What are Soft Skills?

And why are they so important in the workplace?

Almost 80% of employers say that soft skills are more important than hard skills. Nearly as many, almost 70%, say they would prefer new hires to have stronger soft and weak hard skills as opposed to the opposite. So, what exactly are these oh-so-desirable soft skills, and how does one acquire them?

What is a soft skill?

Soft skills are not what we traditionally think of as trade skills like physical production abilities or technical proficiencies. They are intangible qualities like strong communication skills, work ethic, and being a team player. They are cognitive abilities like creative problem-solving, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence. In this way, soft skills seem more akin to character traits, but they are less about who a person is naturally than how a person intentionally behaves in given situations. Someone may have an easy-going personality yet act unprofessionally in a stressful work situation. Their relaxed nature is not a skill they wield with intent, not a tool they can command, but a manner. When someone is easy to get along with because they communicate with intention, use emotional intelligence to assess heated situations, and use their problem-solving abilities to diffuse them, they have soft skills.

Why are soft skills essential in the workplace?

Soft skills, like communication, collaboration, and problem-solving, are transferable – meaning we can use them across many situations, workplaces, and industries. McKinsey & Company assessed the number of jobs lost and created due to automation and concluded that up to 375 million workers would need to switch occupational categories by 2030. When we learn how to make a widget, we have a skill. But, if we don’t work in a widget factory or a company that uses those widgets, that expertise has limited value. You cannot adapt the exact physical process of building a widget to fit any situation. You can, though, adapt yourself. When you can apply the knowledge you’ve gained and the perseverance it took to perfect your widget-making skills toward analyzing and solving the problems of a candy factory manufacturing process – you have a soft skill.

Success adapt to new demands.

Professional success requires us to adapt, coordinate, and collaborate. We need soft skills to build relationships, learn new skills, meet increasing demands, and face new challenges. Soft skills help you do this. As you develop your soft skills, you become more effective and productive, which can help you reach your career goals. Individuals who develop soft skills have greater self-confidence and personal satisfaction, they feel more in control of their lives and feel they have more value to offer. Organizations that focus on cultivating these skills see better results as well. They have happier employees who contribute more freely, which increases retention rates, productivity, and innovation.

How can I develop my soft skills?

You develop soft skills, like any skill, through practice and experience. There are no ways to test soft skills, and their intangible nature can make them difficult to pin down, but as you learn more about them and how they contribute to success in the workplace, they become easier to identify in action.

The GAARD Group has classes that focus on specific soft skills and share their name, like our course on Emotional Intelligence. But we emphasize the importance of soft skill development throughout every course. Courses like Communicating with Impact or Presentation Skills focus on the practical, evergreen business skills of holding meaningful conversations and crafting presentations. We give you models, tips, and scripts to help you with those corporate communications and tie the components to the soft skills by showing you how to better connect with your audience, adapt to their needs, and communicate effectively.

The ability to design beautiful presentation graphics doesn’t make someone an incredible presenter. The underlying skills shared by great communicators are a growth mindset that allows you to challenge your comfort and stand up in front of a room to present, the emotional intelligence to assess your audience’s needs and adapt to ensure you create understanding, and the self-awareness to view yourself through the lens of others to strengthen the elements of your personal brand, so they contribute to your credibility as a speaker.

We know that personal development fuels professional success. To develop life-changing professional skills you have to work from the inside out. Our professional development courses encourage self-reflection to build self-knowledge, which leads to self-management and self-regulation because:

  • When we can self-regulate, we can adapt and communicate in any situation.
  • When we have self-knowledge and understand how and why we react in the ways we do, we can manage our stress responses by taking actions that lead to more productive outcomes, even when that means taking a break.
  • And as we better understand ourselves, we become more empathetic to others, and empathy forms the cornerstone of critical thinking and emotional intelligence.

How can you start developing soft skills today?

Start by learning more about soft skills and reflecting on how to improve each day. When you can recognize the skill of others, you can emulate their behavior. For instance, if you know someone especially adept at leading meetings, pay close attention to their behaviors and responses. Practice using their methods when it is your turn to conduct a meeting.

Focus on the five key soft skills that will help you succeed in the workplace. Top soft skills for business include fostering a growth mindset, communication, leadership, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence. And, of course, you could always jump-start your soft-skills development and learn how to tie them into your professional roles by enrolling in a GAARD course.

The good news is that, like most skills, when you put your knowledge into practice you get better and better. Opportunities to practice are all around us. In nearly every interaction we have throughout our day, we can find opportunities to practice and build valuable soft skill or two.

How should I promote and demonstrate my new skills at work or in a job interview?

Implement them. We often think of practice as the preparation we do before we do something, but “practice” also means the act of doing. When you consistently practice new skills in real-world settings, you demonstrate your growth mindset and work ethic. Demonstrates your commitment to improvement. Tap into your confidence and set the tone for what others can expect from you. When you demonstrate that you understand the importance of soft skills, others will come to see you as someone who is competent and thoughtful. Start by tackling tasks and responsibilities with skill within your work role. Doing this will help you develop confidence. Once you have successfully completed a few smaller tasks, aim to take on bigger challenges.

One of the best ways to promote and demonstrate your new soft skills at work is to implement them.

As an applicant, how you present yourself and behave during your interview demonstrates your interpersonal skills. Skills like active listening, effective communication, and self-awareness are required to perform well in high-level interviews.

List your accomplishments in your resume or portfolio, highlighting the specific soft skills required for those tasks. Aso, you can express your interest in higher levels of achievement to show the interviewer that you are open to new ideas and have a growth mindset.

If you don’t have examples in your work history, show the potential employers you possess these transferable skills by sharing interests you have outside of work that require you to have resilience, empathy, or leadership skills. Maybe you captain your recreational soccer team or participate in a mentorship program. These life experiences are not irrelevant to the workplace, and hiring managers or recruiters with strong critical thinking skills will understand how these roles tie into your abilities because there are many facets to the lives of job applicants that can signal the qualities of good team members and co-workers.

In Summary

Soft skills help you build relationships, work cooperatively, and communicate effectively. They can be instrumental in your success in the workplace, as they help you solve problems and be more productive. Practicing soft skills can improve not only your career prospects but also your overall quality of life. These high-demand skills make you more versatile and adaptable, which will, in turn, help you create better opportunities for yourself. Taking time to develop your soft skills will have a positive impact on your career and life in general.

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