Responding to listeners questions the co-hosts explain why people don’t talk much about soft skills and how often we call on our soft skills, often without even being aware of it.

Co-hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham answer questions about soft skills from some of their listeners in this episode.

Among the topics they discuss:

  • How soft skills tend to be overlooked
  • Why people fail to recognize the role of soft skills
  • How combining soft skills with technical skills makes employees and organizations better

Don’t miss our free ebook offer for our ebook, The 55 Soft Skills that Guide Employee and Organizational Success, using a special coupon code that we mention in the middle of this episode.

Next Week

We will be exploring the soft skill of adapting to change and prioritizing and how it helps people be more successful in their jobs.

Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explain how to become more effective as a networker, what soft skills you should be applying and how you can overcome your fears and reluctance to make connections that can enhance your career. in 2016 found that 85% of all jobs come from networking. Therefore, our ability to be successful at formal and informal networking can play a huge role in our career enhancement and opportunities.

Among the topics they discuss are:

  • How to approach networking
  • Networking for introverts or reluctant networkers
  • Negotiating your way through formal networking events
  • Ways to win at informal networking events
  • Networking as a means of building trust, which can may lead to business
  • What your network can do for you and others in your network
  • How networking can help you better understand your customers
  • Taking advantage of opportunities that come through networking
  • Getting ready to be successful at networking
  • The soft skills that underpin successful networking
  • Why “I can help you” won’t work
  • The wingman approach to networking
  • Six things help you to gain trust in seconds

Order our book, The 55 Soft Skills that Guide Employee and Organizational Success, from Use the coupon code “six weeks” to save 50% on the price. But act before the coupon code expires.

Next week

We will dig deeper into becoming a Networking Ninja by playing through some typical scenarios that face people who are networking like how to end a discussion without upsetting anyone.

It’s Week 4 of the Six Weeks of Serious Soft Skills Strategy, where we will be looking at how to incorporate soft skills into a job interview. Armed with this ability, you will zoom to the top of every job search list.

In Episode 29 of the Serious Soft Skills Podcast, Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham continue to put soft skills to work for you in your quest to obtain a better job or a promotion. This week, we’re going to talk through how to use soft skills as an interviewee.

Among the topics covered:

  • Soft skills are best conveyed in storytelling, which is a soft skill.
  • Rather than reciting facts, give context.
  • Show passion, show initiative, show you did more than what was required.
  • Why you want to be sticky to the interviewer
  • How long an anecdote or story should be
  • Dealing with open-ended questions
  • Highlighting your transferrable skills
  • How you want to be remembered by the employer or search committee
  • How to take control of the interview and make sure you get to explain your soft skills
  • Dealing with behavioral questions
  • What you need to do in advance to be ready to integrate soft skills into an interview
  • Why you should take EVERY interview offered

Next week

Next week we will be starting the last part of our Six Weeks of Soft Skills Strategy. For the next two weeks, we will look at the soft skills and interviewing from the employer’s perspective. Not only will this help people looking to hire, but potential interviewees will obtain even more insights into how to integrate soft skills into their job search. Coming up next week on the Serious Soft Skills Podcast.

And don’t forget to download your copy of our ebook, The 55 Soft Skills that Guide Employee and Organizational Success, with the coupon code “sixweeks” to get it for free. Until next time, good day, thanks for listening, and of course, good soft skills.

To launch the Six Weeks of Serious Soft Skills Strategy, Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss their new book, The 55 Soft Skills that Guide Employee and Organizational Success, its origins and how it will help every employee and leader be more effective this year.

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham have released a new ebook, The 55 Soft Skills that Guide Employee and Organizational Success, that offers the first comprehensive look at the 55 soft skills they have uncovered through their research of academic research and business.

The hosts also offer a special code to make the $4.99 ebook purchase free. Listen to uncover the discount code.

Get our new ebook, The 55 Soft Skills that Guide Employee and Organizational Success, at Use the coupon code “sixweeks” to get the ebook for free.

In this episode, they also discuss:

  • Their Six Weeks of Serious Soft Skills Strategy, where they will share specific ways to use the 55 soft skills they have uncovered to improve your career and your organization’s success this year and beyond
  • Why they wrote The 55 Soft Skills that Guide Employee and Organizational Success
  • Who can benefit from reading the ebook
  • How to obtain a free copy of the ebook
  • How to leverage the 55 soft skills contained in the ebook to improve your career
  • Where the 55 soft skills can help organizations grow and innovate

Next week

A discussion of how the 55 soft skills addressed in The 55 Soft Skills that Guide Employee and Organizational Success can boost your success in a job search.

Some see the soft skill of collaboration as a valuable soft skill, while others say it stunts creativity. The hosts give their views on these divergent points of view.


osts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explore the various views regarding the soft skill of collaboration as a followup to their discussion in Episode 22 of what collaboration is.

Topics discussed include:

  • Does collaboration kill creativity, as Geoffrey James suggests in an Inc. magazine article, Collaboration Kills Creativity, According to Science?
  • Do teams add or distract from collaboration?
  • Taking academic research to real-world situations
  • How collaboration empowers us to solve problems in this complex business world
  • Can collaboration fall into “group think”?
  • Does collaboration fuel our need for socialization?
  • What problems are better solved as individuals
  • How collaboration creates holistic and effective solutions to complex problems
  • What’s the line between a situation needing collaboration and individual creativity
  • When does collaboration fit into problem-solving
  • When creative processes should call in collaboration
  • Headline writing and collaboration
  • The cost benefit evaluation of collaboration
  • Exploring Morten T. Hansen’s views in the article, When Internal Collaboration Is Bad for Your Company
  • When the cost benefit should be evaluated and what the assessment can accomplish
  • When to quit a project

Next Week

We’ll look at another soft skill, written communication, and how it plays a critical role in relationships and effectiveness.

Collaboration among workers can be the jet fuel for teams, pushing them to solve problems and achieve results that they could not have accomplished separately.


Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss what collaboration is, why it is so beneficial to organizations and what it can deliver to teams and organizations.

Topics discussed include:

  • What collaboration is
  • How people’s perspectives have to align for collaboration to occur
  • Why collaboration gets us to a better spot
  • How collaboration stokes problem-solving
  • The distinction between collaboration for creative endeavors versus collaboration in getting products developed
  • Why collaboration is vital to supply chains and other services
  • What’s a “rallying point” and why do we need it to have successful collaboration
  • A “reel” example of collaboration
  • What underlies any effective collaboration
  • The soft skills that underpin all good collaboration
  • What mutual interdependence is and why it enables good collaboration
  • The best ways for collaboration to start
  • The role of the leader in facilitating collaboration
  • How passion can ignite collaboration

Next Week

Digging deeper into collaboration in the workplace.

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.


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.

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


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 or you can tweet us at @RealSoftSkills. We’re getting technologically saavy. We also post on the 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.



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

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.


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.


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

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.