A balance of hard and soft skills is crucial for employees to use intuition, read signals, and respond effectively in any work situation. While both are equally important, soft (aka people) skills are differentiators because they are the basis of exercising situational fluency and enable meaningful connections between colleagues, customers, and business partners. Consisting of effective verbal and non-verbal communication, empathy, and leadership traits, soft skills are some of the most challenging, nuanced, and important attributes to train in the workplace.
Understanding how to best equip employees with exceptional people skills is not easy but, if achieved, can unlock employee potential and build lasting and productive customer relationships — which can ultimately improve retention and growth rates.
Bridging the Gap Between Hard and Soft
Equipping employees with the hard skills needed to thrive in their individual roles serves as the foundation of a successful L&D program. But, without the simultaneous application of soft skills — especially for those in customer-facing roles — hard skills alone don’t build an emotional connection to the situation.
In every industry, technical skills are a necessary and basic part of an employee’s job. Doctors need to know how to read medical records. Financial advisors must be able to recall investment product facts. An accountant needs read and calculate a balance sheet. But how do you choose your doctor? Why do you stay with one financial advisor instead of another? Do you trust an accountant to have done the math accurately? In all of these situations, we come to expect a base level of professional knowledge, but we emotionally respond when a rapport is built through listening, advising, and explaining with a positive attitude. These kinds of soft skills are what builds lasting and trusted relationships.
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Leveraging Psychology and Brain Science to Optimize Retention and Behavior Change
A professional’s effectiveness is largely shaped by the mastery of their people skills. An enterprise salesperson’s job, for example, is to quite simply sell a product or a service to a business. They must know all about the product, pricing, sales process, and qualification criteria to even originate a deal.
Yet, they also need to read body language and buying signals, interpret customer needs to match to product solutions, and negotiate and bring the customer through the journey to sign and close. On top of that, a salesperson must have superb interpersonal skills to establish a connection, build a relationship, and make a win-win situation so the customer feels they’re getting value and choosing the right solution to create longer term loyalty. Some of these soft skills may come naturally, but some behaviors need to be practiced and coached.
Bringing Hard Skills to Life
When choosing which product or service to purchase, enterprise buyers normally go with the option they feel most connected to, whether due to a brand, relationship with salesperson, need, fit, market acceptance, or customer service.
In fact, in a recent CSO Insights study, “The Growing Buyer-Seller Gap," 65.2% of respondents said they found value in discussing their situations with salespeople. And about 3%said that they, “Can’t wait until I can buy B2B online and not work with sellers ever again.” The remaining 32.2% reported mixed feelings about their discussions with sellers, citing, “Some are useful, and some are a waste of time.” It is evident that buyers value relationship and interaction with sellers, but only if it is meaningful, well-informed, and relevant.
Fact-based or hard-skills training is essential and ensures professionals know the “what” of their field of expertise. That knowledge can only come to life and be effective if it is situationally relevant. By incorporating hard facts with scenario-based, cognitively challenging real-life situations that are highly relevant to the job role, employees develop critical-thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills to build situationally fluency. This helps them make better connections and decisions, ultimately becoming more effective in impacting outcomes for customers, the business, and themselves.
Teaching Soft Skills
Soft skills rely on the behavioral skills learning system in the brain, which takes what we know and figures out how to apply it to varying situations. Processing in this system is optimized when behavior is interactive and followed by real-time corrective or validating feedback. The best way to maximize this is to incorporate physical repetition and gradual incremental behavioral changes by encouraging the development of “muscle memory.”
While difficult to train, demonstrating people skills in the workplace is essential to stay connected to customers. By using a proven and effective approach to train and reinforce this skill set, companies can prepare employees to make the right decisions or respond in any situation. A best-practice microlearning platform, like Qstream, takes a multi-pronged approach to soft-skills training by combining scenario-based storytelling with a spaced-education methodology. When a similar scenario, or a scenario with similar characteristics, presents itself in the workplace, employees are better equipped to respond to the unpredictable as they have developed more acute critical-thinking skills and situational fluency.
To learn more about brain science in the corporate learning environment, as well as how the functionality of each learning system in the brain can give your employees an edge, download this analyst insights whitepaper, authored by Learning Scientist & Research Fellow Todd Maddox Ph.D. of Amalgam Insights: “Leveraging Learning Science - How Qstream’s Mobile Microlearning Solution Changes Behavior.”