Soft Skills Training: 3 Keys to Success

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Soft skills include char­ac­ter traits like com­mon sense, empa­thy, and a pos­i­tive atti­tude, and inter­per­sonal skills like the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate well with peo­ple. They have more to do with who we are than what we know. The soft skills required for a cus­tomer ser­vice or sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive, for exam­ple, would be strate­gic ques­tion­ing, active lis­ten­ing, empa­thy, a pos­i­tive out­look, the abil­ity to build rap­port, and the abil­ity to remain unflus­tered in the face of chal­leng­ing customers.

Hard skills, or tech­ni­cal skills, can be learned and per­fected over time. So can soft skills. But even with train­ing, soft skills are more dif­fi­cult to acquire and change because they have less to do with what we know, than who we are. Think about it. Your cus­tomer ser­vice agents have been com­mu­ni­cat­ing with other peo­ple their entire lives. So attend­ing a half-day train­ing class where they’re told to care about their cus­tomers, lis­ten actively, acknowl­edge cus­tomers’ con­cerns, use pos­i­tive lan­guage, etc. may inspire them, but with­out prac­tice, they can’t be expected to change a life­time habit.

  1. Prac­tice Online. Much of soft skills is train­ing offered online. How­ever, ask­ing employ­ees to read pages of text online and take a quiz isn’t suf­fi­cient to change behav­ior. A dif­fer­ent method­ol­ogy is required than most online learn­ing offers. Behav­ior change needs to begin dur­ing online train­ing by hav­ing employ­ees prac­tice respond­ing to sit­u­a­tions through either writ­ing or speak­ing their response.
  2. Prac­tice Dur­ing Class. While online train­ing is a great method for teach­ing hard skills, it hasn’t been proven to be suf­fi­cient by itself in chang­ing soft skill behav­ior. If you’re cur­rently pro­vid­ing your employ­ees only online train­ing, cre­ate an after-class follow-up ses­sion that allows them to prac­tice in customer-specific sit­u­a­tions. Drill-and-practice activ­i­ties, fish bowls, and one-on-one role plays give employ­ees the prac­tice they need to improve their soft skills—and the con­fi­dence that they can put their new skills into prac­tice on the job.
  3. Prac­tice After Class. Learn­ing shouldn’t stop when class is over. In fact, that’s when behav­ior really starts to change. With­out on-the-job activ­i­ties to remind employ­ees of newly learned skills, it’s easy for them to fall back into habit­ual pat­terns of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. So it’s cru­cial to pro­vide ongo­ing reminders and oppor­tu­ni­ties for employ­ees to prac­tice what they learned online, in class. Cre­ate on-the-job activ­i­ties that review and focus on one skill each day. Have super­vi­sors pro­vide one-on-coaching. Sched­ule short meet­ings or brown-bag lunches where employ­ees can share suc­cess sto­ries. Remind employ­ees to also prac­tice these skills in their rela­tion­ships out­side of work. Once employ­ees are able to con­sis­tently demon­strate basic skills, con­duct addi­tional train­ing ses­sions to help them take their soft skills to a new level.

Telling employ­ees they need to improve their soft skills isn’t suf­fi­cient. As that famous say­ing goes:

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Prac­tice. Prac­tice. Practice!

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