Ever Heard of "Soft Skills"?

The term "Soft Skills" has been used for several years, but I have just recently been introduced to the phrase.  It is defined as the group of personality traits and communication skills that characterize your relationships with other people.  In other words, "Soft Skills" are those difficult to define and difficult to measure qualities that make a person successful.  Soft skills are more about interpersonal interaction and less about the technical expertise required to do your job. In the corporate world, Human Resources directors are putting more emphasis on hiring for soft skills and development teams are budgeting more to improve employee soft skills.  It is a growing area of interest and study.

In optometry school they said that "A" students make good professors, "B" students make good doctors and "C" students will have buildings named after them.  Of course this is a silly generalization, but it mirrors the concept that the students who have a lot of fun in optometry school have well developed soft skills and tend to do very well in business.

Various sources identify different skills as "soft":

  • Communication
  • Good Listener
  • Enthusiasm
  • Teamwork
  • Positive Attitude
  • Networking
  • Problem Solving
  • Time Management
  • Professionalism
  • Work Ethic
  • Flexibility

You can easily see how difficult it is to measure any of these or for that matter, how to teach them.

Measuring Soft Skills

It is easy to put an ability score on certain tasks, you either know how to work an autorefractor, or you don't.  We have a defined scoring mechanism for "Dependability," and we have worked this into our Salary Adjustment systems.

Some use personality tests during the hiring process, but I have never found that to be effective.  But we do get a lot of value from our Personality Test among the existing members of our team.

The internet shows many organizations developing a way to score soft skills, but nobody has done it yet.

So for now, your best judgement will have to do.

Developing Soft Skills

Even though you can't measure it, there are things that you can do to improve soft skills.  And just like everything else in life, the way to get good at something is to practice.  It is that simple.

How to Practice Communication

We have a short meeting everyday, and a different person facilitates that meeting each day.  We do this because it forces us to develop our communication skills.  You've heard it said before that more people are more afraid of public speaking than death.  So if your staff is too scared to speak each other, how can they explain that we are out of network for their insurance or the difference between our glasses and those you get off the internet?

And we critique each other on presentation skills.

How to Practice Listening

Weekly, we have one hour staff meetings and do not begin until everyone has something to write on.  The expectation is set that each person takes notes, and we have a designated note taker.  We have found that setting this expectation assists everyone in attendance to stay focused.

The members of the Leadership Team work to repeat what we heard the others say.  It is amazing how much can change by the time it goes from my head to my mouth to someone else's ears and then into her head.  Simply by saying it back, these small misunderstandings can be caught before any harm is done.

Building Teamwork

Building a strong teamwork mentality is essential for an optometric practice to run well.  Not only can you not grow or improve without strong teamwork, you can't even maintain your current level.  To build teamwork skills, you simply have to be consistent in being a team.

The culture of "Our Risks - Our Rewards" must be throughout the entire organization.  We all pay for each of our mistakes and we all benefit with each success.

I have found the creation and development of Leadership Teams to be invaluable in team building.  And in times of crisis, this commitment to the foundation pays for itself over and over.

--------------------------------------------------
I plan to keep learning about soft skills and how to use them in my practice.  My consulting friends who focus on balance sheets and capture rates like to call these topics "fluffy."  Boy, do they have a lot to learn.
Happy Labor Day,
Mike