When people start planning to add value to their skill-sets, what are the things that first come to mind?
Training and certification, qualifications and degrees can show up on the list, but what’s becoming more and more regarded as equally vital now are the intangible skills that help leverage group and personal strengths and make a good organization great. And whether you call them interpersonal skills, having high emotional intelligence, or plain people skills, these ‘soft skills’ are increasingly valuable today.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are the personality traits and interpersonal skills that directly affect the way you interact and live with other people. They are rooted in who you are and how you move in the world and in your communities.
Internal soft skills are what you possess, intrinsically. They’re what help you direct the way you approach and understand things, and how you take action in your life. They are skills like:
- Critical thinking/problem solving, and perceptiveness
- Resilience and perseverance
- Emotional management
- Growth mindset
External soft skills are the ones you use when you’re with other people. Interpersonal soft skills are vital in maximizing your impact in a work group. For example, take the following:
- Collaboration and teamwork
- Effective communication
- Self-Promotion and networking
- Conflict management
- Adaptability and flexibility
- Negotiation skills
When people think of improving their skill-sets to build more value, their usually focus on hard skills like learning particularly desirable programming languages, or spreadsheet mastery, or earning widely recognized high-impact, industry-specific certification.
More and more though, soft skills like adaptability, self-motivation, leadership, and having a growth-mindset are showing themselves to equally as valuable, and can actually provide more of an in with people and organizations.
See, if hard skills get the door open, soft skills helps cement the invitation. If hard skills provide the value, soft skills help sell it.
Think of working with people in different timezones and different cultures. You definitely need to practice good soft skills to keep the work running smoothly without unintentionally rubbing someone the wrong way because of cultural gaffes.
Think of production and marketing: you have an outstanding product and you know it, but you are having a hard time selling it. What comes to the rescue is communication skills: presentation, compelling language, even getting social proof via a well-thought out social media campaign, which uses psychology, empathy and insight to connect to the target audience.
Think of work-related conflict resolution: If there have been issues at work due to a problem between departments over budget allocation, for example, and it’s affecting operations, a skilled negotiator or conciliator can step in and help smooth troubled waters before they boil over…
Not to mention that being a trusted and respected member of the organization can take you far when you use your influence to ensure the welfare of others.
In a very connected world it’s too easy to say that we can communicate at the touch of a button, but look at where we are now, and how we relate to one another. Many times we rely too much on sending data, managing data, and staying on top of our schedules to really consider the people that we work with. Sure, we can hit inbox zero, have frequent back-ups, and keep a good schedule, but if we don’t have a positive impact with the team, the department, or our co-workers, then we’re not performing to the best of our abilities.
Soft skills help make a bridge when hard skills aren’t the answer.
Let’s go with what’s not there. Have you ever worked with somebody who had terrible people skills? In what way?
Maybe they were abrupt, and off-putting in their demeanor. Maybe they never knew when to shut up, and consequently kept on over-sharing, or saying inappropriate things. Perhaps they never bothered to learn anyone’s name correctly. Simply put, they didn’t work well with people.
What did you observe happened? More often than not, people with poor interpersonal skills are avoided and kept out of the loop. They get poor reviews or passed over for promotion. They can and do suffer from their lack of people skills. But you don’t have to.
- You can also read about The Relative Importance of Hard and Soft Skills here.
- Why Soft Skills Matter
- Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills – Difference and Importance
A common misconception that people have about soft skills is that you either have them or you don’t, but while we may each be born with particular tendencies like being an extrovert or an introvert, soft skills are also taught by our families in their communication styles. We learned as children. As adults, if you didn’t learn everything you needed from your family of origin, you can still learn and practice to strengthen the soft skills you’re weak in.
Spend some time to seriously think over improving your soft skills. It’s too easy to get lost in the numbers game of business: dates, sales figures, bills, schedules, costs, etc. Thinking about yourself and your effectivity in your relationships with other people–and how well you relate with other people– isn’t something that normally stands out on a priority list.
Self-awareness is a soft skill. Think back to the areas in your life where you somehow keep encountering the same issue when it comes to relating with people, and find the commonalities — that’s a good place to start from, right?
If you have a list of areas in which you believe you need to work on, you don’t have to try and ‘fix’ all of them at once. Just pick one or two to focus and work on until you’re confident in them, then work your way down the list.
If it helps, the most common areas where we focus on deal with communication: public speaking, negotiation, conflict resolution, giving negative feedback, teamwork and networking.
People skills are key factors in establishing good relationships, and when you’re in a business, good relationships are vital to your success and that of your business. Trust, dependability, likability…. you can’t build those on your mad coding skills .
Soft skills are people skills. The more skilled you are at working with people — communicating with them, relating with them — the easier you can make your life. You can train yourself to be more effective— what you do can have a more powerful effect that if you didn’t practice to relate better with people.
- Effective in what: making your point, whether it’s a sales pitch, sharing analysis and recommendations, or in negotiations.
- Effective with whom: suppliers, clients, customers, partners, coworkers, your market, your target audience.
- Effective how: be more convincing, encouraging, inspiring, putting people at ease
Soft skills aren’t a total makeover. They don’t mean you have to force yourself to smile and glad-hand everybody, or make you into someone you’re not. They’re just ways to help you be able to live with and work with people in ways that make your efforts have a stronger effect, and grow stronger relationships. With them, you create an easier and less stressed environment, and the impact that will have on your life will be immeasurable.
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