I was recently reading an article that provided insight and guidance to organizations on achieving success in 2021 when I came across a fascinating glimpse into many leaders’ future focus. Leaders are now prioritizing “soft skills” development, so much so that it is even gaining a new name – “critical skills.” This is because the effective use of these important skills has been found to improve employee experiences and productivity and increase the organization’s likelihood of success.
This is one time when I can feel ahead of the curve. Why? Because I have long valued soft skills and their essential role in consulting. However, the name alone would make one think that these skills were somehow not as critical and powerful as they are. Often, they would be undervalued and overlooked. Well, it seems that this may be the year that soft skills begin to take center stage.
What are “soft skills”?
Soft skills are what many consider to be people skills. These are the non-technical skills – communication, time management, critical thinking, empathy, creativity, etc. – that clients associate with business success. It is what helps us to work effectively with others. These are the skills that are not taught in the classroom. They are developed and enhanced through real-life application. On the other hand, hard skills refer to technical knowledge often attained through more formal education, training, or certification.
If you’re like me you need a visual comparison, so here you go:
At first glance, it’s easy to think that hard skills are all that clients are looking for when searching for consulting help. However, although clients may not list soft skills as a requirement for securing a contract or entering into collaboration, these skills are a significant part of the decision-making process. You may have never given much thought to your initial client call or a casual networking meeting, but all of these seemingly insignificant moments matter. With each interaction, clients evaluate many of these soft skills to see how they may complement their business goals and whether your services would be a good fit.
What soft skills are valued by clients?
What soft skills each client values differs based on their importance or business goals. However, some soft skills stand out easily in the consulting world. A recent article on Indeed.com sheds some light on this topic by highlighting soft skills useful for consulting. In that article it lists the following as essential skills for gathering data, formulating a strategy, and presenting a plan to businesses:
- Creative thinking
- Thinking conceptually and practically
- Communicating clearly and empathetically
- Collaboration with all job levels
- Organization and time management
We can use this as a guide for how clients may view the soft skills that we possess as assets to their business or their endeavors’ success. Bottom line… soft skills are relevant, meaningful, and needed.
Soft Skills and Emotional Intelligence
To fully understand how we can use soft skills to our advantage, it is important first to understand the concept of emotional intelligence and how that impacts our work.
Here’s a question…
Have you ever had a boss or worked with a colleague that never seemed to consider or care about their employees or the individuals they led? It was likely unbearable working with them and that negative energy carried over into every aspect of your work together. Those were individuals who suffered from a lack of emotional intelligence, and because they lacked this foundational skill, they were not as successful in their role as they could have been.
Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and sympathetically. It is a highly sought out skill in leadership and a strong predictor for success. This key differentiator among highly qualified consultants serves as the foundation for using your soft skills effectively.
Emotional intelligence will help you employ soft skills effectively at just the right time, in the right situations. Think of emotional intelligence as a booster that enhances your soft skills. When you are employing these skills in business, you want to remain mindful of their impact on your client individually and demonstrate the skills and traits they admire most in an advisor. When you can break the code and use your soft skills to your advantage, it will be easy to stand out from the competition.
Here are 5 secrets for using soft skills to create a successful consulting business:
1. Plan your communication strategy with your potential client.
Written, verbal, and non-verbal communication is an initial component of building the “like, know, and trust” factor that will be key to securing client contracts and generating future leads. It is important to be thoughtful about each interaction and work to ensure that you are clear and transparent. You want to provide helpful information and advice and avoid having to backtrack and correct misstatements as much as possible, as this can erode the trust you are working so hard to build. Effective communication skills will help you do just that, and having a plan in mind will keep your messaging consistent and in line with your brand.
2. Use empathy to connect with your clients on a deeper level.
Clients are often seeking consulting services to solve a specific problem. This problem is one that has somehow made life or business difficult over time. It has created a challenge that the client cannot easily remedy themselves. With this in mind, you can leverage empathy by understanding the depth of the problem and its overall impact. This approach will allow you to shift your focus from yourself to the client and address a need that touches them emotionally. If 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious, remembering that consulting services are also purchasing decisions, it is important to tap into the subconscious mind. That means connecting on an emotional level.
3. Allow yourself to be creative when developing strategy.
It’s easy to fall into a routine practice when working with clients, especially if you have a very targeted niche. However, don’t let the comfort you feel in your zone of expertise keep you from looking at things from a fresh perspective. The newness of approach and unique strategy can be key to massive breakthroughs. Although consulting can be highly analytical, it still requires some level of creativity. Search for ideas and possible solutions in other industries. Remain open-minded when it comes to collaboration. Be willing to take educated and thoughtful risks.
4. Demonstrate that you can remain flexible and adapt to change.
Things will not always go according to plan. This cannot unravel your strategy or cause you to lose course resulting in abandonment of ideas and well-laid plans. Part of consulting is accepting that there is a lot that is not in your direct control. You will have to rely on others to implement your plan to achieve the promised result. By remaining flexible, you can adjust as needed to guide your clients along what, at times, will be a winding journey to success. Lack of flexibility will only lead you into a brick wall because the need for adaptation is inevitable.
5. Preserve your integrity.
Your reputation will become either your lead magnet or the thing that repels clients from miles away. How you conduct business is a reflection of your integrity. It is a reflection of your honesty and moral principle. Integrity is a highly valued trait desired by clients who are trusting you to help them achieve success. Preserving your integrity requires a firm belief in core values, knowing what you stand for, and not wavering despite circumstance. You will find that these values will attract your ideal clients and build the trust needed to grow your business over time.
Tell me… How are you utilizing your soft skills?