills (Episode 8), which are the highest level of soft skills used by leaders of organizations to lead change. We found in our study of soft skills in job advertisements that individuals were required to have project management skills. But we intentionally moved it to Enterprise. Bob, tell us understand why?

Graham ’11:48′: When we talk about project management, we’re putting it in our Enterprise grouping, which is the grouping where we are at the highest level of leadership within an organization. We are in that strategic area. We are trying to build the vision. We are trying to achieve bigger things. It’s not daily tasks. It’s organizational improvement and organizational change that is our approach. In that area project management is really about allocating resources big and small, and as you are a leader, you have a limited number of resources. You have only so many employees. You have to maximize the use of those employees and also your resources, which are also limited. 

Allocating Effectively

Graham 12:31′: If you are operating a warehouse, you can’t run it more than 24 hours a day. There’s a limit there. Many operations can’t run it more than 8 hours a day or 10 hours a day. Project management when you start to apply those constraints to it becomes more of a leadership issue and less of a low-level, entry-level issue. 

Project management is much more about how an organization is going to use project management to achieve its goals and to grow with the right structure to achieve things in this timeframe.

Graham ’13:12′: For instance, if you are developing a new product. If you are creating a new product, you have a lot of steps. You have to figure out what that product is, how you have to source the materials, your timing for that. Marketing has to be involved. Pricing, finance, shipping, packaging — all those things are part of it. That’s a much higher level than any person that would be in an entry-level job could manage. That’s going to require people at all levels of the organization working together to set deadlines. We need two weeks to get the boxes to put the widget in. And the shipping people might say that if it’s going to take two weeks, that’s going to put it right in the middle of our holiday rush. We cannot do it then. That won’t work. Leaders in the organization have to referee those various concerns and constraints and come up with the best strategy for the overall organization to achieve that goal that they set out on with that new project.

What We Know

Porterfield ’14:13′: Project management is such an interesting area because I do believe that as an individual I should be looking at my work and parsing out what is a project and what needs to be treated differently. It’s very likely a smaller project, but one of the items we have always encountered when studying and teaching project management is there is not a recognition of the value of project management as a technique from the highest levels of the organization, then it’s going to greatly limit our ability to really use project management to launch those big initiatives. That’s also what tipped us over to say that project management is more than just working for the individual. It works with a team and a group. It goes with all three of those groups. But it’s got to be at the Enterprise soft skills level. It has to be alive at the top if it’s really going to have an impact on the organization.

Project management lives at many levels but if it’s not at that top level, we’re really going to have a problem.

Next Week’s Episode 

Graham ’16:05′: Next week, we will address another soft skill and how it fits into our work lives and why it matters to an organization’s growth.

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.