During the last six years, as an exhibitor and speaker at the HVAC Excellence conference in Las Vegas, I have met hundreds of educators and forged close relationships with those for whom I have taught a soft skills class. Soft skills are the non-technical skills such as positive attitude, courtesy, proper attire, good communication, empathy, personal hygiene and listening; just to name a few. 

Having taught soft skills at more than 20 colleges nationwide gives me a unique perspective into best practices. I have served many terrific instructors and a few who were not so terrific. The differentiating factor usually boils down to the answer of the question: “Who is in charge?”

Similar to a service manager, instructors must enforce agreed-to expectations. A service manager’s role is to ensure that employees do what is best for the organization. In the absence of strong management, employees will likely do what is best and easiest for them. Unfortunately, the organization as a whole suffers in the presence of self-centered people. I believe that this same rule applies to an educational setting.

Good instructional design and effective teaching methods are a plus too. 

From my experience, the instructors who earn their student’s respect and establish classroom discipline are also the ones who share real-world experiences; enforce a dress code and socially acceptable behaviors. These instructors set expectations and they stick by them. 

This year’s HVAC Excellence conference was book-ended by two college site visits. I taught soft skills at one college just prior to the conference and at another a week afterward. Soft skills was embraced among the entire faculty at one college and met with skepticism among a few instructors at the other. The program director, who was in charge of the skeptical instructors, believed strongly in soft skills and he needed help inculcating soft skills into the college’s curriculum.

I might add that two of the skeptical instructors possessed strong personalities, powerful communication styles and an unwillingness to listen: a toxic combination.

My curiosity was aroused by the skepticism and when I asked why, one instructor said, “Soft skills are at odds against the technical curriculum that we teach. Our students should not need soft skills if they focus on getting things done right the first time. Besides, customers want the work done quickly – they don’t have the time or desire to talk to the technician.” Then he continued. “In my home, I don’t want to talk to a technician.  My concern is speed and effectiveness.  Technicians should get in and get out as quickly as possible.”

Knowing that questions can be constructive, I asked this instructor how he reconciled his remark in lieu of research which indicates otherwise. Specifically that today’s contractors seek technicians with improved soft skills. He answered by saying, “Contractors who seek soft skills are only trying to sell more, they’re not interested in serving customers. It’s my opinion. So that’s what I teach students.”

I assured the instructor that soft skills had little to do with aggressive selling, but customers will likely listen to the suggestion of a courteous and polite technician resulting in a mutually beneficial outcome.

No doubt we all have our opinions. However, young and impressionable students benefit from the objectivity of broad research along with an instructor’s insight. A mix of the two stirs classroom discussion and thereby results in even more objectivity.

Steve Coscia helps contractors to make more money, boost upselling and increase customer retention. He is the author of the HVAC Customer Service Handbook and a soft skills college curriculum that is taught at more than 80 trade schools worldwide.  To learn more about Steve Coscia go to www.coscia.com.