Yes, it’s shameless self-promotion, but someone has to do it. And Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham finally celebrate the long-awaited release of the paperback version of The 55 Soft Skills That Guide Employee and Organizational Success and explain how reading it will help anyone who works.

 

Among the topics they discuss in this short episode are:

  • How they came up with all 55 soft skills
  • Their surprise at how many soft skills employees use
  • The logic of the book
  • Where employees and leaders can benefit from reading the book
  • How to get the book

Want to buy our book, The 55 Soft Skills That Guide Employee and Organizational Success? Visit Amazon.

Next week

We will go back to our list of 55 soft skills to explain how another one of them works and why it matters in the workplace.

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 https://serioussoftskills.com/resources/the-55-soft-skills-that-guide-employee-and-organizational-success/ 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.

A discussion of the pros and cons of the name “soft skills” and whether other names are better and avoid relegating them to second-class status in the workplace.

 

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explore the name “soft skills” and if it’s a good moniker for all of the skills employees and organizations use in combination with technical skills.

Among the topics they discuss:

  • Why some people think soft skills is derogatory and minimizes the role these skills play in the workplace, job hunts and other aspects of work
  • The roots of the name “soft skills” and why those roots may make it the right name
  • What “hard skills” are and how they have evolved
  • Using the language that fits the culture you are working with
  • Should soft skills be called non-technical skills, professional skills, communication skills, critical skills, emotional intelligence
  • The complexity of soft skills doesn’t match the name
  • The subjective nature of soft skills and how that further complicates naming them
  • Technical skills alone don’t serve us
  • Blending technical skills and soft skills make the difference in all workplaces

Contact us at podcast@SeriousSoftSkills.com or tweet us at @RealSoftSkills if you have an idea for a better name

Next Week

We start our Six Weeks of Serious Soft Skills Strategy. Just in time for the new year, we provide employees at all levels with the strategies to put their soft skills forth when looking for a new job — or looking for the right new hire.

Just in time for Thanksgiving and the holidays, a listener suggests that we add being appreciative to the list of 55 soft skills and how it affects organizational culture.

 

Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham weigh whether being appreciative or thankful should be added to the list of 55 soft skills.

Topics they address include:

  • How the suggestion came up.
  • How the original list of 55 soft skills were developed.
  • A case for adding being appreciative or thankful.
  • Some soft skills that aren’t job-description items, but still important.
  • Where appreciation ranks on employees’ considerations at a job.
  • What happens when we aren’t appreciative.
  • The drain on organizations from a lack of appreciation.
  • How appreciation helps build a strong core work structure.
  • A discussion on the “core” skills that go before soft skills development.
  • How the creative process works to develop these skills.

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.

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

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

Introduction

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

Setting the Stage

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

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

Sorting Out Your Soft Skills Inventory

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

Soft Skills for Innovation

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

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

Organizations that Work in Groups

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

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

The Group Soft Skills List

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

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

Revolutionizing Industries

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

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

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

Moving Past the Peter Principle

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

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

Squandering Soft Skills Mavens

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

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

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

Drawing Attention to Your Soft Skills Strengths

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

An Example of Leveraging Your Own Soft Skills

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

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

The Manager’s Edge

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

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

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

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

That Group Soft Skills List Again

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

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

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

Getting Better at Each One

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

Previewing Next Week’s Show

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

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

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

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

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

Why This Research Matters

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

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

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

How We Found Participants

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

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

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

A Diverse Pool of Responses

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

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

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

Porterfield ‘6:57’: Correct.

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

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

The First Results

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

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

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

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

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

Digging Deeper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone Sees The Value of Soft Skills

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

Supervisors, Non-Supervisors See Same Needs

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

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

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

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

Soft Skills and the Self-Employed

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

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

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

Summarizing Our Findings

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

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

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

Next Week’s Show

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

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explain what soft skills are, using powerful examples from business.  Bob Graham ‘0:22’: We’re going to explain what soft skills are in general, and explain them in a way that gives people a better understanding. Let’s start with the big question first. Why soft skills now? Dr. Tobin Porterfield ‘0:58’: We know from our research that soft skills go back almost 50 years. So they are not new. But what is new is, we are in a hyper-competitive market now, where technology and globalization have saturated how we do business. The speed of change if you are working at Apple, SAP or a company like that, is greater. The hyper-competitive world is hitting all of us, from a small business up to a global corporations.   The environment we work in is different. Then, within our organizations we are facing a multi-generational workforce; the people we work with and the way we work are different. Where Soft Skill Are Affecting Small Business Graham ‘2:03’: Give me an example or situation where soft skills are playing a role with a small business? Porterfield ‘2:09’: We know even the term small business can a landmine, because we can be talking about a hardware store or some other business with 3-5 employees up to a small company with 100 or 150 employees. But those soft skills still come into play. We’re in an environment where we have to be able communicate with our customer, we have to be able to listen, we have to be able to respond to changes in the marketplace. Graham ‘2:47’: That makes sense. I have certainly seen that in my own small business. Things change, customers change. You have ownership changes; you have management changes, or even you have companies that change their focus like overnight. One day they are doing A and the next day they are doing B. It’s the soft skills that really allow us to adapt to those things. Porterfield ‘6:04’: I think you make a great point. We are involved in a virtual world. What Soft Skills Really Are Porterfield ‘3:23’: We are throwing around the term “soft skills” and most people are familiar with it it.   Our argument is that soft skills are what make us responsive and allow our organizations to not be complacent in the face of all of these changes going on in our hyper-competitive business world. Is Soft Skills The Right Phrase? Porterfield ‘3:43’: Soft skills can be a challenging term. We have had people respond to us, Don’t even use that term. Don’t even call them soft skills because it makes them seem second class. IT makes them sound unimportant. Use critical skills, communication skills, managerial skills, and I know there are a lot of other terms out there.   Graham ‘4:14’: Non-technical skills is a term we see a lot in literature. Contrasting Soft Skills with Technical Skills Porterfield ‘4:19’: These soft skills are not your technical skills. For a marketing person, those technical skills might be understanding the message and how to take that message out to the market, how to develop that message. Graham ‘4:40’: The tools that you would use, whether you would send out a press release and other types of specific things that you can put your finger on. Porterfield ‘4:50’: If you were an architect or an engineer, those hard skills or technical skills become more obvious because I need to understand tension strengths and all kinds of other technical details of my work. So then, you might say the soft skills are everything else.   But I like to use a working definition that soft skills are the portfolio of skills that allow us to work or operate within the context of an organization.   The soft skills are the glue that allows us to move those technical skills into the marketplace. Graham ‘5:31’: Soft skills allow us also to work with other organizations. I might go to professional seminars or events, get involved in networking, or interact with others who do what I do. I start talking to people and we might develop partnerships or we might do other things together.

So soft skills are not just confined to my company; soft skills can be used with the world at-large.  

Porterfield ‘6:04’: I think you make a great point. I use that term organizations, but we are in a virtual world these days where our organization is not bound to the four walls we sit within. It’s our customers, our suppliers, that whole microcosm that we operate in, everyone we interact with, and soft skills are what make it possible for us to work within that context. Finding 50 Different Soft Skills Graham ‘6:20’:  Can you name more of the soft skills so we can start putting our finger on them? Porterfield ‘6:39’: When we started on his project a couple years ago, we found that soft skills are a lot of different things. When we dug through research on soft skills, we found over 50 different specific items that are defined as soft skills. That runs the gamut, everything from what I would call a personal or very close soft skills like loyalty, perseverance and listening skills, things that are really unique and individual to the person. Then we can go out from there to talk about soft skills that help us interact with other people like conflict management, written and oral communication, and at the higher level, things like change management, leadership and project management, teamwork, to work with ambiguity. That list we have is pretty extensive, and that takes something like soft skills, where most people are familiar with the term, and it starts to really granulate it. What are those soft skills? Have I developed those soft skills? Do I need those soft skills in a particular situation? That’s what’s really important.

We have to ask ourselves, what are those soft skills, which ones do I have and which ones do I need to be successful?   

Graham ‘8:10’: You are very kind to say that we did that research when you did most of it. But I remember when we had breakfast and you brought that list to me and it was over 50. I was prepared for 15 or 20 soft skills, and it was over 50. And we immediately started talking about how it was overwhelming to be dealing with 50 soft skills. The thing we are trying to do and our research is really showing this is that we are trying to define those soft skills in groupings that will lead us to better clarity and better opportunities to employ them. Porterfield ‘8:57’: We don’t want that large array of soft skills to make people feel overwhelmed and say I am just not going to deal with it. That’s not the case. We have to deal with them, to identify them and really to develop them, and when necessary, to hire to fill those gaps in our organization. But we need to dig in and deal with soft skills. Graham ‘9:36’: That’s a lot of why we are doing this podcast. We want people to be able to learn with us and share with us as we work through soft skills and what they mean to career development and our organizations. I look forward to a community of discovery that allows us all to get better at using soft skills because it’s really important. We keep saying it, because it’s true.

Soft skills are the key to the future of organizations.  

Graham ’10:10′: Let’s talk about what technical skills are so we can make that strong contrast with soft skills. Porterfield ’10:15′: The place to start is nearly 50 years ago when Fry and Whitmore confirmed that we use soft skills. Fry and Whitmore did an ingenious thing. They looked at the operations of a soldier and said hard skills are those skills that relate to working with machines — the technical aspects of working with artillery, weapons and the like. They are skills that members of the military must have in order to do what they do. They very clearly said those are those technical skills.  And then for us, they coined that term “soft skills.” They said everything else — how we manage people, how we have loyalty, how we work together as a team — those are soft skills. They kind of teed it up for us. Graham ’11:38′: We should mention that they used the phrase “hard skills” for what people do while working with machines. What gets lost often is that there is a clear difference between what we call technical skills and soft skills. Technical skills versus soft skills seems disingenuous and puts soft skills in the subservient role, when they thought of it more as hard skills and soft skills, with hard skills being the things you do with a machine, which is kind of technical, especially when you think of the military, that really tactical stuff, and soft skills being the people stuff. I was floored when we found this, because those guys were way ahead of their time. Here we are 50 years later and everything is technology, everything this computer-driven, and we have gotten so many routine tasks being done by computers and software, and for them to see 50 years ago that we were going to be in this place where I would have a computer in my pocket that I could communicate with is just staggering to me. And it speaks to how long it has taken for us to sort of accept as a society the role of soft skills. It has been almost 50 years and that’s a long time, and that’s a long time when you think about it, for something to evolve. But it’s not like these guys thought about it and no one else did for the last 50 years. Porterfield ’13:25′: You make a good point that we suddenly didn’t jump 50 years to where we are right now with soft skills and suddenly we have this big lens to look at them with. There were a lot of other key steps and the next big one was in the 1988 when Porter and McCubbin, other researchers, were looking at education and all these technical skills. But in order for graduates to succeed today, they need soft skills. They caused us to rethink how we do MBA education, in particular, and curriculum was put together. They were a big wake-up call to the academic world. The next big point was the discussion of emotional intelligence in the late 1990s. Books came out at a time when people were ready to understand what’s going on with competitiveness, why aren’t our businesses as successful as we want them to be. Daniel Goleman came out with a series of books that everyone read. The message he was giving was we need to understand our emotions, our drivers. We also need to be aware of and sensitive to those same aspects of the people we work with. Goleman really opened our eyes to these soft areas of not just what’s your latest innovation, what’s your latest product you are going to launch, but how do I integrate with these people to successfully launch a product. So emotional intelligence is part of the overall portfolio of soft skills. Goleman really woke us all up to its importance and got it into the discussion. What’s Going On With Soft Skills Now? Graham ’15:34′: Has there been anything going on with soft skills since that time, which was the late 1990s? That’s like a 20-year gap. Did we go to sleep and wake up like a cicada to the importance of soft skills today? Porterfield ’15:44′: That’s what we found we had to dig through all of these studies, and there were lots of studies done in the last 20 years on soft skills — surveys, research and case studies that started to unwrap soft skills. But what we found was that people were pecking away at it. They were saying these non-technical things are out there, but what are they and how do we use them. We have seen some research into child psychology that really looks at how a child develops those abilities to interact with others, to persevere, to make ethical decisions carries all the way through to our adulthood and our work. But the research is a little compartmentalized. Our effort is to bring all of those together so we can look at this greater body of soft skills research and information. There have literally been hundreds of studies since the 1980s and 1990s that have gotten at pieces of this, but it’s time to pull it all together. Graham ’17:03′: That gives us a great point to stop this episode and tell people in the coming weeks, we will be looking at In the coming weeks, we will delve deeper into what soft skills, how they empower workers and organizations, with some concrete examples of where they are and are not working. Next week, we will look at who needs to employ soft skills. Is it just for managers and leaders, or can every worker in every organization benefit from employing them? All that and more in Episode 2 next week. We hope you will join us. Until then, thanks for listening, good day and good soft skills.