Soft Skills – Meaning & Examples
Soft skills are the secret sauce that allows people to progress in their careers. Many people suffer from the limiting…
May 7, 2021 | 7 mins read
Soft skills are the secret sauce that allows people to progress in their careers. Many people suffer from the limiting belief that they can’t learn soft skills such as better communication or time management, creativity or problem-solving. But this isn’t true. The good news is that soft skills can be learned, and your teams will be more productive and efficient if they do. Whether it’s a new hire in the organization, or a manager looking to advance to the next level in their careers, soft skills are what they need to learn to get ahead.
Soft skills are life skills that help a person adjust to the demands of the workplace, adapt to shifting relationships with team members and customers and thrive in a competitive and fast-paced environment. These skills include communication, teamwork, emotional intelligence, leadership or problem-solving. Soft skills benefit business leaders in a variety of ways.
To become a soft skills master, you’ll first have to understand the meaning of soft skills and the role they play in our lives at work and with teams. Also, it’s important to understand how lacking soft skills can lead to an atmosphere of fear and blame that prevents people from being their best.
Let’s first get an important clarification out of the way—how are soft skills different from hard skills?
We can divide skills into two subcategories: hard and soft. Hard skills are those that are measurable by third parties or outside observers with no reference to our emotions or how we feel about the situation. These include software or technical skills such as proficiency at using Excel functions or the ability to use a particular app for sales management software.
But what are soft skills? Some people define them as any non-technical skill that has a business benefit. They help us step outside our comfort zone and help other people by managing them in a way that motivates them toward a certain goal or aim. Soft skills are more about how we do our work and relate with other people.
The definition of soft skills is those qualities that help us build, maintain and strengthen relationships. They’re useful because they allow us to adapt to the inevitable changes that come with age, life experience and work. As we progress through our careers or encounter new challenges in the workplace, soft skills come into play. When we can build and maintain strong relationships with people, we strengthen our ability to do our best work.
The best news is that soft skills can be taught and learned, contrary to popular opinion. Soft skills are not a separate entity from our ability to do hard work. They enable us to better relate to others, leading to more effective relationships. They make working together easier and help us navigate new challenges that may arise in a work environment.
If we look closely at the meaning of soft skills, we see they’re connected to emotional intelligence, the ability to see ourselves in the context of other people and how our actions affect them.
There are four major categories of soft skills: communication, teamwork, emotional intelligence and leadership. Let’s take a closer look at these.
The way we communicate with others, even at a basic level, is perhaps the most important soft skill to develop. It’s also an area where most people can improve. Verbal and written communication are two areas that are most used in day-to-day life and work. The ability to get a point across clearly and effectively could make the difference between the success and failure of a project.
Working productively in teams or groups is another core skill. Teamwork is about collaborating and making decisions that benefit not just ourselves but also others in our workplace or personal lives outside of work. It requires us to step out of our own selves so we can make decisions for the greater good of everyone involved. It isn’t an independent skill—it relies on other soft skills such as communication, empathy and emotional intelligence. Used well, it can result in a powerful team that stays together in success or failure, and is a safe space for risk-taking and innovation.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive ourselves within our environment and how our emotions affect those around us. If we can accurately map our motives, we can better manage them, instead of acting on impulses that cause damage at work and home. Our emotions affect how we relate to other people and how they perceive us. Our emotions also influence how we treat others and how we’re treated in return. Emotional intelligence includes the ability to get along with others, including seniors, achieve goals and make decisions that benefit the work environment.
Empathy is a key component of emotional intelligence. It’s the ability to understand how other people think and feel about a situation or a person they encounter. Empathy is critical because understanding how someone else feels makes it easier for us to decide what approach we will take in helping that person. While many soft skills can be taught, empathy is best nurtured and developed with time and experience.
Leadership can be hard because it requires us to think beyond ourselves and our own personal goals. Leaders must be confident in their ability to talk to team members and seniors in an organization, build relationships and help others do outstanding work. Leadership, like empathy, requires that we grow with experience and practice.
Integrating these skills is important because it allows people to meet the challenges of life while building trust within teams.
These skills don’t necessarily lend themselves to metrics associated with hard skills, but are still important in our careers. But as soft skills also contribute to our success in the workplace and our personal lives outside of work, it’s important to develop a method to measure performance and growth in these areas.
Now that we’ve looked at the definition of soft skills, let’s examine examples of soft skills helping us in the workplace.
Receiving feedback builds trust. We learn from feedback whether we’re meeting goals defined by management or if we’re setting out to improve as a person, professional, manager or team member. On the other hand, giving feedback that’s analytical, constructive and motivational is an equally challenging part of being a leader. The art of giving or receiving feedback combines many skills such as empathy, emotional intelligence and active listening.
When managers have to delegate work, they sometimes struggle to let go. Leadership is about understanding the strengths of team members, how much responsibility they’re ready for and communicating what’s needed. But it doesn’t end there—the manager might need to ensure team members are on track, identify pain points and help find solutions to any major roadblocks. Leadership is knowing when to give space and when to step in.
While a team may be motivated by observing their manager’s hard skills at work—whether it’s programming prowess or technical knowhow—for a leader to really make a mark, they need more. Modeling soft skills such as a strong work ethic, problem-solving and adaptability can really uplift colleagues. Team members will learn from these qualities and gain skills for their next big work challenge.
An important task for any manager is interviewing to recruit new talent. To get the most out of these interviews, they need to know how to critically read a resume and then ask relevant questions that get genuine answers from the interviewee. This takes emotional intelligence and strong listening skills.
These are just a few ways in which soft skills can power an effective team. Really, the applications are endless. From writing a resume to handling failure, it’s hard to imagine a workplace challenge that isn’t easier to handle with a greater skill in these ‘soft’ areas.
Harappa’s Compelling Communication Program has all that a professional needs to grow this most critical soft skill. From speaking precisely to positive body language, the program breaks down the complex art of communication into far more approachable segments that professionals at all stages of their career can learn. Given how critical communication is to other soft skills such as leadership and teamwork, this program provides a solid foundation to improve performance on the job. Help your employees become compelling communicators today!
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