Fortune 500 coach and author Peggy Klaus is a world-class trainer and has just had her second book released. Like her first title (BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It), this new one, The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They’d Learned Sooner, offers succinct, real life advice about how people can enhance their social, communication, and self-management behaviors so that they can move up in their careers. Here’s part one of my interview with Peggy:
LGL: After your BRAG! book, why did you decide to write a book on soft skills?
PK: Time and time again, my clients would ask me, “Peggy, why didn’t someone tell me…and if they did why didn’t I listen?” The stories they shared with me about missed opportunities and derailed careers would invariably track back to shortfalls in their soft skills repertoire. Yet although soft skills can make or break your career—and despite the increasing body of research underscoring their importance—most people continue to learn them the hard way.
LGL: What’s the difference between hard and soft skills?
PK: The difference between hard and soft skills is simply this: Hard skills are the technical expertise needed to get the job done, whereas soft skills are everything else! Most people, though, think soft skills are just those touchy-feely people skills. Yes, it’s true that people skills are part of the equation. But soft skills cover a much wider range of abilities and traits—from self-awareness to attitude, initiative to problem solving, handling criticism to communicating your agenda, leadership to time management, political astuteness to integrity, and then some. It’s the soft skills that allow people to more effectively use their hard skills. And in fact, as many of my clients tell me, soft skills are the hardest things you’ll ever learn.
LGL: If soft skills are so important to getting ahead, why don’t people pay more attention to them?
PK: First there is confusion over what they are. As I said before, many people think they are people skills alone. Another problem is semantics. How could anything described as soft be valued in the hard-charging, results-driven business world or impact the bottom line? There’s also the fact that colleges, universities, and MBA programs more often than not subscribe to what I call the Joe Friday school of education. Joe Friday, the Dragnet television show detective, was known for saying, “All we want are the facts, Ma’am.” When I talk with business school deans they say that they’re so tight on time teaching the quantitative skills like economics and statistics that they don’t have room in the curriculum for the soft skills like communication and leadership. What I say back to them is that they don’t have time not to teach the soft skills if they want their students to succeed in the work world.