Throughout education, children are taught the importance of learning academic and technical skills which constitute cognitive skills developing the prefrontal cortex. Children have opportunities to learn Math, Science and English to optimise development of their academic skills. They have courses to help them learn the knowledge needed to acquire the technical skills like software development and creating and reading analytics. However, soft skills may be as important yet subtle and often harder to attain in comparison to other skills. They are the skills which are more difficult to assess, evaluate and quantify. Most individuals have “fixed” soft skills, but the behaviours of soft skills can be taught. The caveat is, learning soft skills requires at least a certain level of self-awareness and a growth mindset.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are referred to as interpersonal skills or people skills. They happen to be invaluable to employees and employers. They are the ability to interact and communicate with others. They require empathy, well-developed listening skills and appreciation for other people’s strengths and weaknesses which may be very different from our own. Understanding and embracing various personality styles and practising diversity and inclusion requires soft skills as much as, if not more than, the hard knowledge about these topics. For instance, one may understand and know about the autistic spectrum or ADHD, and yet not be able to create an environment supporting working in inclusive ways.
Examples of soft skills needed in the workplace environment
Active listening and other communication skills
Leading others (e.g., trust building and influencing)
Why are they important?
When interacting with other people, we need soft skills to create interdependent relationships which is the way to successful teamwork. Too much independence can contribute to silos, or struggles with delegation; too much dependence, on the other hand, can lead to lack of accountability affecting overall performance. Interpersonal and strong soft skills are a must in creating a collaborative, productive and healthy working environment.
Developing strong leadership skills and agentic qualities like teamwork and communication abilities can create a butterfly effect in delivering, for example, project management results that show. Being able to practise active listening and to communicate clearly with an open mind is crucial especially when you are the voice of the company as a leader. Time management and problem-solving can be the gateway to building trust amongst colleagues and creating stronger relationships in the workplace.
On the other hand, lacking soft skills can limit your relationship with clients, employees, and, as a consequence, business growth. It was found 94% of recruiters believe employees with strong soft skills have better chances of receiving promotion at work then employees with more experience but weak soft skills (iCIMS Hiring Insights, 2017). Not incorporating these skills can cost you your business or your job. As workplaces have been applying more and more automation, these advances in technology have caused jobs to requiring hard skills to decline, and soft skills have been elevated as a key differentiator in recruitment. Deloitte Access Economics (2017) conducted a study and predicted two thirds of most jobs will be soft-skill-intensive by 2030.
How do you develop soft skills?
The first step in development is recognising and understanding what areas you need to develop in. This can come in different forms; through feedback from colleagues and peers or reflection on your work, goals and targets met. Soft skills are a niche category of skills and you can take a multifaceted approach to developing them:
1. Develop your emotional intelligence – it helps raise self-awareness and develop more accountability and commitment to one’s personal and professional goals
2. Place yourself in new situations and surround yourself with new and diverse people, which will take you out of your comfort zone and broaden your horizons
3. Work with a mentor who can provide feedback and support you in your workplace environment
Soft skills can bring a new spring in your step. They can develop healthy confidence and optimism as you learn how to understand your own and other people’s needs. There is a wide range of soft skills, and while they are skills which would be best taught at a younger age, it is never too late to start implementing them into your everyday life, relationships and workplaces for a holistic experience.