In the workplace, soft skills are just as important as hard skills. Hard skills are the job-specific skills, knowledge, and abilities that one needs to perform a job, such as computer programming or machine operation. Soft skills are more intangible and harder to define or measure than hard skills. So what exactly are soft skills, and why are they so important in the workplace? And what can an organisation do to nurture and develop its workforce’s soft skills?
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are generally the interpersonal or people skills that help employees successfully interact with others in the workplace. Soft skills are less specialised and less rooted in specific vocations, and are more aligned with the general personality of the individual, than hard skills. It is thought that many of the core competencies for soft skills have a foundation in emotional intelligence, which is the learned ability to identify, experience, understand, and express human emotions in healthy and productive ways.
Some of the soft skills that are considered important and valuable in the workplace include:
- A positive attitude: not only is it pleasant to be around someone who has a positive attitude, research has shown that negative attitudes in the workplace may lead to workplace accidents and stress-related diseases, which in turn can incur huge financial costs
- Communication skills: this is vital for almost any role, and includes articulating oneself well, being a good listener, and using appropriate body language
- Teamwork: being a team player means not only being co-operative, but also displaying strong leadership skills when required
- Adaptability: it is incredibly important to be able to be flexible when problems arise, and to be able to adapt to situations that don’t go as planned
- Problem-solving: being able to take action and think on your feet when faced with a problem or crisis situation is incredibly important in the workplace
- Self-motivation: a self-motivated employee demonstrates reliability, dependability, and commitment, and does not require constant oversight or supervision
- Conflict resolution: an employee who is able to resolve issues with co-workers effectively is someone who is going to be able to maintain positive relationships with peers and management alike
Why do soft skills matter?
Soft skills enable employees to successfully interact and communicate with everyone that they may encounter as part of their role – this includes colleagues, management, supervisees, and customers. And unlike some hard skills, soft skills are transferable skills that can be used regardless of what role a person is in.
How can employers develop the soft skills of their employees?
Emotional intelligence skills form the base of core competencies that all soft skills are built upon, and because emotional intelligence is a learned ability, soft skills can be developed and nurtured.
- Employers can educate their workforce on the importance of soft skills, by highlighting the transferable nature of such skills, as well as the relational and interpersonal benefits of being able to interact and deal with other people effectively
- Employers can focus on nurturing positive attitudes among their workforce, as a positive attitude is thought to be one of the most important soft skills. Positive attitudes can be cultivated, once some basic social and emotional competencies, as well as some specific attitude competencies, are learned and developed. The core emotional intelligence competencies include empathy, self-esteem, self-control, self-improvement, self-management, and interpersonal awareness. Once these skills are honed, the specific positive attitude competencies can be learned and nurtured, and these include keeping one’s focus, doing one’s best, responding to guidance, controlling one’s emotions, and being flexible
- Workshops, talks, or seminars on soft skills and emotional intelligence can be provided to employees to encourage the development of some of the soft skills that have been mentioned above, as well as some of the other core characteristics and behaviours of emotionally intelligent people – these include: not giving in to negative self-talk; having genuine curiosity about other people; being appropriately assertive when handling conflict; and having a robust emotional vocabulary
Guest Author: Jennifer Fennell, Counseling Psychologist