– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at Rediff.com)
A reputed software company in India is all geared up for a client visit. The clients have indicated that, after inspecting the progress of the project they have outsourced, they would like to meet the team members working on it. Why? To select one team member for a stint onsite — something almost every software engineer aspires for.
Ravi has been one of the most active members in the project and has done a wonderful job. He is technically brilliant, but has some concerns:
Will he able to communicate his performance to the client in an impressive manner so that he is chosen?
Why do his team mates not prefer to come to him for solutions and go to less capable people instead?
His project manager doesn’t seem to be very warm towards him either, although he does drop in those occasional mails appreciating his work.
Here is a typical scenario in an IT company; or for that matter, any organisation where interpersonal communication is involved. Or, like in Ravi’s case, where an employee suffers from a lack of interpersonal skills.
Are technical/ job-related skills enough?
Technical and job-related skills are a must, but they are NOT sufficient when it comes to progressing up the ladder.
With the traditional paternalistic style of leadership becoming passé, professional managers expect their teams to be proactive and communicate openly.
“Soft skills are very important in business. It is essential to be technically sound, but one should also have the ability to convey the idea to the masses in the simplest possible manner,” says Mayurkumar Gadewar, an ERP consultant with Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
With the boom in outsourcing taking root across industries, many professionals and subject matter experts directly deal with their clients on a regular basis.
Their approachability and people skills are what ultimately sustain the contract their employers have bagged.
“Planning is necessary but execution is also equally important. And it takes soft skills to execute any idea because it involves dealing with people directly,” says Gadewar.
6 soft skills for every hard-nosed professional
Behavioural training experts say there are several soft skills are required in these circumstances. Some of them include:
i. Interpersonal skills
ii. Team spirit
iii. Social grace
iv. Business etiquette
v. Negotiation skills
vi. Behavioural traits such as attitude, motivation and time management
Do you have these? If your answer is yes, good for you.
But if your answer is no, then you know it is time to approach either a training organisation or a training consultant.
Will formal training enhance your soft skills?
There is a lot of argument in the industry as to whether it is possible to enhance soft skills in a few hours of training, especially when one considers the fact that a person has lived with those traits all his life. To this, the answer is harsh but real — a professional who wants to do well in his/ her career does not really have a choice.
In the initial years of your career, your technical abilities are important to get good assignments. However, when it comes to growing in an organisation, it is your personality that matters, more so in large organisations where several people with similar technical expertise will compete for a promotion.
Training on soft skills becomes all the more relevant in a country like India where the education system does not delve into personality development.
“Soft skills training is essential because we do not have it in our academic curricula. Therefore, corporate houses have to take up the task of grooming employees who are the link between the company and the external world, so that they are able to present themselves better, ” says Sumeet Mehta, an equity research analyst with Fortis Securities Ltd.
Be your own trainer!
While organisations are definitely investing in augmenting their staff’s people skills, here are some inputs for professionals and students who would like to initiate the process themselves:
i. Be a part of team activities
It could be either as a part of your church choir, or an NGO, or your local youth circle.
Observe your own behaviour in the group and how you relate to others.
ii. Ask family members or close friends to write down your best and worst traits.
Ideally, have at least four to five people do this for you.
Evaluate the common traits all of them have mentioned. Thus, you can be aware of your strengths and work improving your weaknesses.
iii. How well do you manage your time?
Can you do more in life? Or is your day too crammed with activities? Effective time management is very essential in the corporate world.
iv. Introspect on how you react to feedback.
In organisations, people skills mostly come into the picture when there is feedback given — be it for an idea, an executed project or a presentation.
You are judged by the way you respond to feedback.
Do you get defensive?
Do you insist you were right?
Do you meekly accept criticism?
Remember, people tend to be judged and stereotyped according to their responses. You will, too.
v. How good are you at critiquing?
While responding to feedback is one side of the coin, giving feedback is the other side.
Are you aggressive? Pessimistic? Do you believe in constructive criticism? Or prefer to be the yes-man?
vi. Live consciously
Any organisation is manned by people, therefore soft skills are all about how you deal with people and present yourself.
Though it may be easier said than done, soft skills can be enhanced simply by being aware of oneself and living consciously.