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The Importance of Soft Skills in SMEs

By Federico Mazzella ,
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Having employees with so-called hard skills is valuable because they find solutions to technical problems. However, crises or unexpected situations are solved through a combination of these and soft skills, which are related to emotions.

According to the Institute of Technological Sciences of Chile (CIISA), hard skills are specific practices that can easily be measured. For example, the ability to use certain software, draw up an accounting statement, or carry out market research. In most cases, these abilities are transferable through education and continuous training.

In contrast, soft skills are the attributes or capacities that allow a person to perform their job more effectively. They are about the emotional side of things, interpersonal skills, and interactions with the other staff in a company. These soft skills are personal attributes that improve people’s ability to relate well to others.

 

Some examples of soft skills

 

  • Teamwork
  • Problem-solving
  • Effective time management
  • Handling change
  • Handling stress
  • Leadership
  • Effective communication
  • Active listening
  • Empathy

Empathy, active listening, and communication are more than just handy extras for employees.

A study by Visa Empresarial stresses that employees of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are often found to have excellent technical skills. This is because most SMEs were started by technicians, which is reflected in how skilled they are at solving problems that are related to their specific area of business. However, if SMEs and their employees are to negotiate or interact with other employees, suppliers, clients, or investors, developing soft skills is essential.

According to a Terra Chile publication, we are living in changing times in which consumers’ needs are constantly changing and are often not perceived by those on the supply side. Firms thus need to employ people who adapt well to the constant shifts in business and who know how to interpret the consumers’ new demands.

Álvaro Garrido, information technologies director at CIISA and a coaching expert, argues that this is vital for SMEs in any industry. He says that projects often fail due to a lack of understanding or a breakdown in communication between the client and the supplier. “Technically-oriented people think they know best what the end user wants, but it’s not always the case. The point isn’t proving that you know more than someone else, but is rather about contributing to the final solution by meeting the other person’s needs,” Mr. Garrido explains.

Soft skills such as leadership, empathy, active listening, and communication are extremely important and are more than just handy extras for employees. To get ahead in a highly competitive world, firms need to interact effectively with organizations, clients, and individuals from different sectors and cultures and with different levels of knowledge. Although most of these skills are innate, we all have the capacity to develop them.

 

How to Develop Your Soft Skills

 

  • Get to know your strong and weak points: there are many tools available for evaluating your personality, such as the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator. Understanding your personality type can help you limit your focus to soft skills that you can take advantage of or improve on.
  • Observe others: especially members of your organization that have good interpersonal skills at work. A good exercise is watching how these people interact with others and discovering what they do so as to imitate their success. Copying what works is a good idea!
  • Asking for comments or feedback from your work team: those near to you often have an excellent sense of your interpersonal skills. Don’t be afraid to ask for their opinion. It’s a way of earning other people’s respect as it shows you value what they think.
  • Find a coach: getting honest, productive feedback can be difficult. It’s often best to find someone outside your normal channels who can help you identify the areas that you need to focus on. There are generally qualified people who are willing to act as your coach for a minimum charge or for free.

Don’t think that interpersonal skills are for weaklings: the leaders of organizations or managers often think that soft skills are largely irrelevant and give an image of weakness. On the contrary, these soft skills are a must in today’s organizational environment. They will be defining factors for professional success in the future. Devoting time to understanding and improving interpersonal skills will prevent you from becoming a dinosaur.

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