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The Importance of Soft Skills for Professional Success

by Amy Shollenbarger
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threev Female colleagues smiling and duscussing on laptop in office

Sure, you can remediate /r/ or help move a patient off a modified diet with the best of them—but how do your clients, coworkers, supervisors, and supervisees view you? Do they trust you and seek your advice? Do they enjoy being around you? Do they see you as someone who can roll with the punches?

The point is, how are your soft skills—those interpersonal attributes that enhance your interactions, job performance, and career prospects?

Soft skills—typically a combination of interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and personal attributes—include work ethic, professionalism, courtesy, initiative, and communication. More difficult to teach than technical skills and knowledge, these soft skills are also challenging to measure. However, supervisors can rely on such proficiencies as strong indicators of job performance and success.

In fact, recruiters at a college job fair admit favoring candidates with strong soft skills—even over grades and experience. A wide spectrum of job settings—including health professions—look for employees with good soft skills.

Every audiologist and speech-language pathologist, at some point in their career, will encounter difficult supervisors and challenging patients, clients, and parents. We all experience frustrating job situations, less-than-optimal working conditions, productivity pressures, and unpleasant co-workers.

Working on our effective soft skills in these 10 areas can increase our successful performance—as well as satisfaction—in the widely varied jobs of audiologists and SLPs.

  • Communication—Effective communication skills with clients, caregivers, and other health professionals include avoiding jargon, using open body language, and listening to other perspectives.
  • Courtesy—It’s never a bad idea to say “please” and “thank you.” Being gracious and respectful is valued among colleagues and clients, patients, or students. And a patient or client who feels they are not receiving the clinician’s full attention, courtesy, and willingness to help may choose to receive services somewhere else.
  • Flexibility—Audiologists and SLPs who can adjust to unexpected situations or follow a student’s or patient’s lead usually experience fewer frustrations and might notice increased client motivation.
  • Integrity—Clinicians must do what is right and ethical regarding assessment, treatment, documentation, and billing for services.
  • Interpersonal skills—Collegiality is important in the workplace. In addition (especially in communication sciences and disorders), clinicians want to model the type of interpersonal skills they’re looking for clients to exhibit.
  • Positive attitude—Clients thrive when working with optimistic, enthusiastic, and encouraging clinicians.
  • Professionalism—Being on time for work, dressing appropriately for the setting, and acting respectfully toward colleagues, supervisors, students, clients, patients, and families is critical.
  • Responsibility—Employers and clients value clinicians who are accountable, reliable, and resourceful, as well as those who work hard and get the job done.
  • Teamwork—Willingness to collaborate with others—including those from different disciplines—to improve client outcomes is a key tenet of our profession.
  • Work ethic—Showing initiative and self-motivation gets positive attention from employers, peers, and the people we serve.

Have you changed jobs often? Are you a supervisor who experiences high employee turnover? Is your private practice losing clients? Do you greet colleagues and clients enthusiastically and graciously? Your honest answers and follow-up to these, and many other questions relating to your soft skills, can help you become a better audiologist or SLP.

Amy Shollenbarger, PhD, CCC-SLP, is chair of the Department of Communication Disorders at Arkansas State University. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders; 5, Craniofacial and Velopharyngeal Disorders; and 10, Issues in Higher Education. ashollenbarger@astate.edu

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