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Soft skills are a part of every professional encounter we have, whether we know it or not. Learn about the most important soft skills for the workplace, and how you can better refine your own.
Have you ever come home after a long afternoon of running errands; stopping by the bank, the hardware store, a phone call with the insurance company, etc… only to come home and realize, wow, that wasn't so bad!
It can feel like a rare diamond to have a day like that. And for most of us, we chalk it up to interacting with really lovely and enjoyable employees.
But what if we told you that you’re probably not experiencing a multitude of superhumans? Instead, you’ve been interacting with employees who have refined their soft skills in the workplace. And furthermore, your positive experience proves the benefit of refining your own soft skills too.
In this article we’ll discuss the following:
The importance of soft skills in the workplace
The most demanding soft skills for any workplace
How to continue building your soft skills throughout employment
To understand soft skills, you must first understand that they make up only half of an idea. The counterpart to soft skills is hard skills. You really can’t have one without the other. Hard skills are tangible skills used at work. Examples of hard skills are accounting, Linux, curriculum design, and physics. On the other hand, soft skills are the mode in which you perform your hard skills. Think of communication, problem-solving, and timeliness.
Simply put, soft skills maintain professional norms.
Every place of business globally strives to embody integrity, trust, and community. It’s not just about making your customers happy. It’s actually a business strategy.
In recent years there has been a shift in how we view the workplace. Employees are seen as people, not commodities, and gone are the days of “The customer is always right”. Now, companies put effort into empathizing with their clientele and working to find a compromise. Utilizing a toolkit of soft skills, they are able to honor the customers and employees, as well as their business.
We see it all the time on social media too. Social media has made it easier to get in touch with companies because they don’t want poor reviews to be spread online. We see companies apologizing publicly for their wrongdoings, executives are being held accountable, and political statements have become commonplace. These are all excellent examples of large-scale soft skills.
There is no difference between a CEO sharing a post about how they stand for environmental efforts and your office manager stating in a quarterly meeting that they heard the concerns of the staff and have found solutions. For the first time, the feedback of consumers and employees has weight. And only the companies that respond well, that have refined their soft skills, are coming out on top.
Teamwork refers to the ability and acceptance of working as part of a team. This includes participating in think tanks but being okay if your idea isn’t picked. It involves giving everyone a chance to share and perform on a project. And it means giving credit to the team as a whole, even for parts where you were the primary contributor.
The best part about leadership is that there is no single way to approach being a leader. However, if you think you are an excellent leader because your ideas are the best, then you are actually lacking leadership skills! While leaders can look different, there is a consistency among all great leaders: humility.
Interpersonal skills are sometimes referred to as having emotional intelligence. This means having the ability to be aware of your emotional state at any given moment and re-regulating yourself independently.
Having interpersonal skills also allows us to keep composure in all sorts of stressful situations, especially in social environments. It is a mastery of positivity, empathy, and an openness to feedback. Most enjoyable workplace encounters can be circled back to having interpersonal skills.
Multitasking involves being able to keep track of a handful of tasks at once. It’s not simultaneously doing multiple things, but rather not getting derailed from a project or idea just because you take on an additional one.
This can benefit you in the workplace if you are interested in gaining a higher title than where you’re currently at. At the top of any workplace hierarchy is an increase in responsibility. Multitasking is basically flexing your capacity for responsibility.
At the center of all great relationships is effective communication. If you have a fear of confrontation, work on understanding the benefit of constructive confrontation, and learn the steps to it. For those on the other end, who are maybe too eager to confront, do some research on how dominating conversations can disrupt a workflow or even a whole team dynamic.
Equally important are the concepts of giving praise, acknowledgments, and criticisms. They are all absolutely vital in the workplace because it boosts morale while also acting as guidance for how to move forward with any given task. There are many platforms for learning the best way to approach communication in the workplace. Whatever you need to work on, try searching YouTube for tutorials.
This soft skill is actually more specific than it might sound. You don’t want to be making poor decisions, after all. Decision-making in the workplace relies on the individual making thoughtful, effective, logical, and reasonable decisions.
How to do that? Keep the desired outcome at the forefront, define the context of the decision, weigh the pros and cons, and when necessary, get a second opinion.
Being adaptable is important for any position in the workforce. It means that you can pivot quickly and without animosity. If that is something that you would like to work on developing, try to embrace change, keep an open mind, and step outside of your comfort zone.
For some, it also takes humbling your ego. When we think we are doing the right thing or the only logical thing, it can be really hard to change course. Practice your mindfulness and remain humble.
Having good time management skills could be synonymous with being dependable. Whether that means showing up on time, or meeting your assigned deadlines, if you’re doing the task within the allotted timeframe, then you are an asset to any workplace.
Avoid making excuses for yourself based on “I don’t have enough time” or “I ran out of time” because you are inevitably disclosing to your supervisor that you do not have effective time management skills.
Having a team that can be relied on to meet expectations is invaluable. If you would like to show up as a more dependable team member, practice your time management skills.
As a manager, there is no greater feeling than bringing up an item in a meeting, and having your staff respond with, “I’ve already made some progress on that”. You want to be that person!
Being able to think ahead and anticipate the team’s needs without being told is what self-motivation is all about.
A somewhat obvious skill for any employee to have in their toolkit is the ability to solve problems. If you find yourself saying, “I don’t even know where to begin”, then you should know that what your employer hears is, “I can’t help myself”.
In grade school, there's a common rule that prompts students to ask at least three of their classmates their questions before asking the teacher. This is training people to develop the soft skill of problem-solving, and it can be applied the exact same way in the workplace. The higher you move up in the ranks, the less competent you will appear if you need to refer to others in order to solve problems.
Conflicts are a normal part of any workplace. The idea of conflict is given a bad name, but conflict isn’t the problem. The problem is how we as a society respond to conflict. Do your best to neutralize the situation by self-regulating and practicing mindfulness. Hear the other person out using active listening, and take a moment to consider their words before responding. If you notice that you are already working on your rebuttal while they are still speaking, then you are probably not participating in resolving the conflict.
In school they called it cheating but in the workforce, it's called collaboration. An extension of teamwork, collaboration simply removes any individualistic elements. When collaborating on a project, every task is viewed as a group effort from the start.
Pursuing collaboration is valuable in the workplace because it shows an understanding that your approach is not the only or best approach. It's a simple fact of life; all things are better when many brains are put to it.
It is the responsibility of every individual to continually work on their soft skills. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re safe once you’ve landed a job. On the contrary, it becomes even more pertinent to refine your soft skills once you’re in a job because that’s when you become part of a team. You’re more likely to engage with other people in some kind of capacity every day, and because of the repetitive quality of many positions, soft skills can decline quickly.
To maintain progress on your soft skills, there are many resources available! Google, YouTube, LinkedIn Learning, and Udemy are all excellent places to begin. Simply search “Soft skills for the workplace”, or “How to build soft skills at work” and you will be amazed at the courses and workshops you’ll find.
The biggest outcome is that if you are reading these examples and areas of growth are standing out as things you should work on, congrats, you are well on your way to refining your workplace soft skills.
Soft skills are embedded in every professional interaction.
There are many ways to develop your soft skills to benefit you in the workplace.
Even once you’re in a job, keep refining your soft skills.
Emma is a certified employment specialist with over 6 years of experience in career mentorship and employment training. With an affinity for technical writing, Emma is passionate about developing training manuals, policy and procedures, onboarding documents, and fiscal management systems. In 2020 she helped design Colorado’s first state-certified training program for people with disabilities entering the workforce.