While "hard skills" include technical skills, experience, and proficiency and are generally quantifiable, "soft skills" are more subjective, yet arguably equally important in running a successful consultancy. Soft skills, oft referred to as "people skills" or emotional intelligence, refer to abilities and proficiencies in interacting with others, including interpersonal relationships, communication, and behaviors that affect others.
The conversation around developing soft skills remains constant, and is an essential part of landing new clients. Today, we'll be hosting an exclusive session with Deepak Lalwani discussing these items and other elements that contribute to one becoming a preferred consultant for top enterprises, and we encourage you to join us for this business develoment focused webinar.
Soft skills can include, or relate to, the following:
While not all soft skills will be equally important to all fields - for instance, negotiating skills may be more relevant to a consultant in one industry while conflict resolution may have more weight to another - having well rounded and highly developed soft skills can be invaluable in business success. However, soft skills can at times be more difficult to develop than hard skills, particularly for consultants with introverted personalities, as well as inexperienced consultants unaccustomed to the high level of client interaction that comes with consulting.
Hard skills are important, but they'll only get you so far. With highly developed soft skills such as presentation skills, networking abilities, and etiquette, you can improve your ability to win new clients or gain more work from existing clients. Honing your abilities to resolve conflicts, solve problems, and provide excellent customer service can help you maintain stronger relationships with clients, colleagues, vendors, and other professional contacts. Your leadership, teamwork, and communication abilities can help projects run more smoothly and lead to a result that pleases everyone. Ultimately, highly developed soft skills - and their results - can help you gain confidence, an invaluable trait in the business world.
Lacking soft skills can limit your potential - or even be the downfall of your consultancy. By developing your soft skills, you can give yourself and your consultancy an extra competitive edge, make your everyday experiences in managing your consultancy less stressful and/or frustrating, and even positively influence your personal life by improving how you interact with others.
Soft skills aren't generally "all or none." Many people are adequate, or even exemplary, in some soft skills, yet struggle with others. For instance, a consultant may have excellent communication and teamwork abilities, yet struggles with time management and crumbles under pressure. Unfortunately, independent consultants are not immune to making the same mistakes that many business professionals make regarding soft skills: they can either underestimate the importance, or overestimate their own proficiencies. How can you tell if your soft skills need improvement?
Below are a few scenarios that, if familiar, may be clues:
A great personal development first step is to recognize and acknowledge areas in which you need to improve. This should take place through personal reflection and introspection as well as an evaluation of your consultancy's performance deficiencies, but may also include soliciting feedback from trusted colleagues or friends. You may find that journaling or taking notes each day regarding your professional interactions and their outcomes can be helpful in your self-evaluation.
After you've gained an awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, create a plan of action for improvement that aligns with supporting your business plan. Because soft skills encompass a relatively large category, there are a number of ways to develop or improve these skills. Working with a mentor can provide someone who is able to give feedback as well as model appropriate skills. Other avenues for growing soft skills, particularly those that focus on effective communication, include taking courses in subjects such as public speaking or joining groups like Toastmasters.
Finally, though it may seem deceptively simple, don't underestimate the effect of focusing on positivity and optimism; after all, the majority of soft skills are bolstered by confidence and enthusiasm, and undermined by anxiety, insecurity, and negativity. Changing your mindset so that you are able see the positive in situations can have a significant impact on how you interact with others.