What Are Soft Skills?
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What Are Soft Skills? & Why We Need Soft Skills For The Future of Work

A social psychologist at Harvard Business School, Amy Cuddy, conducted a study to understand people's strongest influences on each other in the workspace. Cuddy's data revealed that the top two answers were an individual's perceived competence and 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.

What Are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are a mix of interpersonal skills, social skills, and the ability to maintain a positive attitude. These skills define how individuals may likely handle real-life issues not covered in school.

Soft skills represent these different abilities and, unlike hard skills can be thought of as how we interrelate and work together with others.

Why are soft skills important?

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 and dissuade a client from breaking into a screaming fit or establish a rapport with other employees.

Soft skills play a vital role in these cases to appeal to people's emotional and social sides and achieve the results you need to excel in the workplace.

Soft skills by no stretch negate hard skills such as those used to perform more task-based work. Rather, the research points to a growing need for strong hard and soft skills to both deliver high performance and connect with people to further develop and work optimally within team environments.

The Top Soft Skills We All Need

What Are Soft Skills - People Talking over Laptops

Deloitte's Human Capital Trends Report2 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 in getting out there and creating enterprises for change or in day-to-day work or life.

Examples of soft skills:

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

These transferable 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 possessed a combination of these soft skills and personality traits.

Further Reading: Soft Skills Facts & Statistics

Why do We Need Soft Skills?

1. Today's workplace is interpersonal

In today's workplace, we've managed, certainly in some leading contemporary organizations, to knock down cubicles, group people into small, manageable teams, and create a direct line of contact between an organization and its audience. It is almost impossible to avoid personal human interactions.

For this reason, we all need to develop our interpersonal and social skills to navigate any organization easily. Having strong soft skills allows us to relate to those around us, gain influence and build points of connection to support our goals and growth.

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 relation to performance are rising1.

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 easily communicate with you and 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 or personality traits that align with the company's culture. 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 compared to those of an applicant with similar values. Possessing the right soft skills will help you identify an organization's values, 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 building our self-awareness. These questions will help us understand which areas and people skills 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.

The good news is that when we can create a list of each soft skill we might need to develop and improve on, we can set about consciously working on them.

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 recognize 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 Aristotle4, we learned that the most successful teams have' social sensitivity' and allow all members to talk during meetings.

Thus, these findings indicate that we should all recognize the people we work with for optimum productivity and give everyone an equal platform to contribute. Social sensitivity will also help us 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 you lack, you may have to commit some time and effort to gain and practice them daily. For example, you can improve and develop soft skills using online learning courses, participating in organizational culture programs, and through other accessible programs. However, remember to test your skills as you progress.

We can't easily quantify soft skills 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.

4. Reflect on how soft skills are working for you

With in-demand soft skills increasingly becoming criteria companies hire against, stop and take a moment to reflect on how they are working for you.

Have they helped further your relations in the workplace or at home? Where might you need to improve soft skills to further progress? Does your job description include a reference to soft skills you recognize in yourself or as areas for improvement? Which are job specific and which are more general? Do you have all the skills you need today? Or where would you like to spend time developing several soft skills that will further your growth?

With more soft skills and non-technical skills becoming stepping stones to career advancement, reflecting on your gains is a healthy step toward continual learning. A number of employers now also offer soft skills training, and should you have the option consider where you might most benefit. For further support reach out to your human resources department which can help you work out the best plan for improving soft skills in tune with job performance.

Learn Soft Skills


Soft skills don't have to be technical; they don't require that you're always conscious of your every word and action. However, good soft skills require effort to maintain and develop. Try to exercise at least one of the 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.

1 The Growing Importance of Social Skills in The Labour Market., Deming, 2017.
2Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report, 2017
3Hard Facts About Soft Skills - An actionable review of employer perspectives, expectations and recommendations. Wonderlic, 2016.
4Google’s Project Aristotle, published in The New York Times

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Photo by Jake Weirick on Unsplash
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