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!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Peggy Carlaw
Peggy Carlaw is the founder of Impact Learning Systems. Impact helps companies develop and implement customer service strategies to improve the customer experience. Their consulting services and training programs help organizations create a customer-focused culture while producing measurable business results. Peggy is also the author of three books published by McGraw-Hill including Managing and Motivating Contact Center Employees.

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