Book Review: The Hard Truth About Soft Skills – Peggy Klaus

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I came across this title a long while back and it’s been on my wish list forever. A big reason why this book caught my eye and I wanted to read it some time is that a book on soft skills is rare, a best seller, even more so! Books, articles, yes but not a proper book. I finally bought it on Amazon last month and finished in 3 days flat.

The first thing that the book does – and I love it – is to set the record straight about soft skills. Peggy asserts that soft skills are considered “warm and fuzzy” hence suffer “from a fundamental lack of respect.” Success and business aren’t soft terms and being nice to people doesn’t help you get ahead, right? Wrong! The book goes on to demonstrate how technical expertise apart, soft skills is what turns managers into leaders that build organisations.

8 chapters cover a range of 54 important soft skills that include self assessment and self awareness, leadership, handling office politics, communication, career management, integrity, table manners and for a book published in 2007 – personal branding and coping with inter-generational work places too. 

Here are a few important take aways that I loved in the book:

1. Get out of your own way

I love the fact that the book begins with “self” and not “people” skills. There are a lot of things that we need to develop in ourselves before we can use them effectively with other people. One of the important things that I loved in this chapter is the advice – get out of our own way. In other words, stop being so critical of yourself that it becomes self destructive. A lot of times, the only thing stopping us from reaching the peak is our own limiting beliefs. So look inwards and ensure that you hinder our own paths in life.

2. The response to what happens to us is upto us

We can’t choose what happens to us. But we can definitely choose how we react to it. It may not be our fault but it is our responsibility – a point reiterated in the next book I am reading – The subtle art of not giving a F*uck (Watch out for the review coming up next month) We may whine endlessly about things at work and create negative ripples. No one likes that and it serves to alienate  our co-workers. We need to control our response to what happens around us.

3. Communication – make or break your career

“Communication skills – or lack thereof can make or break your career” – Peggy Klaus

This chapter is my favourite and how can it not be! And this book is quite forward looking for its times. Peggy talks about the shallow and ephemeral nature of virtual connections and how building deep connections over a period of time is hard thing to do. The communication is more quick and impersonal. And hence the art of communication becomes even more important.

4. Pack the punchline first

We have shorter attention spans more than ever before and focusing on one thing is a challenge. And with most communication going virtual, we don’t have all the time under the sun to make our point. To be able customize our communication styles depending on the person we are communicating with is a key skill. Will your client sit through your entire presentation or should you start with the conclusive whats-in-it-for-them kinda communication style?

5. Learn to handle criticism

We are being judged all the time. Whether we like it or not, whether we do someone judge-worthy or not. And one of the ways to know what people have to say about you is to actively seek feedback. Let your boss and people in your team know that you are open to feedback and suggestions. And when you get it, accept it with an open mind, ask questions to clarify why someone feels that way and try to improve based on the feedback

6. Office politics is “inevitable and unavoidable”

There is no mincing words when Peggy sets out to discuss workplace soft skills essential for success. And office politics is a reality we grapple with no matter which job we are in. Peggy’s top tip is – observe. Understand the “unofficial company culture” to determine the informal alliances that influence decisions in your organisation. Ask questions and research about who calls the shots. You can fit in accordingly and find your sweet spot in the company.

7. Watch out for gender differences at the work place

Men and women have different ways of looking at work and doing business. Emotions, approach to competition, style of doing business – differs depending on the gender. Women being over sensitive and men projecting insensitivity – both go against the genders. Women – shed tears at the work place sparingly. Men – ask a colleague about an ill family member or condole the death of a dear one when the situation arises. Being tough doesn’t mean being unemotional. Competition for men is a necessary part of getting ahead while women want to be nice and not knock over a dear team member to get promoted. Learn to improve these weak points to be better softly skilled.

I haven’t discussed anything from chapters on branding and leadership. There’s enough written about it and we’ve all had generous helpings of these topics on the internet already.

Although the book is unique in its content and exhaustive in the range of skills, I find it wanting in some aspects.

Each chapter covers a set of related skills under the umbrella of a main skill. For instance, the chapter on communication talks about listening, asking questions, public speaking, using polite words like – thank you and sorry. But the chapters are quite small and seem incomplete at times. Some of them are a one pager. Some others are just anecdotes from her coaching career to illustrate a point. 

Another thing that I feel lacking is the absence of action points. There are no tips or directions as to how one can start to develop any of the skills that she talks about.

All said and done this is a must read book on soft skills and I’d highly recommend it.

(This is not a paid review. I read book related to communication and review them to share the best stuff with the readers)

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