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I'm well aware of what Soft Skills are supposed to be, and there is plenty of information out there on how employers can measure it. We even have a question right here on that: Soft skill evaluation/review .

How can I get, or perform, an honest evaluation of my own soft skills, outside of the context of any specific employer's evaluation process/context/system? The most obvious answer has seemed to be to ask others, but I haven't succeeded in getting anything resembling a consistent answer, either from friends, family, co-workers, or supervisors. Some say I'm a soft-skills genius, others say I'm more middle-of-the-road, some say my soft skills are so low that I am virtually guaranteed career failure, but decline to provide any specific guidance on what specifically is wrong with mine or how I can improve. Is there a better, more objective, or more scientific way to estimate one's own soft-skills capabilities? I'm not necessarily asking about how to get a formal grade report or diploma, but how to move beyond random opinions into actionable territory, such as knowing that (for example), I might be very good specifically at making appropriate eye contact, so-so at regulating tone-of-voice, and rather bad at analyzing power structures in 21st century white-collar office politics.

This question is also not a duplicate of How to Include Soft Skill Activities , as that question assumes that one already knows their specific soft skills strengths, and just needs to find a way to explain them in an employer-friendly way.

I have heard an argument that Soft Skills are always company-dependent to some extent, so if that is the case, then this question is about company or employer independent soft skills, or soft skills that are broadly useful at most employers, as opposed to specific skills such as knowing the specific trigger words that cause that guy in Accounting to have a meltdown or knowing exactly what color suit Mrs. Jones in HR believes is most appealing. By contrast, many hard skills have employer and even career-independent metrics - for example, there are several formal exams in workplace literacy and math that one can take and receive not only a formal score report, but a learning plan for career growth.

Also, this question is really about the evaluation process that could lead to the development of an action plan for building specific soft skills, not about what such a plan would look like or how it could be implemented. For example, if I can find out that my primary soft skills growth area is eye contact, I can avoid spending money that I don't have on an expensive voice coach or lessons on business writing style.

  • As others have pointed out, it's a highly subjective topic and you can't get a general review. What you can do is to instead try to ask for feedback in specific occasions. Find someone you trust and ask something like "what do you think about the way I handled that specific event?" or "what's your opinion on my leadership on this last project?". You'll learn by example. – V N Jan 28 at 20:24
  • @VN that's really the problem I mentioned in my question. I don't know whom to trust. In fact, a while back I asked for feedback from two people - both not only gave me different answers, but each accused the other of intentionally trying to sabotage me! The question, then, could involve "knowing how to know" - that is, knowing when someone's feedback is realistic and honest and when they are just feeding me pat answers or even nonsense. By contrast, there are a few different basic reading tests out there, but there is extensive research in reliability. – Robert Columbia Jan 29 at 16:09
  • @VN if someone claims that the letter 'T' is a vowel and that sentences don't start with a capital letter if written on a Tuesday, I will soon discover that they are wrong. If someone tells me that my handshake is too weak when it is actually too strong and hurting others, that's much more difficult to discover. – Robert Columbia Jan 29 at 16:16
  • I see what you mean. That's indeed tricky. Keep asking and take what you hear with a grain of salt. Remember that these things also depend on the person you're dealing with. The example you gave with the handshake, it might as well depend on the other person's physical strength, so you might want to start with a milder handshake and quickly "feel" the other person's strength to adjust your own. Also, I don't know the specifics of your own use case, but what if one of the two is indeed trying to sabotage you? – V N Jan 29 at 22:02
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The answer to your question is in the question itself.

You'll get varying assessments from workplace to workplace just as you will from friend to friend who has been trying to help you.

What matters most about "soft skills" is that you fit in with the corporate culture.

If, for example, one of your best skills is to engage coworkers, and form back channels, it will do you little good in a terse environment that follows protocol and chain of command religiously. in fact, that "soft skill" would be seen as a detriment.

Stop focusing on "soft skills" and focus on fit.

  • "Fit" is the key here. At one company, I pissed a bunch of people off with my lack of soft skills. At my new company, I'm on track to be in management, because I excel at soft skills. It's all about the culture fit and your relative soft skills. – jcmack Jan 29 at 1:08
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To be totally blunt,

you can't.

If you waste time/energy trying to get an "evaluation" - you are just wasting time and energy.

If you actually care to improve your soft skills, have you read (just as a basic starting measure) 25 famous books on the topic?

If the answer is "no" it's difficult to know how to help.

It would be like someone saying "I want to be a top musician" but you have not yet had one lesson, tried playing one scale or even bought a guitar.

So dive in!

Before even beginning to tackle your problem, make an intense study of 25 top books in the field, and then go from there.

Start with all the obvious .. How to win friends; Influence; Seven habits; Crucial conversations; The hard truth; Bridging; 92 trcks; Maxwell; the Advantage; and lesser known new books such as Conflict Communication...Miller.

Get at it!

Thanks to the literal miracle of the internet, it is absolutely trivial for you to find the 25 books you should be reading as a starter.

It will cost you about $400 to do this to get started - a nice tax deduction.

I don't need to say "Good luck!" because as day follows night you will absolutely eliminate this issue from your life, if you simply decide to do so.

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    You seem to be once again writing an answer in the most divisive way possible... – Dukeling Jan 28 at 22:24
  • it's not devisive! It's ENCOURAGING! – Fattie Jan 29 at 1:49
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    This answer seems to assume laziness, and that one can just "do it". The problem is that the question is about how to start. If I haven't played piano in over 30 years, but I want to pick it up again and get good, how do I know what lessons I need? In real life I would probably start calling some piano teachers, tell them about my background, and go in for a session or two of testing. I wouldn't just call up Stevie Wonder or buy some expensive set of lessons I saw in a banner ad. – Robert Columbia Jan 29 at 15:53
  • hi @RobertColumbia , gosh - how clear could it be? Start off with studying 25 well-known books in the field. That's how to start! – Fattie Jan 29 at 16:26
  • (in case there was some confusion - by "$400" I was just referring to how much a couple of dozen books cost.) – Fattie Jan 29 at 16:26
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This is difficult. If company culture is politically charged, people are less inclined twoards given open and honest feedback. It is hard to give feedback face-to-face, so a degree of anonymization is required. And the definition of 'soft skills' is flexible and changes between workplaces and roles. The skills transfer, but emphasis shifts between skills to a degree that a comparison cannot be made. And it really depends on company culture whether or not they make tools and coaching available to help you improve. However, if your company does:

Some companies have an external coach available. This is someone you can discuss the experiences you have in interactions with coworkers and management with, who can play devil's advocate and help you understand and anticipate people's responses to how you approach discussions, confrontations or cooperation. It is important that this is someone with specific training, whom you do not work with (to maintain confidentiality). I've usually met with my coach every two-four weeks, for 12-36 months, about two hours per meeting. That is expensive.

The cheaper alternative is an automated or standardized tool. I have experience with two tools, both marketed to Dutch companies. If you expect to be in a role for several years at a time and have the honest intent to improve within the role, talk to your direct manager and HR. They likely have (or can arrange for) access to a 360-degree feedback tool. These are generally anonymized questionnaire tools, where you invite a number of coworkers (select a mix of your managers, direct colleagues, people that you supervise, people on similar level in other teams) to rate you on a diverse set of skills.

In both the tools I have worked with, you can see who did and did not answer the questionnaire (so that you can chase people that don't fill it in). Their feedback will be combined into a set of scores and an elaborate profile by a trained HR person, or the company contracted for these evaluations. If too few (<2 to a group - like 'higher management', <5 overall) of your colleagues answer the questionnaire, you get no feedback. If successful, you receive the report in a conversation with HR or the contractor. They are there to soften the blow - the feedback is stripped of context, because examples could identify colleagues.

Consequently, the report is merely a measurement of the impression that others have of you. I have received feedback that I found hurtful every time, because I though I was doing better. I had to learn that the impression others have of me does not relate to my factual performance, but has everything to do with how I communicate my efforts and actively manage my image and reputation.

Usually, you let the results settle and, after a few weeks, create a set of goals that you would like to work on. Then you compile the feedback from the report and your goals and ask some of the coworkers that participated how they think you could reach those goals. You do not usually discuss the contents of the report with coworkers that contributed feedback, so they can't feel pressured to out themselves (by elaborating on an anecdote that never ended up in your report anyway). In my case, this whole process took about three months and I repeated it with the same tool 18 months later, (resulting in two measurements in a 24-month timespan) to see where I had improved.

With both my employers, these reports where deliberately disconnected from other performance metrics. I would have been fired if I had tried to use it in my team's performance reviews.

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I have heard an argument that Soft Skills are always company-dependent to some extent, so if that is the case, then this question is about company or employer independent soft skills, or soft skills that are broadly useful at most employers, as opposed to specific skills such as knowing the specific trigger words that cause that guy in Accounting to have a meltdown or knowing exactly what color suit Mrs. Jones in HR believes is most appealing.

I see your question centers around HR a lot. Point is you shouldn't view HR as your friend. They are there to protect the company and not to grow your career with them. In many situation, they're into retaining employees so they'll promise a career path of some sort but I found that is mostly untrue to get you to stay in with hopes that you'll make it.

With that said, you vs HR, HR always wins. If it isn't your soft skills, it'll be something else. If you're basing yourself against what HR says, then you'll always be a product of the company's imagination.

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    OP makes one generic example regarding clothing preferences by one HR person and we have to jump to "HR is not your friend". How does this answer OP's questioon? – cdkMoose Jan 28 at 21:17
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    Can you edit your answer to try to answer the question of how to get an honest or accurate general review of one's soft skills more directly? Currently this, at most, seems like a comment on the motivation for the question (which wouldn't invalidate the question). Can you also clarify where you're seeing a lot of focus around HR? I only see one throw-away mention to them. – Dukeling Jan 28 at 22:36

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