Soft Skills: Whats and Whys on your Path to Success
Nowadays, it is not enough to just be a perfect specialist, and your progress in your profession is under much doubt unless you possess the necessary soft skills. The topic of soft skills is so widely discussed that we could not but tackle it as well. What are soft skills and why are they even so important after all? Logically, why do we need them, and how to improve them?
For years we’ve been dividing skills into two categories: hard and soft.
Hard skills: these are professional competencies in a certain area. Usually we can acquire them in quite a short period of time such as programming skills, designing skills, translation skills, etc. They can be measured by various tests, evaluation systems, etc relatively easily.
Soft skills: these are non-professional skills that interestingly affect career advancement and salary levels more than hard ones. Soft skills open doors to success, help us at work and boost productivity. At the same time, they cannot be measured in an absolute manner; they are a kind of derivative of personal qualities, experience and flexibility of thinking. It is said that most of these skills are formed in childhood. By this we do not mean to say that they cannot be developed during adulthood.
To put it simple: hard skills show what I do at my work, soft skills show how I do my job. You see? Simple!
To understand the term better it is interesting to know where it originated from.
Possibly the term “soft skills” simply came about as an antonym to hard skills. Perhaps it reflects the “softly-softly” approach, where managers choose to influence, rather than confront, and to make suggestions, rather than issuing orders.
Are soft skills important?
Are they indeed? Some say — yes, and some just don’t take them seriously. They justify saying they have a much-demanded profession with no specific need for soft skills, or else, that it hasn’t been proven that soft skills are important, or, that soft skills tend to improve in the course of time. Actually there is no scientific proof for soft skills to be that important but… think about it, do you need them or you don’t? It’s not proved but the need for soft skills in all situations is unquestionable.
Did you know that 80% of job seekers are rejected due to weak soft skills? Soft skills are essential for any employee to remain in demand and highly paid. And research says that with time the importance of soft skills will grow. According to forecasts by Deloitte Access Economics, by 2030, two-thirds of positions will be tied to them. Yes, even those technicians who seem to have little interaction with colleagues will have to learn and possess certain communication or general skills.
No matter how much we zoom in on the research or stats, the reality is one — soft skills DO play a critical role in success in general. Well, if you’re really interested in working at a developed/developing company with a cool culture, which is not interested in you as a vending machine but as an individual, as a person, then you’ll need to give proper attention to your soft skills.
… if you give importance to corporate culture then soft skills should be important.
… if you want to go global as a professional then develop your soft skills.
… if you want to be a great professional then develop your soft skills.
Basic Soft Skills
There are many soft skills that we could list. But there are a few basic/essential ones, all others derive from these ones. Check them:
- Conflict management
- Emotional Intelligence
- Team work
Let’s go through them one by one to see what they are and how we can hone them.
- Learning new things and skills
- Flexibility and adaptability
It’s the ability to learn new information, adapt to new processes, easily merge into new environments, integrate with anything new. It’s among the basic skills because if you can’t learn and adapt quickly, you’ll have issues in any setting. If we take a look at the path humanity has come throughout ages, this skill has helped to survive and advance, since we learned and adapted.
How to hone this skill?
- Make a self-development plan and follow it!
This is nothing but recognizing what we want to learn, how we see us in the future to avoid uncertainty and absent-mindedness․ It’s a great technique to write and outline your achievements. Otherwise you’ll fall behind.
- Try to learn something new out of your professional scope!
Our brain is used to focusing on carrying out professional activities leaving out the other half — the soft part of it passive. Thus when we start using the other half of our brain as a part of our everyday activities, we train it and increase our potential, somehow subconsciously. If it comes to that, you need to change the usual lifestyle, give yourself some fresh air.
- Make a self-assessment!
Take a moment to make a healthy self-assessment! Try to take a step out of the picture and look at yourself from aside. How would you evaluate yourself as a person, as a team-member, as a professional. It’s an exercise, a preliminary step towards self-development.
- Ability to talk and present
- Ability to listen and stay silent
- Ability to socialize
- Ability to insist on your opinion /giving arguments/
Possessing communication skills is the ability to negotiate, convey your position to others, the ability to convince and argue. Communication is the process of exchanging information for the purpose of building social contacts. Establishing connections with other people is essential for the human kind, as we fulfill our needs with the help of society. The more quality connections we have, the more likely our needs are met.
How to hone this skill?
- Read out loud /e.g. classical literature/!
Most often we are not used to our own voice and we need to make our ears get used to our speech/voice. Why literature? It helps enrich your vocabulary and learn new words /sometimes even weird ones/.
- Speak a lot!
Here, speaking a lot means giving open, extended answers to small talk questions. E.g. when your friend asks how the meeting went. Don’t just say good or bad. Explain why you think it went that way, what interesting things happened, who was present, what the topic was , etc. Give some more info that you think might interest him/her.
Funny, isn’t it? But it’s again about listening to your own voice, getting used to it. If you’d known about this before, right?
- Take sales training sessions!
It’s because they know all the tricks about communication. It’s recommended to follow their articles, training, courses to be able to be as masterful as they are in communication.
- Ability not to offend and get offended
- Ability to play with objections
- Ability to get into conflicting situations if necessary /without taking anything personally/
It’s the ability to get out of your comfort zone when you need to give negative feedback, talk about bad news, say something unpleasant, get into uncomfortable conflict but build a constructive situation out of all these.
It’s the ability of looking inside out, knowing the limits of your personal borders and borders of others, being able to listen and accept something that opposes your opinion.
Not to get offended means not to keep the feeling of offence inside you and let it ruin your inner world from upside down, but to analyse why he/she said that maybe you said something that offended them to start with? Maybe he didn’t mean to offend you, etc.
How to hone this skill?
- Analyze the past!
How it happened, what I did and what the person I’m in a conflict with does and why? This will help looking at an unpleasant situation you faced, but now, with a cooler head, less anger and more reasonable judgement
- Attend sales peoples’ training sessions!
Again, because salespeople are into more communication, thus more conflict and they know how to behave in a proper manner.
- Work on the ability to accept your faults!
Try to look inwards and see how much you’re able to accept your fault and say it outloud: I accept I’m wrong.
It’s interesting that if we have certain problems in conflict management it means we have a void in communication as well.
Emotional intelligence (EI)
- To recognize and understand your emotions and feelings
- To know the borders of your emotions
- To be able to transfer/convey your emotions and emotional limits to others
It’s the awareness of our own emotions and their borders where my limits endand where others’ limits start. It’s the ability to understand the self and others, as well as how I affect others. Empathy: understanding how others feel, putting oneself into others shoes.
How to hone this skill?
- Work with a coach or a psychologist
- Keep a diary of feelings and emotions
- Make notes of what happened, how it made you feel, keep in touch with yourself. It will help to dig deeper into the reasons for your emotional occurrences and try to manage them later on.
In your diary you’ll need to answer two questions: What I feel? Why do I feel so?
Additionally,you can draw an emoji next to each line you write and at the end of the day see how it went and assess your emotions.
Now try to describe a person who you’d like to work with. And when you have the vision of that person, check next to the features you possess, and cross out those you don’t. This will help have a picture on what drawbacks there are in your emotional spectrum and what needs improvements.
- Try to find the inner coach /in yourself/: listen to your inner voice and give it the voice of a coach
- To be able to apply all the above mentioned skills in practice
- Accept that others may have another way of working and cooperate accordingly
So, in order to be a great team player you need to be a good communicator, have good EI and have the ability to effectively manage conflicts…
You need to combine a team of skills to build them into teamwork. Nothing on this earth is done alone: you do something either with others or for others. Teamwork is everywhere and everything.
To accept that others may have another style of working and if necessary, adapt to their skills is key. E.g. there are traditions for the team that you need to fit in, accept that you’re not alone and be able to have some compromises, not to be separated.
How to hone this skill?
- To develop all the above mentioned skills
- Give and ask for feedback: you need to be mindful here, though.
- Refuse perfectionism
They say perfectionism is like striving for death. You can’t expect humans not to make mistakes. Everyone does, you just need to be open and accept the possibility of your and others’ errors.
To sum up all that has been said and discussed so far, you need to make sure you do not limit yourself and set your highest bar at mastering hard skills. Honing your soft skill set is not a one day job or something to be done and finished. It’s an ongoing process and will take various forms and shades with the time and with the cultures you will get to work with. Nonetheless, considering its importance in your work and success in whatever you do, let’s stop for a minute and recalibrate: soften up the stress and start off with small steps — this is good enough for the start.
Practice, practice, practice, my friend!
Have you ever thought of what soft skills you need? If not, then go for it, discover yourself.
And in the end we have found one of the coolest and the largest selection of materials to train your soft skills. Enjoy and stay tuned!