Written communication is an important skill, for it is often our first — and potentially — lasting impression of a person. We’ll discuss good writing and give tips for how to write better.

 

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham talk about the important soft skill of written communication in this episode. Among the topics they cover are:

  • How our writing is often where people first encounter us
  • Why writing conveys what’s inside our minds
  • Writing tells us about how someone sees the world, sees his or her role in the world and what he wants to accomplish.
  • Understanding audience and its role in writing well
  • How writing in our own language may not be the best way to write
  • The writer’s role as a “reader’s advocate” and taking the reader’s perspective on your writing
  • Putting actions steps early in writing
  • Good writing encourages reader action
  • How writers inadvertently discourage their readers
  • Why the pile of emails to get to exists and why it’s the email writer’s fault
  • The 3-sentence and 4-sentence email pledge
  • How getting away from typewriters has spawned worse writing
  • The deadly action of Reply All and what it says to your reader
  • Respecting and using your awareness of your audience to improve your writing
  • No matter where you are in your writing life, a list of easy ways to dramatically improve your writing today
  • The value of spell checkers and grammar checkers
  • Why big words might not be your writing friend
  • Why great words should not be overused
  • How verbs really do drive sentences
  • Self-editing and outside editing help
  • An easy, fun way to edit your writing
  • The financial equivalent of wasted words in your writing
  • Tips for helping readers find key information
  • Making your writing “sticky”
  • How subject lines and file names can help the recipient of your communication
  • The number one worst thing to do with email

Next Week

We’ll be looking at another soft skill on our list of 55 soft skills. Email us at podcast

Environment, while not a soft skill, plays a critical role in which soft skills we use and how we use them. Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss the role of environment in this episode.

 

Environment is not a soft skill, but it performs an important role in determining which soft skills to use and how to use them.

In this episode, the hosts discuss:

  • Why soft skills are dependent on the environment in which they are employed.
  • How environment might play into when to ask of a raise
  • How to be conscious of the environment to ensure maximum success in achieving objectives
  • How the environment might shift and what to do when it happens
  • Why face-to-face discussion beats emails
  • How you can keep people focused when talking to them on the phone
  • The wrapper effect of environment in using technical skills and soft skills
  • Why reading the environment accurately is as important as what technical skills and soft skills you employ

In sum, recognizing and responding to specific environments is key to the success of blending soft skills and technical skills together, and success in that blending can spur creativity, growth, opportunity and innovation.

Next Week

We answer listener questions.

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Another Voice on Self Reflection

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

What Is Self Reflection?

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

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

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

Bob’s Example

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

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

How Self Reflection Can Work

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

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

What Do You Mean Fast-Tracking?

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

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

Do You Need a Mentor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setbacks with Self Reflection

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

Porterfield (’13:22′): They will.

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

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

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

Journaling and Its Benefits

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

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

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

Porterfield (’14:38′): Yes, yes.

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

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

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

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

Next Week

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

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

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

Introduction

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

Soft Skills at Core of Customer Service

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

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

 

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

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

Importance of Customer Service

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

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

Need to Keep Improving Soft Skills

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

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

The Iceberg of People

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

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

Customer Service and the Customer

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

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

From Company to People

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

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

Closing

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

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

Next Week’s Episode

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

 

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

Introduction

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

What Is Empathy?

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

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

Perseverance is different from being stubborn.

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

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

The Story of a Writer Who Finally Succeeded

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

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

The Challenges of Perseverance

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

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

Organizations Must Persevere

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

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

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

Another Story About Perseverance

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

Can We Get Better at It?

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

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

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

How Perseverance Helps Entrepreneurs Succeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week’s Episode

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

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

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

Introduction

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

Setting the Stage

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

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

Sorting Out Your Soft Skills Inventory

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

Soft Skills for Innovation

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

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

Organizations that Work in Groups

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

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

The Group Soft Skills List

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

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

Revolutionizing Industries

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

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

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

Moving Past the Peter Principle

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

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

Squandering Soft Skills Mavens

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

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

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

Drawing Attention to Your Soft Skills Strengths

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

An Example of Leveraging Your Own Soft Skills

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

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

The Manager’s Edge

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

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

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

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

That Group Soft Skills List Again

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

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

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

Getting Better at Each One

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

Previewing Next Week’s Show

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

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

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

The Opening

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

Podcast Housekeeping

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

Where You Can Find Us

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

Framing Our Discussion

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

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

What Are Nexus Soft Skills?

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

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

Storytelling Is More than the Story

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

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

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

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

An Example of Learning Emotional Intelligence

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

Validating Soft Skills Value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helping Non-MBA Candidates

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

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

Nexus Soft Skills Again

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

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

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

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

Next Week’s Show

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

How We See Individual Soft Skills

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

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

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

Breaking Down Being A Life-Long Learner

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

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

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

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

Creating Value With Soft Skills

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

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

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

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

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

Soft Skills in this Podcast

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

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

Hard and Soft Skills are Married

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

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

Obviously, Not!

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

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

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

Why People May Walk Away

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

Soft skills can get sidelined.

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

Finding Other People’s Gold

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

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

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

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

Trying Someone Else’s Glasses On

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

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

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

The First Step To Start Improving Your Soft Skills

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

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

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

Those Individual Soft Skills Are…

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

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

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

Making Improvements

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

Next Week’s Episode

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Aren’t Soft Skills Just Being Nice To People?

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

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

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

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

Why Did It Take So Long to Recognize Soft Skills?

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

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

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

Which Employees Use Soft Skills?

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

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

The Story of Doug, Whose Soft Skills Were Lacking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing Soft Skills Everywhere

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

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

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

How Soft Skills Can Change Us

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

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

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