What Are Soft Skills?

What are Soft Skills? (And Why We Need Them)

Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, conducted a study to understand what people's strongest influences on each other in the workspace might be. Cuddy's data revealed that the top two answers were an individual’s perceived competence and an individual's perceived warmth. Interestingly, warmth was the strongest influence, far above the competence of people to do their jobs. And this is why 93% of employers have indicated that soft skills are an essential factor in hiring decisions3.

Soft skills are a mix of interpersonal skills, social skills, and the ability to maintain a positive attitude. These skills define how individuals may be likely to handle real-life issues which are not covered in school. While school might prepare you on the best methods to audit an account, build an engine, or program software, it won’t teach you how to keep your team motivated for 12-hour shifts, dissuade a client from breaking into a screaming fit, or establish a rapport with other employees. Soft skills are needed in these cases to appeal to the emotional and social sides of people and achieve the results you need to excel in the workplace.

The Top Soft Skills We All Need

What Are Soft Skills - People Talking over Laptops

Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends Report4 revealed that 90% of organizations are redesigning their teams to use new operational models which require a wide set of soft skills. Here are some of the soft skills which might be helpful getting out there and creating enterprises for change or in day-to-day work, or life.

  1. Good communication skills
  2. Active team player
  3. Problem-solving skills
  4. Positive thinking/attitude
  5. Time management
  6. Good work ethics
  7. Conflict resolution
  8. Adaptability to change
  9. Ability to accept criticism
  10. Networking
  11. Strong performance under pressure

These skills, when put together, can create a formidable individual, trusted by their team to handle adversity. Now, think of how powerful a group or organization could be if every one of its members possesses a combination of these soft skills.

Why do We Need Soft Skills?

1. Today’s workplace is interpersonal

In today’s workplace, we’ve managed, certainly in some leading contemporary organisations, to knock down cubicles, group people into small, manageable teams, and create a direct line of contact between an organization and their audience. It is almost impossible to avoid personal human interactions. For this reason, we all need to develop our interpersonal and social skills to easily navigate any organization.

2. Better performance

An individual’s ability to create healthy work relationships, ask the right questions, complete tasks quickly and effectively, and so on, will help them perform better. Hiring managers also want applicants who can hit the ground running and quickly impact team performance positively. Harvard professor, David Deming, has also discovered that jobs requiring soft skills in direct relation to performance are on the rise2. When you possess the right soft skills, you can demonstrate your competence and also bring an improvement to your team once you join them.

3. Better understanding with your peers

This point relates directly to communication skills and the ability to be a good team player. If you can clearly communicate the 5Ws and H; who, what, when, where, why, and how, of any idea, project, or situation, then you may skillfully avoid miscommunication in the workplace. Note that this is a two-way process; you may leave a channel open for others to communicate with you easily, and also encourage feedback on your actions.

4. Easier integration with an established organizational culture

Hiring managers are now turning back qualified applicants simply because they do not possess values that align with the companies cultures1. This is because more people are openly placing their mental health and other (personal) interests as more valuable than a job at a toxic organization. For this reason, organizations could be losing talent by ignoring the impact of their culture on employee happiness and performance.

If your values do not align with that of a team or organization, your technical qualifications might pale in comparison to those of an applicant with similar values. Possessing the right soft skills will help you to identify the values of an organization, study them, and adapt quickly to fit in.

How to Develop Your Soft Skills

1. Self-awareness

Before you can work with others, understand their motives, and respond to them in a manner that will satisfy them, you must first have a good understanding of yourself.
In the book, Superconnectors, by Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh, we are given a list of questions to ask ourselves while trying to build our self-awareness. These questions will help us understand which areas we need to improve on, to increase the value of our soft skills.

Some of these questions are:

  • Do you understand the concept of personal space?
  • Are you a listener or a talker?
  • Do you consider yourself a good public speaker, or are you better online?
  • Are you comfortable walking up to a stranger and striking up a conversation, or would that give you a panic attack?
  • How do others really see you upon the first contact?
  • What sorts of things are you really bad at when it comes to meeting people?
  • Do you need help getting organized?
  • Are you a good decision maker?
  • Do you take time getting back to people?
  • How much do you hate conversations that aren’t about your interests or matters of importance to you?
  • Do you like small talk?
  • Are you naturally inquisitive or close-minded?

And finally, they ask...

  • Are you okay with what you’ve learned about yourself? Is there anything that bears correction?

These questions require a great deal of honesty from you and do not have to be answered immediately. I recommend that you take some time to observe yourself on the topics raised (e.g. do you take time getting back to people?), before you pen down your answers. When you finally have your answers, compare them to the soft skills above, then identify your strengths and areas which need work.

2. Embrace empathy

Empathy is the ability to recognize and relate to the attitudes and emotions of others. Empathy is at the core of every forward-thinking organization’s mission; they recognized a need in others, and have dedicated time and effort to solving those needs. For example, from one of Google’s internal research projects, Project Aristotle5[5], we learned that the most successful teams are those who have ‘social sensitivity’ and allow all members to talk during meetings. Thus, these findings indicate that for optimum productivity, we should all recognize the people we work with and give everyone an equal platform to contribute. Social sensitivity will also help us to recognize when someone is feeling upset or left out, and in such cases, make more effort to help them reach others.

3. Work daily to improve yourself

After identifying the soft skills which you lack, you may have to commit some time and effort to gain and practice them daily. For example, you can improve your soft skills using online courses, participating in organizational culture programs, and through other accessible programs. However, remember to test your skills as you progress. Soft skills can’t easily be quantified with exams or tests, so you have to go out and interact with people. In your day-to-day work life, apply the things you have learned and look out for the possible changes which might occur in your work relationships.

Learn Soft Skills

Conclusion

Soft skills don't have to be technical; they don't require that you're always conscious of your every word and action. However, they require effort to maintain and develop. Try to exercise at least one of soft skills you're mastering every day. With time, your ability to communicate, collaborate, avoid conflict, and increase productivity should show a practical shift upwards.

#Description
1The Impact of Organizational Culture on Attraction and Recruitment of Job Applicants. Cantazaro, Moore, Marshall, 2010
2 The Growing Importance of Social Skills in The Labour Market., Deming, 2017.
3Hard Facts About Soft Skills - An actionable review of employer perspectives, expectations and recommendations. Wonderlic, 2016.
4Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report, 2017
5Google’s Project Aristotle, published in The New York Times
Jennifer is a content writer with an educational background in Public Relations and Advertising. From her desk in Lagos, Nigeria, she helps businesses around the world reach and connect with their audiences.
Main Photo @meijer45 on Unsplash
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