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Soft Skills, hard to find…

The communication allusion

I began my career a while ago now.  Back then, the tools of communication and collaboration were essentially landlines, faxes and pagers, along with face-to-face meetings centred around the office. I also recall my Motorola cell phone, “The Brick.” No texting, no apps, no camera…. I wonder how I got by.

By comparison to today’s hyper-connected world, communication methods were quite limiting.

Of course, mobile, digital and social has changed all that, reinventing the way we communicate and collaborate. And the plethora of communication apps available to keep our teams connected and engaged appeal to different demographics and serve a variety of purposes depending on your preference.

Everyone keeps telling me how connected we all are, so why then does effective communication continue to allude us?

Is it because while technology bolts ahead at breakneck speed, humans remain comparatively unchanged, instinctively similar? Or perhaps that human behaviour is an inexact science, so it is difficult to define what constitutes excellent communication skills?

I suggest it’s a mix of both. According to the Deloitte/DeakinCo. Access Economic Report 2017 Soft Skills for Business Success the 3 most commonly reported skills in Australia are:

  1. Communication
  2. Teamwork
  3. Digital

Critical and fundamental to business success, communication is also one of the most sought after.

Regardless of device or app, there is no replacement for common sense professional communication. Tacit knowledge, business acumen, professional courtesy or simply empathy, call it what you will, it’s our experience that informs what information to share with who, how and when.

For example, proficiency in digital marketing and understanding how to leverage different social media platforms may be considered a technical skill, but understanding which communication app or channel will resonate most with your team is a so-called ‘soft’ skill. More difficult to teach but invaluable to quantify, so really not soft at all, more human-centric.

Resumes, cover letters and professional profiles often tout expertise in communication, among other skills. We can all communicate, right? Perhaps, but the difference is how it matters in the context of the work we do. The fact is every role requires the right mix of skills, both technical and soft.

Hiring managers struggle to meaningfully quantify these soft skills as they align to the role, which is why hiring bias is a thing and perhaps why Australian businesses currently spend around $7 billion a year on trying to buy them. (Ref. Deloitte/DeakinCo. Premium Skills Report 2019)

Build, buy or borrow, either way, your business needs the right mix of human-centric skills to remain relevant and competitive, yet many businesses report that they are unable to access the skills they require and it’s only going to get worse. Research indicates that by 2030 the top 3 demanded skills in every business will be human-centric.

Uncertainty and change will continue to be overriding forces in our businesses. However, there is a constant – the human-centric skills that are not easily automated. Optimising these human skills will be a key differentiator in how our businesses will succeed.

Written for Hargraves Institute by Matt Conoulty, Managing Consultant, DeakinCo.

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