While technology continues to revolutionise the workforce, business remains a human endeavour that relies on strong relationships to achieve success. This means that mastering soft skills is crucial for anyone who wants to excel in their career.
Soft skills are behavioural and interpersonal attributes, like being a collaborative member of a team. Dictionary.com defines soft skills as "personal attributes that allow individuals to communicate effectively and get along with others." Since people are what make business happen, building and using soft skills is the key to achieving goals. They're also essential for bolstering your personal brand and for getting noticed, acknowledged, and promoted.
Hard skills are technical skills that are learned through formal education and on-the-job experience. When it comes to looking for a job, hard skills such as data analysis or language proficiency are the minimum qualifications that get you considered. However, soft skills are often what will tip the scales in your favour over other equally technically qualified candidates.
Unfortunately, the term "soft skills" often makes them seem less important than the so-called hard skills (which is also a poor descriptor for the technical skills required to do a specific job). But soft skills are becoming even more critical as technology enters the workforce. You might be great at crunching numbers or coding like a pro, but if you can't work well with others, you won't get very far.
Soft Skills Are Hard Won
Developing your soft skills isn't always easy. It takes deliberate effort and practice to master these essential work skills. But it's worth the effort because they can't be replicated by robots. While ChatGPT and AI bots can ace the bar exam and accurately complete most tax forms, they can't offer something that humans can - our humanity, our ability to build relationships, think creatively, innovate, influence, and inspire.
As you progress in your career, soft skills become even more crucial. Mastering them early on can help you prepare for the transition from being an individual contributor to a management role, while expanding them can enhance your leadership abilities and inspire your team.
According to a Harvard Business Review article "Why Do So Many Managers Forget They're Human Beings?" by global leadership expert Rasmus Hougaard, about 70% of leaders rate themselves as inspiring and motivating. However, employees perceive their leaders quite differently. McKinsey's 2022 Great Attrition research found that uncaring and uninspiring leaders were one of the top three reasons why employees chose to quit their jobs, says Emily Field, co-author of The Power to the Middle: Why Managers Hold the Keys to the Future of Work.
Whether you're just starting out or you're already a boss, you need to have killer soft skills to get ahead. With hybrid and remote work becoming more common, there are some specific skills you must master.
The 7 Most Important Soft Skills
1) Self-Awareness. This is the most important soft skill because it's foundational for many of the soft skills essential for career success. Knowing your values, purpose, strengths, challenges, and blind spots helps you interact with others more authentically.
Discover: Five Steps To Build Greater Self-Awareness
2) Feedback. Both giving and receiving feedback are essential for keeping relationships on solid ground and for making meaningful performance improvements.
You may also like this: How To Give Effective Feedback
3) Emotional Intelligence. The ability to manage your emotions and the emotions of those around you is essential for nurturing relationships. EQ trumps IQ in the workplace.
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4) Listening. Arguably the most challenging of all communication skills, listening is essential for understanding others and showing them that you value what they have to say. Listening in the virtual world, where visual cues can be hidden, takes even more effort and practice.
5) Inclusive Leadership.With less in-person connection, people are feeling untethered. Leaders must make their people feel included and a sense of belonging to the organisation. This requires getting to know people on a deep, emotional level.
6) Coaching. Adopting a coaching mindset helps you engage with your employees and colleagues in productive and non-confrontational ways. Coaching is a high EQ way of enabling your people to be their best, without being directive, demanding or demeaning.
7) Virtual Presence. While mastering the technical aspects of Zoom is not a soft skill, showing up as confident and leading captivating hybrid meetings when you have fewer visual clues and are competing with a suboptimal meeting environment (such as a 13” computer screen) is a soft skill that is particularly relevant now. With loneliness increasing and connectedness waning, being adept and facilitating meetings from a people perspective pays dividends beyond the action items that are doled out."
Soft Skills Are Social Skills
To give soft skills the import they deserve, let’s all agree to start calling them the more accurate and descriptive term: social skills. With strong social skills, you can thrive in any work environment, expand your personal brand and advance your career to new heights.
This article was originally published in Forbes.