Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They’d Learned Sooner

By Peggy Klaus

What’s the hard truth? It’s that soft skills will make or break your career.

Peggy Klaus—the woman who busted bragging myths and made us rethink self-promotion with the 2004 release of BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It—brings us The Hard Truth About Soft Skills—Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They’d Learned Sooner (Collins, February 1, 2008, Paperback). Klaus reveals why these core competencies are often ignored and why you can’t afford to ignore them any longer. She brings their importance to life in 54 lessons that highlight how soft skills mastery is the key to success. “Those lacking in the soft skills department will surely stall, if not completely derail, their careers,” notes Klaus.

A top corporate executive coach for Fortune 500 executives, Klaus says the idea for the book grew out of a combination of tales from the office trenches, complaints from management, and an ever-growing body of research supporting the need for soft skills competency.

During both one-on-one and group training sessions, Klaus continually encountered executives who weren’t getting where they wanted to go at work. “What struck me most about their stories of missed opportunities and derailed careers was this: Their problems rarely stemmed from a shortfall in technical or professional expertise, but rather from a shortcoming in the soft skills arena with their personal, social, communication and self-management behaviors.”

“As well, I kept hearing from managers and HR folks about employees—both those entering the workforce and those already on board—who were sorely lacking when it came to their soft skills,” notes Klaus.

But if these soft skills are really that important, why do so many people learn them the hard way?

Klaus says part of the problem is semantics. After all, she writes, “How could anything described as soft be valued in the hard-charging, results-driven business world or impact the bottom line?”

Yet as she often puts it to her corporate audiences with blunt force, “What’s so soft about pitching an investor for his multi-million dollar portfolio? Or inspiring and motivating people after your company has laid off thousands? Or having the foresight and guts to suggest to your boss new or more efficient ways of doing things? Soft skills are some of the hardest skills you’ll ever learn!”

Another obstacle when it comes to taking soft skills seriously is that most of us think they are just about touchy-feely people skills. Although they do encompass people skills, that’s just for starters. Klaus’s book covers a much wider spectrum of soft skills abilities and characteristics from self-awareness to attitude, initiative to problem solving, leadership to time management, political astuteness to integrity, and then some.

In The Hard Truth About Soft Skills Klaus distills 54 important workplace lessons based on stories of struggles and triumphs she has collected from thousands of hours coaching, training and interviewing people from the C-suite on down the corporate ladder. Readers will not only walk away with a much better understanding and awareness of soft skills and how they are woven throughout their careers, but also gain practical insights, strategies, tools, and techniques for learning or improving a particular soft skills area. The lessons are organized into eight chapters, each covering an aspect in which soft skills play an especially significant role: career management, getting the job done, communication, handling critics, office politics, self-promotion, dealing with differences, and leadership.

Among Klaus’s favorite workplace lessons are the following:

  • Knowing yourself is as important as knowing how to do the job.
  • Learn when to stick and when to shift or the details will hang you.
  • Your procrastination is trying to tell you something.
  • Get smart about asking dumb questions.
  • You don’t need to be everyone’s best friend—that’s what dogs are for.
  • Know where to draw the line between self-improvement and self-destruction.
  • When it comes to gossip, learn the art of deflection.
  • Keep your visibility when you’re not face-to-face.
  • Don’t take it personally.
  • Stop stereotypes from sinking you.
  • You’re the boss, stupid, that’s why they hang on your every word.

And, perhaps, most favorite of all: Get out of your own way.