Soft skills can be hard to learn

Sep 10 2009 by Dan Bobinski Print This Article

So-called "soft skills" have taken a much higher profile in recent decades, especially since emotional intelligence has been shown to be a key indicator for identifying top performers. Yet some personality types still have a tough time grasping the value of soft skills, let alone the skills themselves.

The workplace continues to see "bully bosses" rising into senior management positions, relying on intimidation to get short-term results instead of building solid organizations with the help of good interpersonal skills.

For example, one senior manager I know gets great results, but his command and control approach pushes and manipulates people. A quick look at the bottom line for his team is impressive, but when considering other factors, such as turnover and average levels of productivity, his numbers start to lose their glamour.

Some people use intimidation to climb the corporate ladder, but what they don't realize is that such results aren't long-lasting. Intimidated people are more obedient than engaged, which creates a wonderful ego stroke for the manager, but no compelling drive toward unity or internal strength for the company.

What are the obstacles?
As a certified behavioral analyst I know that people demonstrating "Type A" personality traits are the least likely to see the value of interpersonal skills. Type A traits typically include (but are not limited to):

  • Pushing employees to get things done quickly
  • Getting angry with people over insignificant events
  • Openly criticizing employees about mistakes
  • Being combative or contradictory, always needing to win
  • Displaying a "short fuse" / being impatient

Like I said, these intimidating traits can push people to produce. But, as I point out in my latest book, Creating Passion-Driven Teams, people who motivate by fear must use increasing amounts of it to maintain or increase their production numbers. When that happens, something eventually breaks be it the manager, or the team.

For people addicted to Type A behaviors, learning about emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills can be difficult. After all, changing behaviors involves changing techniques that have always brought results. Therefore, they see no compelling reason to change - and are often terrified of doing so (although their hubris would never allow them to admit such fears).

As a result, they refuse to consider a better approach than the one they've been using.

The benefits of increasing emotional intelligence
A growing mountain of evidence shows top performers having higher levels of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) than both average and below-average performers.

Consider some research compiled in the article The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence by Cary Cherniss, Ph.D:

In a study of 515 senior executives, those with high EQ were 3:1 more likely to succeed than those with low EQ, and EQ was a much better predictor of success over those who had relevant previous experience or high IQ.

Competency research in over 200 organizations worldwide found that when identifying top performers, about one-third of the difference was due to technical skill and cognitive ability while two-thirds was due to emotional intelligence. In top leadership positions the disparity was even greater: Over four-fifths of the difference was due to higher emotional intelligence.

That's just two of many. The proof is out there, so the bold question for those adhering to Type A traits is this: "Can you get past your fears to learn something even better than what you're using now?"

It's certainly possible
Kristin is a school teacher I know from the west coast. She says that last year her school's new principal used an authoritarian "command and control" approach. According to Kristen, the weeks leading up to the opening of school last fall were horrendous, and many teachers complained about how horrible it was.

Were results achieved? Yes, albeit begrudgingly, and with many teachers resorting to "doing enough to get by" instead of fully engaging.

This year things are different. Kristen says all the teachers are talking about how much better things are, and how smoothly the weeks went prior to school starting. Why? Because several teachers talked with the principal last spring, emphasizing the need for a more personal approach, and he took it to heart.

This year the principal emphasized his desire to see the faculty work as a team, with his role being the coach. He shifted his behavior away from "command and control" and now offers support, guidance, and advice. The difference, according to Kristen, is amazing. People are looking for ways to contribute instead of finding excuses not to.

The bottom line: Good is the enemy of best. You may get good results with Type A behavior, but you can get better results by improving your soft skills. You'll probably need to face and work through some fears, but the results are worth it.

more articles

About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Daniel Bobinski teaches teams and individuals how to use emotional intelligence and how to create high impact training. Hes also a best-selling author, a popular speaker, and he loves helping teams and individuals achieve workplace excellence

Older Comments

Kreisten's princy accepted the change over to soft skills because he had the inclination to change. So, basically this willingness to change is to be imbibed into every manager

A.R.Subbalakshmi India

A.R.Subbalakshmi, I wholeheartedly agree. People really have to see a reason to change. Fortunately for the teachers at Kristen's school, something got the principal's attention. Sadly, for every turnaround there's probably a dozen managers who say 'tough -- it's how I am. Deal with it.' When managers take that attitude I see it as a sign of laziness. Smart is the person who sees the facts that higher EQ is a huge plus, and strives to learn it.

Dan B.