Today's business is plagued with stories of lost sales, eroded relationships, and missed opportunities that may have been caused by a lack of "soft skills." The phrase, soft skills, in this context, is synonymous with good manners, such as how to introduce your colleagues, how to butter your bread in a restaurant, and even how to carry your golf bag. A lack of proper manners and good etiquette can cost you business in today's competitive environment.
From a recruiting standpoint, human resources directors should be looking beyond grade point average and technical skills to the entire package that includes personal appearance and bearing.
Although just about anyone can benefit from a class or seminar on soft skills, budgetary restrictions often limit training in this area. To the extent that such training is offered, it most often goes to employees whose image and behavior is seen as having the most impact on the success of the company, such as senior executives, managers, sales staff, and customer service representatives.
There are many soft skills training programs available to help you and your firm gain a soft skill advantage. The best ones help employees — and companies — improve the way they are perceived by others.
If you are interested in creating your own training program in this area, you can start with a book, such as Business Etiquette for Dummies, which provides basic information in the area.
Here are some general areas in which soft skills can be grouped:
Training in this area would focus on the basic rules of etiquette, including making small talk, writing a proper thank you note, shaking hands, answering your phone, and other general politeness skills.
Some common blunders that could occur in this area are:
- Not returning phone calls in a timely manner.
- Answering your cell phone during meetings, business engagements or during business lunches and dinner.
- Sounding rushed or aloof during phone calls or client meetings.
- Telling others how overworked and behind you are in your daily tasks.
- Not being respectful to coworkers, clients, and other business contacts, including administrative staff and receptionists of business contacts.
These rules aren’t meant to add another level of insecurity and complexity to business relationships; knowing the rules gives employees confidence in handling themselves in a fine-dining setting. There is a difference between social etiquette and business etiquette, and you should know these differences.
Bad table manners can hurt business relationships. Drinking too much alcohol or eating too much food during business entertaining can cost you a business deal, as can talking with food in your mouth, failing to use a napkin, reaching across the table, and so on.
KNowing which fork goes with which course, who should make order decisions, what to drink and what not to drink. Who should pick up the tab, and so on, are all skills that need to be addressed when dining with clients and business prospects.
Golf Etiquette Learn to play golf. Period.
Many a business deal has come to fruition on the greens of a local golf course. Even if you are not a stellar player, knowledge of proper golf etiquette can go a long way towards providing you with a comfort level on the golf course. Bad etiquette can have a detrimental effect on your business. Some companies are investing in golf training because it offers an unparalleled opportunity to spend time with clients. Golf is and remains a good marketing tool for numerous companies.
You may take a client to lunch, which may last an hour, but golf will give you four to five hours of uninterrupted quality time with your clients and prospective clients.
Don’t bring your cell phone to the course with you. Keep your practice swings to a minimum, always repair divots on the greens and don’t hold up the game.
Humor and Better Communication
Humor works well in business just as it does in your personal life. An important soft skill to learn is some basic humor.
Don’t take your job too seriously or it will show. Be light and be friendly. Remember that funny is good, but you have to know your audience. There’s no faster way to lose clients than to offend someone with a joke. Making staff aware of the good and not-so-good uses of humor also can pay dividends inside the office.
It Pays to be Polite
The positive effect of soft skills training is significant, according to the experts, but it can’t necessarily be measured with numbers. No data will tell you definitively that good manners and good communication skills will result in X percentage increase in sales, morale or productivity.
People who have some polish will make a better impression, and others will want to be around them. Remember, people do business with people they like. It’s that simple.