When an organization has leaders and employees that are sharp with their soft skills, they form a competitive edge against those who rely too much on automation and technology. Skills like active listening, empathy, emotional intelligence and critical thinking are the center of attention in new employee learning and development programs. This blog explores why exactly soft skills are so crucial as well as their many benefits to every single industry.
Soft Skills Vs. Technical Skills
When talking about workplace skills, it’s important to distinguish between soft skills and technical, or hard, skills.
Technical skills are required for a specific job and they require formal education or training to develop. Technical skills can be clearly defined, evaluated and measured. Some of the top hard skills in today’s workforce are UX design, business analysis, scientific computing, video production, etc. They can also include things like understanding the specific software an organization uses or knowing how to operate a certain machinery.
In general, people tend to assume that hard skills drive better results for an organization because they are more easily measurable with hard data. They are also mandatory for certain jobs, which makes their importance hard to ignore. However, experts are starting to find data to back up soft skills as well. For example, a survey from MIT Sloan determined that soft skills training was even important for people in blue-collar jobs, such as factory workers. When such individuals received soft skills training, productivity, organization and efficiency improved. Additionally, a poll from edX found that workers across industries consider teamwork and collaboration to be among the most important skills in the workplace.
Soft skills are more abstract and loosely defined than technical skills. They are not immediately measurable like hard skills are because they are interpersonal in nature. It’s much more difficult to evaluate someone based on their soft skills than it is their technical skills. Soft skills refer to personal attributes, personality traits, social behaviors, communication skills, etc. that are necessary to do a successful job with an organization. Basic soft skills include adaptability and flexibility, creating problem-solving, creativity, etc. Employers tend to favor employees with sharp soft skills because they are transferrable to almost any position.
Rather than focus too much on the differences between hard and soft skills, it’s important to focus on how the two types of skills can complement each other. For example, emotional intelligence can enhance a person’s set of hard skills because it can help them think more creatively about problems. Furthermore, a survey of over 500 executives conducted by researcher and writer Daniel Goleman shows that leaders consider emotional intelligence to be a bigger predictor of success than either IQ or relevant previous experience. This is because skills like emotional intelligence only serve to backup or enhance technical skills.
The Top Soft Skills Employers Look for and Their Benefits
The World Economic Forum lists ten soft skills that are crucial in today’s world. They predict that in 2020, employees without these skills will fall behind:
- Complex problem solving
- Critical thinking
- People management
- Coordinating with others
- Emotional intelligence
- Judgment and decision making
- Service orientation
- Cognitive flexibility
While these skills are certainly crucial, recent trends lead us to believe that soft skills can be defined even more narrowly in terms of what is important and what they can do for an organization. Here are several soft skill sets that go beyond the basics:
- Enhanced learning – Work environments are constantly evolving, so the skills necessary to thrive in these environments are as well. It’s important that you learn how to learn efficiently and effectively
- Reading – It’s a good idea to make sure your critical reading skills are sharp. With new information coming out online every day, it’s crucial to know what is trustworthy and what is not. You also need to be able to uncover hidden meanings from written communications. Reading frequently and reading varied types of writing will help keep you sharp and discerning when information reaches you. This helps you in your decision making and judgments
- Note-taking – This is an undervalued skill because many people probably haven’t taken notes since they were in school. However, note-taking is part of the learning process and can help with the retention of ideas and important concepts
- Spotting patterns – In a world that moves as fast as ours, it’s critical to keep an eye out for emerging trends and patterns in your business
- Adaptive thinking – Being able to come up with responses that are unique, creative and specialized in any situation is important both in work and in life. Be able to stay connected with people and information outlets in a way that fuels your ability to develop solutions in any scenario
- Social and cultural intelligence – With diversity on the rise, it’s crucial to be able to connect deeply with others and understand what drives them. Bonus points if you can connect with yourself and understand what drives you in certain situations, as well
- Manipulating technology for your benefit – Most people know how to use technology, sure. This relates back to your specific hard skills. However, stay updated on current technology trends so that you can understand how to use technology for your best benefit. You also need to be able to interpret and understand complex data that comes from technology and present it as abstract ideas/concepts
- Virtual collaboration – Being able to work with people virtually is paramount in today’s workplace. It’s often a skill taken for granted and underdeveloped. Being able to stay productive, engaged and effective as a member of a virtual team does not necessarily come naturally and is an important skill for leaders
As you can see, these skills are less industry-specific than technical skills tend to be. Reading through lists of soft skills, it is easy to imagine countless scenarios in which they can help you out as an employee and leader. Even in technology-driven fields like IT, soft skills are being aggressively sought after. This is because employees with good soft skills are flexible and easier to work with. They also tend to do a better job of finding creative solutions to problems and contributing to overall company innovation.
It’s a good idea to regularly assess the soft skills of your management team and your employees to make sure that your organization is not losing its competitive edge. With an increasingly technological workforce, human-specific soft skills are more important now than ever. KnowledgeCity provides dozens of online soft skills training courses that will help your organization thrive. Remember, it’s not enough to just think about engaging in soft skills training for employees. Soft skills training for management is equally important, as leadership has an opportunity to set great examples for the rest of the team. Make sure every level of your company is involved for the best shot at a strong competitive edge.