Posted on | July 21, 2011
Have you ever wondered why having the best answer to a business problem sometimes makes NO impact at all? In school, we were always incentivized to get the best answer – which led to good grades and job offers. So naturally I brought that same mentality to work. I would work tirelessly to get the perfect, best answer, but was often disappointed when nobody seem that interested in hearing it.
It took me five years to learn that the best answer is not as good as a practical answer that have executive buy in and champions who are willing to implement the solution. This is just one interpersonal skills example of why interpersonal skills are more important than hard skills. I think of hard skills as what it takes to develop the perfect solution to a business issue. I define Interpersonal skills as our ability to build relationships with others to effectively understand their circumstances, communicate our proposed solution based on their business reality, and persuade them to take action. Only when we combine soft skills like interpersonal skills with our hard skills can we be the most effective in business
Here is another example of why interpersonal skills are more important than hard skills. I went to the dentist yesterday to do a routine cleaning. I was given a new dentist (Dr. Vo) at the same office. I’m not particular scared of dentists nor fond of the experience. It’s just something to get done. As soon as she started examining me, she started “scolding” me about waiting too long for a cleaning (it’s been a year) and not flossing enough as I had gum bleedings and sensitivities in some teeth. It made me tense but I said nothing. Then she told me I may have the beginning of cavities on three teeth (no actual cavity yet) and she started again on telling me that I waited too long for a cleaning. After using the same tone to “scold” me three times, I asked her to stop repeating herself. After the cleaning, I promptly told the front desk to always give me only my old dentist (Dr Sood) for future appointments even if I have to wait longer to get an appointment.
My experience there is what prompted me to write this article. Was my cleaning well done this time? Yes. Did Dr. Vo gave me the best diagnosis? Probably. Dr. Vo had all the hard skills to give me her best answer. Yet, I left with a “bad taste” in my mouth because of her interpersonal skills. Nobody wants to feel stupid or wrong during a business transaction even if they were. The business world is not too different. People and companies value good customer experience, practical solutions, and a tactful way for communication. We may think business decisions are made mainly based on logic, but it would be a naive assumption. Here are three more interpersonal skills examples illustrating their importance in business
- Major deals are signed on golf courses – why? Interpersonal skills were used to build close relationships (through common interest like golf) and the trust built using these interpersonal skills leads to signed deals.
- When other logic factors are equal (like price, convenience, delivery time, etc..), people usually choose the vendor where they had prior good relationships instead of a new ones. Sometimes, people will even choose a higher price with their current vendor because they value the existing experience rather than wanting to risk having a bad experience with a new, lower priced one.
- A mediocre solution that have executive buy-in will get implemented over a more perfect solution created in a black box. This is the lesson I learned in consulting. It’s great to be smart (hard skills), but if I don’t have the interpersonal skills to understand my clients, what’s practical to implement in the company’s current circumstances, and how to best persuade them to take action, I will not be able to make any impact.
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