For the last several years, training gurus have been touting the importance of soft skills training in the workplace and shouting that next year is going to be the year when the soft skills training revolution arrives.
Most training professionals, however, are still waiting. Don’t get me wrong: soft skills are important. The American Management Association cites a Stanford Research Institute / Carnegie Mellon Foundation study that found that 75% of long-term job success comes from soft skills mastery, while only 25% comes from technical skills. And as a trainer, you may feel you have a duty to bring this important research to bear when creating an overall training plan for your company.
So why doesn’t anyone listen? Why hasn’t the revolution arrived?
The fact is, stressing soft skills and communication skills over technical training is counterintuitive. It just seems (especially to upper management) that technical skills will make the company more money. But you, dear trainer, know the truth: it’s the soft skills training that prepares your company for the future.
Soft skills training is the way of the future — learn how to sell it to upper management.
So how do you sell it? Can you convince management to allocate the budget and resources needed to teach people how to listen? Yes, you can. Here are four soft skills training topics that won’t sound quite so “soft” to stakeholders — opening the door for future adventures in soft skills training.
What could be easier to sell than a training course on managing people? Everyone agrees that better management skills mean greater success for the entire organization. Of course, your syllabus will include the expected: assessing personnel needs, motivating employees, discipline, etc. But you’ll also have an opportunity to work in some softer soft skills that might not merit a course on their own, such as listening, empathy, assertiveness, and conflict management.
Critical thinking skills are essential for better-than-average success in nearly any job. Unfortunately, teaching “thinking” in a corporate environment might elicit responses like, “Didn’t they learn that in school?” Fortunately, you can work critical thinking exercises into virtually any technical skills course. You can also create new courses that stress critical thinking. For instance, process mapping requires advanced critical thinking, and even a high-level Excel course will stretch your learners’ minds.
Upper management loves time management courses, and why wouldn’t they? Better use of time means more productivity and, ultimately, getting the most out of every HR dollar. There are a lot of out-of-the-box time management courses out there but be careful — many courses serve mostly to sell a time management system. While it’s good to have a system in place, be sure your course includes some “hidden” soft skills like stress management, communication skills, working smarter, and even process simplification.
Teamwork courses are a treasure trove of soft skill training opportunities. Teamwork requires communication, negotiation, empathy, assertiveness, leadership, empowerment, listening, vulnerability, conflict management — the list goes on and on. Think of the soft skills you want to emphasize and be sure your course contains activities that specifically address them.
A Word from a Former Fine Arts Teacher
Looking over the many lists of “essential soft skills for the workplace” I found, I realized that I had incorporated almost all of them when I taught acting at the high school level. Good actors have to listen, communicate, be vulnerable, have empathy, and manage stress — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Kids thought they were learning how to act, but they were really learning how to live.
Your courses can have the same effect. And don’t just think soft skill courses; think incorporating soft skills into every course. Your organization will thank you — even if they don’t understand why!