PTA Survival Tip: Master The Soft Skills

Way too many people overlook the importance of soft skills

Just seeing the words “soft skills” is enough to get many folks to roll their eyes so hard that someone can hear it in another room. The reason many people dismiss this topic is that it can be difficult or damn near impossible to objectively measure soft skills. Hard skills are easy to measure – you can take a test or go through a competency to demonstrate what you know and how to apply it. PTA school and the licensure test are clear examples of this. But soft skills don’t work that way.

What are soft skills?

Probably should define soft skills before we go any further.

Desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude
Image from Alhayanasreen/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

That’s a good start, I suppose, but we should add some more info to help give you a better idea on how broad of an umbrella this is. It seems like most researchers are in agreement that the 3 main areas or branches of soft skills are the following:

  1. People skills
  2. Social skills
  3. Personality traits or attributes

Now that we have the above, it’s time to roll out this expanded “top 10” list (with examples) from EKU.

  1. Communication – oral speaking capability, written, presenting, listening, clear speech & writing.
  2. Courtesy – manners, etiquette, business etiquette, gracious, says please and thank you, respectful.
  3. Flexibility – adaptability, willing to change, lifelong learner, accepts new things, adjusts, teachable.
  4. Integrity – honest, ethical, high morals, has personal values, does what’s right.
  5. Interpersonal skills – nice, personable, sense of humor, friendly, nurturing, empathetic, has self-control, patient, sociability, warmth, social skills.
  6. Positive attitude – optimistic, enthusiastic, encouraging, happy, confident.
  7. Professionalism – businesslike, well-dressed, appearance, poised.
  8. Responsibility – accountable, reliable, gets the job done, resourceful, self-disciplined, wants to do well, conscientious, common sense.
  9. Teamwork – cooperative, gets along with others, agreeable, supportive, helpful, collaborative.
  10. Work ethic – hard working, willing to work, loyal, initiative, self-motivated, on time, good attendance.

Source – Robles, M. M. (2012). Executive Perceptions of the Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, 75(4), 453–465.

Why should a PTA care about soft skills?

Thanks for bearing with me on the above. It’s important that we’re all on the same page when we talk about this topic. This is an important topic (and the reason why you should care) because it is an important topic to employers. I’m of the opinion that the hard skills are easy – and easy to teach as well. Soft skills are what can set you apart and make you a very, very valuable employee. There’s also some good data that shows that 80% of achievements in a career are due to soft skills (Harvard study) and 75% of career long-term success results from soft skills (Stanford). You can find many other trivia nuggets on the Wiki page here.

Beyond finding and keeping a job, beyond advancing in your career, soft skills are important because they can directly impact your patients. There are some really smart therapists and doctors out there who aren’t effective in their jobs (some even get surprisingly terrible results) because they are terrible communicators, aren’t adaptable, waste their time, and are dreadful to work with or even be around. If you’ve been in this, or any other, profession for any length of time, you know what I’m talking about. We’re finally starting to notice how important building trust and a therapeutic alliance is with our patients in the PT world. If you suck at the soft skills, you’re going to fail a lot of patients. That’s regardless of how great your technical skills (read: hard skills) are. Does that get your attention? It should.

Oh no, I suck at this! Can I get better?

Good news: you can get better at the soft skills. Some personality research suggests that 40-60% of your temperament is hereditary/genetic. So, while you might be predisposed to be a neurotic, disagreeable, introvert who wouldn’t know what conscientiousness is if it walked up to you and slapped you in the face, you can still learn how to get better at these things. You aren’t going to change from being a pessimist to an optimist overnight, but it is possible to grow in this area and develop other soft skills. Everyone has room for improvement regarding communication. The same goes with empathy, emotional intelligence, problem-solving, resilience, and attitude.

Great news: as you get better at these things, you have a much greater chance of making more money at your job, getting promotions, enjoying your work, and just plain being a better co-worker/friend/family member. Don’t be surprised if you gain more friends in the process and people are more friendly to you as well. Yeah for being a better human!

Dramatic soft skills post conclusion

Soft skills will save your life and all life on planet earth!

A bit of hyperbole there to grab your drifting attention. Here’s the main point though – the technical/hard skills are important, but don’t spend all of your time on that little slice of the pie. Devote a portion of your time toward mastering a few things under the vast umbrella of soft skills. It isn’t easy work and it can be hard to measure, but it’s the stuff that makes us human. It’s well worth the effort.

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