Let us start by saying what soft skills are not: they are not skills learnt easily in a classroom or formally at school. As opposed to hard skills such as accounting, marketing, copy-writing, Microsoft Office even, soft skills are skills within you which simply need to be identified and then unlocked. And surprise surprise, yes, soft skills matter more for the entrepreneur than hard skills!
Put another way, soft skills are those abilities an entrepreneur possesses that put a human face or touch to his dealings. If there was a catch-all phrase to effectively define soft skills, it would be “business wisdom”. Maturity. The ability to do the right thing the right way at the right time. The difference between shouting back at an aggrieved customer and gently coaxing or even teasing her back to calmness (more on this as we go along). Soft skills are the building blocks of high Emotional Quotient (EQ). Remember the mantra “your attitude determines your altitude?” That almost perfectly captures the essence of “soft skills”. But there’s more.
So what exactly are these soft skills that are clearly so important to us as entrepreneurs? There are, depending on which book we read or expert we listen to, anywhere from 3 to 98 different soft skills which will “radically change your life”; “ensure business success”; “propel you to new heights” and so on and so on.
6 of the best
However, after careful study, we will focus on what can be unanimously assumed to be the 6 most important soft skills required for real success. We will in time add to these 6 and maybe even reach 98 at some point. But, we want to hit the ground running and get as many entrepreneurs on the path to success as quickly as possible. Our 6 first soft skills then are:
- Negotiation (Persuasion)
- Networking/Relationship Building (yes it includes Public Speaking, sorry)
- Time Management
All of these concepts are entire fields of study on their own merit. PhD theses have been written several times over on these concepts, and there are 100’s of experts locally and internationally on these skills with more books written on them than most people would otherwise imagine. Yet, we will break them down enough to make sense to us as Nigerian entrepreneurs and see the impact in our businesses. Readers are encouraged however to study more on the concepts which they consider more useful or required for their personal growth and development.
The skills are not listed in any order, but we will start the series with what is considered the number one soft skill of all:
Empathy (Part 1)
Empathy is generally assumed to be the most important soft skill an entrepreneur can possess. It means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. It means looking at life or a situation from another party’s perspective. To sense a person’s feelings, share those feelings. And then understand why those feelings have brought about a reaction from the other person.
In other words, should you really be “dragging” with a bus driver in traffic? Where did he sleep the night before? How did he sleep? Did he sleep at all?! Does driving for 18 hours non-stop every day come rain or shine affect his temperament? And if so should you really be adding to his troubles with your air-conditioned car and lofty manner?
With that definition, the next question has to be (I hope): how is empathy different from sympathy? Should an entrepreneur go around feeling sorry for people and hope to be successful? No.
Feeling sorry for a person is defined as sympathy, compassion; it is not empathy. When you wind down in the air conditioned car we mentioned earlier and hand a few dirty notes to a beggar at the red light, it’s sympathy.
When you try to understand why your otherwise hard working staff has a long face and is noticeably sluggish, you’re practicing empathy. As opposed to insulting or threatening her with the sack, or even just feeling sorry for her.