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Why we have to cure our fear of soft skills training

What makes a brilliant entrepreneur, a super accelerated start-up or a successful small business owner as successful as they are? Your first thought probably goes to their passion and drive or their vision or both.

You might also think about how smart they are. How the entrepreneur knows the numbers of business. How the founder of the start-up is so technically savvy and how the small business owner is a legend in their industry.

You are right on both counts. However, they all have one other capability that is essential to their success. They have the ability to persuade. To persuade others to buy into their vision, to invest, to leave the safety of corporate life and join their crusade. To persuade prospective clients to give them a try. To persuade suppliers to cut them some slack on payment terms. The list goes on.

The powers of persuasion are what is often termed soft skills.


Mollisvitaephobia is fear of soft skills learning.

Ok. You got me. I made it up by translating “soft skills” into Latin. Why? Because there is most definitely an ailment amongst us that needs fixing and it needs a name.

It seems we have a natural bias towards developing our technical skills at the expense of soft skills. We think if we know the answer, then we can show people the way and they will follow.

Unfortunately the world does not work like that. When you are persuading someone you are looking to influence their decision. Decisions are made first on emotion, then on the facts. Take climate change for example. While most people will accept the word of 98% or more of the world’s scientists, some people simply refuse to accept there is a need for action now.

The Change You Need to Make

Anyone who has a degree in engineering, finance, HR, IT, law, marketing and a host of other professions will often join professional associations in those fields. Through those associations they will seek ongoing professional development through courses and seminars. What do the courses and seminars primarily focus on? Technical skills.

The result is that you are working towards best practice in your field not best practice in leading a business. Yes you can do an MBA or join an association for management professionals and they will put on the occasional soft skills program. But they won’t necessarily assess your competency in them.

You need to take ownership of your soft skills development. In particular, your ability to influence and persuade.

The Principles of Persuasion

Start by learning the key principles. In his seminal 1984 book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Caildini introduced his six principles of persuasion.

  • When someone gives us something, we want to return the favour. This is a fundamental human response.
  • Commitment and consistency. People like to show they are consistent in their actions. For example, if you can persuade someone to take a small action to protect the environment, they are then more likely to not act in a way that would harm the environment.
  • Social proof. We look to others for confirmation on what we should be doing or liking. Think fashion, music or management trends.
  • Liking. If we like someone we are much more likely to listen to them and do as they wish.
  • Authority. We are more likely to comply when urged by an authority figure.
  • Scarcity. We don’t like missing out, which is why retailers use promotional tags such as ‘limited stock’.

Follow a Process

If you want to persuade more effectively in any situation, here is a simple process for you:

  • Stand in the shoesof others so you understand their world so you can describe your vision in their terms.
  • Paint a picturefor clarity. While you may have a picture of the end result in your head, they will be forming their own and it might not be the same.
  • Tell a storyto build emotions. Remember, their decision to follow you will be primarily based on emotion.
  • Make people believewith credibility. This is where your technical skills can seal the deal.

A leader with renowned technical expertise can be an impressive leader. An impressive leader who has mastered the skills of influence and persuasion is an incredible leader.

The choice is yours to take ownership of your soft skills development.

Bryan Whitefield mentors executives in organisations to increase their influence and improve decisions across their organisation. He is the author of Winning Conversations:

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Bryan Whitefield

Bryan Whitefield

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