Soft skills? What are they and why do they matter? Business leaders are becoming more aware of the importance of emotional intelligence, the capacity to be aware of, control, and express emotions and the ability to handle interpersonal relationships with empathy. These are skills which cannot be quantified but have a huge handle on the success of an individual’s career.
According to the World Economic Forum, by the year 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to those jobs today – while soft skills in the workplace will be in higher demand than the narrow technical ones.
Here are 5 reasons why soft skills matter.
1. Soft skills are the new hard skills
It might be your hard skills that get you the interview, but it’s the soft skills that bring you success in your career. Soft skills like awareness, curiosity and the ability to connect, refer to personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. They’re becoming the hard skills of today’s workforce - it’s not enough to be highly trained in technical skills without developing the understanding of how to work with others harmoniously. More and more organisations are including psychological testing as part of their recruitment process because of this.
2. The ‘super-powers’ that make us ‘super-humans’
We’re not describing the Marvel and DC characters on our cinema screens. We’re looking at real-life traits that enable us to foster trust, build relationships and make colleagues ‘human’, rather than cogs hired simply to be part of the organisational machine. Research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center, has all concluded that 85% of job success comes from having well‐developed soft and people skills, and only 15% of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge (hard skills). We want to know that the colleagues around us can add value to each other emotionally as well as technically. Given that we spend more time with our colleagues than our friends and families, having a team around you who can empathise with you is what makes work a great place to be.
3. They are sculpting the future of work
The workplace has evolved. The need for a dynamic of interpersonal skills are becoming ever more important and can’t be ignored. It’s important to be aware of the vital role that soft skills play within your team and your own personal development. The acts of listening, presenting ideas, resolving conflict, and fostering an open and honest work environment all come down to knowing how to build and maintain relationships with people. It's those relationships that allow people to participate fully in team projects, show appreciation for others, and enlist support for their projects.
4. They make good leaders
What do we all look for in a good leader? Yes - technically skilled, experienced mentors all help to develop a good functional manager to maintain a status quo in the workplace. But what sets a manager and a leader apart is balancing those technical hard skills with the soft skills that are essential for a business to thrive. Having a leader who can make quick decisions and problem solve is important, but the ability to empower their team, understand team morale, and listen and recognise certain emotions in their employees is what truly makes a good leader.
Gary Vaynerchuk has mentioned that although most people think of him as a "mouth," he promises he's really "an ear disguised as a mouth." As Vaynerchuk advises: "To be a great leader, you have to be a great listener." This rings true for everyone, inside and outside of work. And in the workplace, there’s nothing more motivational than having a leader who wants to understand you as a person, your goals as well as your gripes, as opposed to a boss who simply manages their team.
5. Soft skills cultivate a productive workplace
Soft skills can be difficult to objectively measure (unlike technical qualifications, which can be tested). However, when you look around your own office, it is usually fairly easy to find those employees lacking soft skills. They are the ones unwilling to accept any kind of change, the ones unable to effectively work and communicate with their colleagues. As employers, as much as we should be supporting our staff in developing technical skills, we should be encouraging our teams to adapt and focus on emotional intelligence - this comes innate to some, but can also be taught through good leadership.
Understanding, communication, empathy and harmony in the workplace makes the perfect recipe for success. For you as an employee, you want to be happy in your workplace; for you as an employer, you will see increased productivity.
To conclude; people, it seems, still have one commanding competitive advantage over technology - the ability to understand other people. To express empathy, communicate persuasively, and seek common ground in a manner that allows groups to agree on an action plan and, more importantly, to feel collectively invested in its success, has far more value to an organisation that the collective focus on technical and vocational skills. It’s the companies that nurture these kinds of abilities that will have a competitive advantage which sets them apart from the competition. Soft skills are those that cost the least to develop, but in practice have the highest value.