Ultimate Guide to Soft Skills
Don’t be fooled by the name. They may be called “soft skills”, but there is nothing soft or weak about them. They are also among the top qualifications that employers look for in potential employees. In fact, you will find that many employers and hiring managers put more weight to these soft skills than the technical skills that you bring to the table.
In other words, they are just as important, or even more important and powerful than other skills out there.
This guide will teach you 1) the basics on soft skills, 2) soft skills that can help your career, and 3) how to develop your soft skills.
BASICS ON SOFT SKILLS
Say, for example, that you have in your hands a copy of the resume of a candidate for a managerial position in your company. The job entails the management of an entire department consisting of several teams put on their respective projects, which are located in different cities in Europe.
His qualifications and skill sets indicate that he can speak more than 4 languages – English, French, Spanish, and Japanese. He is also highly proficient in calculus as well as other mathematical disciplines. It also indicates that he has spent more than 10 years in a managerial position in a smaller company, along with a list of his significant accomplishments during his tenure with that company.
Soft skills are the personal attributes and capabilities that enable an individual to interact harmoniously and effectively with other people, and is indicative of that person’s degree of emotional intelligence. You may have heard the phrase “people skills” before; it is another name for soft skills.
Can you teach soft skills? To a certain extent, soft skills can be taught and acquired. However, there are soft skills that are inherent or innate in a person. There are simply some people that seem to be naturally gifted when it comes to speaking in public and engaging the attention of large crowds.
There are those who are said to be “born leaders”, because leading seems to come naturally to them, even if they did not learn these skills from school.
Do not be disheartened, however, because everyone is born with their own sets of soft skills. It is just a matter of tapping into these soft skills, harnessing them and improving on them, so they can be a major advantage or asset when it comes to one’s personal and professional life.
A great summary on soft skills can be found in the following slides.
Importance of Soft Skills
Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills
We have already defined what soft skills are. To understand them better, we can look into what makes them different from hard skills. Hard skills refer to the technical skills of a person, and his ability to perform certain tasks.
The difference lies in the method of testing or measurement.
Soft skills are capabilities, which means that they are difficult to measure through conventional means such as testing. Hard skills, on the other hand, do not have that issue. They can be measured using any testing methodology.
From the skills listed in the resume example earlier, the mathematical skills, as well as the languages proficiency, are considered to be the hard skills, because they can be measured reliably through tests and proficiency exams. The leadership skills and innovative skills, on the other hand, cannot be measured reliably, which means they are considered to be the soft skills.
Soft Skills vs. Professional Skills
There is also a need to distinguish professional skills from soft skills, since these are often confused with each other. Professional skills are neither soft nor hard skills. They are in a classification entirely their own, because they have their own sets of well-defined methodologies. There is a set of best practices that govern them.
SKILL SETS THAT CAN HELP YOUR CAREER
Interpersonal Communication Skills
This is one of the primary soft skills that employers look for in candidates, especially for managerial and executive positions.
Having good communication skills means that the person should be clear and articulate, so he can work better with other people, more so when he will be placed within a team.
But communication is a two-way street, so it’s not just about being able to speak. It also means that the employee should also be able to listen when other people are trying to say something. He should know when to talk and when to listen. He should also have the ability to know how and when to adjust the communication, depending on the audience, the topic, and other intervening circumstances or conditions.
A great advice for better communication is to think fast, talk smart.
At school, we are taught how to speak properly. There are even times when we are taught how to speak in front of a large crowd of people. Despite all those trainings, however, there are still those that are not keen on the idea of standing in front of a crowd and talking.
But then here comes another person who has not undergone the same amount of training in public speaking, but the moment he goes in front of a crowd, he is able to command their attention, and deliver his message effortlessly. He has the soft skills of being able to speak in public.
Watch and learn from this great example of how to excel at public speaking.
An adaptable employee is one that can fit in anywhere, no matter where he is assigned and no matter what job is foisted on him. He can move from one situation to another with no problems, and he can still continue doing a good job even in the face of changes in circumstances or situations.
This type of employee can be relied on to rise to the occasion when something unforeseen or unexpected comes up. It shows his level of flexibility and versatility, as well as his resiliency even when the demands on him become greater.
Collaboration and Negotiation
A person’s ability to collaborate and negotiate with other people is also another important soft skill that one should have.
The objective of collaboration and negotiation is to come up with a compromise that will benefit both parties. There are people who are more comfortable entering negotiation and, afterwards, carrying out collaborations with other people.
This is the ability to place oneself in another person’s position. When they say you should “try to put yourself in other people’s shoes”, they are telling you to have more empathy, to feel or understand what another person is feeling or experiencing. Understand them by looking at things from their point of view.
It is one thing to say that you understand how another person is feeling, but it is another thing entirely to put yourself in their position, and imagine that you are the one going through what they are experiencing. This gives you a deeper understanding of that person, so you can relate to them more.
Not everyone has empathy and, for those who don’t, they risk sounding patronizing and insincere when they say they understand, even when they don’t.
Conducting oneself with tact is one of the most difficult things for a person to do, especially when the situation certainly does not call for it.
Disagreements are a given in the workplace. They are bound to come up once in a while, and some employees may find themselves in the middle of these disagreements.
You will find that there are employees who are more capable of remaining respectful and diplomatic even when things are getting heated up. Where others would blow their top off and start letting their temper get the best of them, the employee with this soft skill will still remain professional in his words and actions.
This is the ability to “read” a situation as it unfolds. It is akin to the ability to read between the lines. They can easily tell when situations become tense at work, so they will know how to act and react accordingly. They are also able to make better decisions on how to respond during these situations.
Time Management Skills
Some employees are able to manage their time more efficiently and effectively. There are employees who are able to multitask so they can accomplish more work, without compromising quality, while others are more comfortable focusing on one thing at a time.
People manage time in their own ways, and those that can manage theirs more efficiently and more effectively will definitely earn more points on the soft skills scale.
Conflict resolution is another soft skill that most employers look for in future managers of their companies. It is almost normal to find conflicts in the workplace, so being able to come up with solutions to resolve and manage them is a plus in your favor. This is somehow connected to one’s diplomatic skills.
Some employees are better at handling stress than others. While others are in danger of going through mental and nervous breakdowns at the slightest amount of pressure, there are those who can still rally forward and continue even when they are dealing with a lot of pressure both at work and in their personal lives.
This capacity to manage stress is a skill that many employers highly value among employees, because it shows that they can remain productive even in the most stressful settings.
Sense of Humor
Believe it or not, this is considered a soft skill. It balances what could dangerously be a depressing and stressful atmosphere. A sense of humor is also referred to as one’s ability to “play well with others”. This is one way to add levity to tense situations, especially at work. People with a sense of humor tend to make better impressions, and other people tend to remember them more vividly than others.
There are countless other soft skills that are deemed essential for employability and for the advancement of one’s career. What are listed above are simply those that are most commonly looked for by employers in their potential employees.
HOW TO DEVELOP SOFT SKILLS
Openness To Change
First and foremost, you have to be open to change. Welcome any knowledge that you can obtain, and accept the fact that, although you have certain soft skills, you need to improve on them. This is the one trait that can help you distinguish the employees with soft skills from those who don’t.
Those who do not have soft skills are those who are unwilling to accept change – any kind of change – and even actively resist it.
Time and time again, we are faced with the reality that the main thing that is holding us back from growing and improving is our own self, specifically our fear of failure. Our fear of changes and their implications on life as we know it. Our apprehension that what used to be familiar is now unfamiliar.
You cannot develop and improve soft skills if you let these things hold you back. You have to adopt an open and welcoming attitude to changes so you can step forward.
You must have a goal, or a clear vision of your future.
Define specific goals that you will be working toward, so you will have a direction or a path to follow. What do you wish to accomplish in the future, and how does this connect with how you relate to other people? What actions should you take in order to stay the course? What soft skills will help you achieve these goals so you will know better how to develop them?
Education means you can develop these skills by learning about them. Remember that we mentioned that soft skills can be learned, but only to a certain extent.
You can make the most of that, thanks to the various aids and tools that are available to you. Self-assessment tools such as the Meyers-Briggs test has been seen as a very helpful tool in assessing one’s level of self-awareness, personal and professional development, and so it can also be used in evaluating your soft skills, and your potentials for developing them further.
Similarly, you can also gain more information from various self-help books, articles and publications pertaining to the soft skills you want to develop. Better yet, you can seek the help of a professional coach.
You have to know your strengths as well as your weaknesses. You know which points you are good at, but you should also know where you are lacking. It is not always easy to accept that there is something wrong with you, or that you fall short in certain respects. But until you get over that fact, you cannot move forward and up.
Self-reflection will bring you face to face with these, and you might not like what you see at first, but you should always adopt an attitude of objectivity. You want to improve? You want to develop? Then you have to deal with the hard facts, so you can start working on improving your soft skills, and yourself in general.
This is in the same vein as self-reflection, but you will be making use of various assessment tools to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses.
In self-reflection, it is just you giving yourself a critical and objective assessment. With evaluation, you make use of self-assessment and assessment tools that provide the feedback that you are looking for regarding your strengths and weaknesses, particularly with respect with your soft skills.
Build relationships. Do not forget the soft skills relate to how you are towards other people. You cannot develop or improve your soft skills if you prefer to remain a lone wolf or go your own way all the time.
You have to make an effort to build relationships and, once you have, nurture them and make them grow and flourish. Networking is highly encouraged, and you will be surprised at how much you will learn just by maintaining these networks.
This is how you build better relationships with people.
Practice, Practice… and More Practice
The best way to develop soft skills and improve them is to actually use them. Real life application is the best way of practicing these skills.
Grab every opportunity to exercise your leadership skills. Always try to reach out and communicate with other people. Interact with them, and open yourself up to more – and new – experiences so you can develop more empathy for others.
Your hard and professional skills are what will lead you to the first door and get your foot in. They are what will mainly convince hiring managers to employ you in a company.
However, it is your soft skills that will open more doors for you the moment you have already entered. These are what your supervisors and employers will take into account when considering promotions and giving additional benefits.
So do not focus solely on developing your technical know-how and professional skills. You should play just as much attention to your soft skills, since they are likely to bring you further and higher than the other skill sets.