Examples – Interpersonal Skills are More Important than Hard Skills

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 give the best answer – the best answer leads to good grades, which lead to job offers. So, naturally I brought that mentality to work. I would work tirelessly to get the perfect, best answer, but was often disappointed when nobody seemed to interested in hearing it.

After five years, I’ve learned 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 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 become more 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’m not particularly scared of dentists, but I’m not fond of the experience either. It’s just something to get done.

I was given a new dentist — Dr. Vo — but at the same office. As soon as she started examining me, she started “scolding” me for waiting too long for a cleaning (it’s been a year) and not flossing enough, as I had gum bleedings and sensitivity in some of my teeth. It made me tense, but I said nothing.

Then she told me that I may have the beginnings of cavities on three teeth (no actual cavities yet), and she started scolding me again for waiting too long to get a cleaning. After “scolding” me three times, I asked her to stop repeating herself. After the cleaning, I promptly told the front desk to always give me 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 give me the best diagnosis? Probably. Dr. Vo had all the hard skill to give me her best answer, but 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 tactful communication methods. We may think that business decisions are made mainly based on logic, but that would be a naive assumption. Here are three more examples about interpersonal skills which illustrate their importance in business:

  • Major deals are signed on golf courses – why?  Interpersonal skills were used to build close relationships (through a common interest, like golf), and the trust built using these interpersonal skills leads to signed deals.
  • All logical factors being equal (like price, convenience, delivery time, etc..), people usually choose the vendor with groups that they’ve had good experiences with.  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.
These examples all teach an important lesson, especially for those with exceptional hard skills, like engineers, programmers, accountants, scientists, etc.  Many struggle to transition from these roles to management, because of either:
1) Lack of understanding regarding the importance of soft skills, like interpersonal skills and communication skills, or
2) They don’t know how to develop these skills.
One thing is sure — if you want to reach senior management level in any business, you have to develop relationships with your team, peers, clients and vendors, and you’ll need interpersonal skills to do that.

I can help you improve your soft skills, including interpersonal skills.  Start today by signing up for the Soft Skills Gym.

 I look forward to your comments.  I am always in your corner.

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– Lei


9 thoughts on “Examples – Interpersonal Skills are More Important than Hard Skills

  1. Kate Ziegler

    It’s a whole new world of work, and interpersonal skills are key. Organizational change, diversity and electronic communications have changed the face of the workplace. Today, more than ever, success depends upon the combined cooperation, commitment and action of people—both face-to-face and across electronic and cyber channels. That’s why your interpersonal skills are so critical to your own effectiveness as a manager.

  2. Ric Phillips

    I can vouch for the accuracy of this article! As a busy Communication Coach/Trainer in Toronto I can tell you that I always inevitably have this conversation of hard skills vs. soft skills, and the importance placed on them at work. We have a lot of immigrants who get hired as accountants, engineers, IT consultants etc. due to their hard skills and technical knowledge, but hit a ‘glass ceiling’ due to their inability to learn the art of soft skills. They keep me very busy.
    Thanks for the great article!

  3. Lei Han Post author

    Marty, that’s a great point on how to improve your soft skills like interpersonal skills – treat it like a hard skill and put it on your task list. I would also add you can use a systematic set of steps to think through what are important in interpersonal skills each time you practice – steps include 1) think about the perspective and motivation of the person you are interacting with 2) think about what you hope the relationship to be. 3) think about how you plan to approach them and before you do, how would you feel if you were approached that way. etc… These initial steps can save us from damaging relationship unknowningly or based on impulse. For more details on all the steps to improve a soft skill, sign up for my free newsletter on the sidebar. Thanks for reading.

  4. Marty

    I was an engineer for 30 years. My comfort zone is definitely in the area of hard skills. Everything Lei said is correct in my experience. One way I was able to implement soft soft skills into my work was to simply look at it as a “hard skill”. You have to practice and improve the implementation but you can also put “interpersonal interactions” on your project task list. Maybe don’t put this on paper but schedule it like any other task.

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