I had this one colleague who would come into work, put on her headphones, bow down her head and not look up until 5 p.m. Rinse and repeat. One day, during a team-building exercise, the staff was challenged to role-play. My colleague’s challenger was her own boss, who imitated her pulling up into the office, creating her own bubble and containing it all day.
Before we take a breath and dive into the deep end, what, even, are soft skills? That depends on who you ask.
ChatGPT’s definition is on point for this one stating that “Soft skills refer to a set of personal attributes, traits, and interpersonal qualities that enhance a person’s ability to work effectively with others, navigate social situations, and communicate effectively.” Adding further “Unlike technical or hard skills, which are job-specific and measurable, soft skills are more about how a person interacts with others and handles various situations in the workplace and beyond.” Why would you need these skills? Because of one very critical component. They are often transferable and applicable across different industries and roles, making them highly valuable in today’s diverse and dynamic work environments.
The top 10 most important skills in 2023 according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report are:
- Analytical thinking: The ability to methodically assess, interpret, and evaluate information to make informed decisions and solve complex problems.
- Creative thinking: Generating unique and innovative ideas, solutions, and approaches to problem-solving. Individuals with strong creative thinking abilities can think outside the box, explore unconventional perspectives, and come up with original concepts.
- Resilience, flexibility, and agility: Skills that empower individuals to navigate challenges and changes effectively in the modern work environment. They enable professionals to bounce back from setbacks, adapt to new situations, and respond to evolving circumstances with ease.
- Motivation and self-awareness: Motivation is the inner drive and enthusiasm that compels individuals to take action, pursue their goals, and strive for success. Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and overall personality.
- Curiosity and lifelong learning: Two dynamic and interconnected soft skills that fuel personal growth, professional development, and a fulfilling life journey. These skills foster an insatiable thirst for knowledge, a willingness to explore new ideas, and an openness to continuous improvement.
- Technological literacy: Skill in the digital age, encompassing the ability to use, understand, and adapt to various technologies effectively and confidently.
- Dependability and attention to detail: Dependability is the quality of being reliable, consistent, and trustworthy in fulfilling commitments and responsibilities. Attention to detail involves a meticulous approach to work, focusing on precision, thoroughness, and accuracy.
- Empathy and active listening: Empathy is the ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes, to understand and share their feelings, perspectives, and experiences. Active listening is the skill of fully concentrating, understanding, responding, and remembering what the other person is saying.
- Leadership and social influence: Leadership is the art of influencing and guiding individuals or a group to achieve shared objectives. Social influence is the ability to shape the thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours of others through persuasion, credibility, and interpersonal skills.
- Quality control: A critical process and soft skill in various industries that involves monitoring, assessing, and ensuring that products, services, or processes meet established standards and requirements.
McKinsey’s Report Soft Skills For A Hard World states that HR professionals are struggling to find candidates with a particular set of skills in an automating world with AI technologies, citing that the pair will “accelerate the shift in skills that the workforce needs,” directing attention to these three specific traits:
- Problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation and creativity were missing in 37 per cent of respondents.
- The ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity stood at 32 per cent.
- Communication ranked at 31 per cent.
It goes on further to state in their research paper Skill Shift: Automation And The Future Of The Workforce that, “The need for some skills, such as technological as well as social and emotional skills, will rise, even as the demand for others, including physical and manual skills, will fall. These changes will require workers everywhere to deepen their existing skill sets or acquire new ones. Companies, too, will need to rethink how work is organised within their organisations.”
It is not enough to possess technical expertise as a means of securing career advancement and promotions. Increasingly, employers value soft skills, best known as personal attributes and interpersonal qualities that enhance communication, collaboration, and leadership abilities. These are the game-changers for professionals be they those climbing the corporate ladder or those in leadership.
In the article Why Soft Skills Are More In Demand Than Ever, Forbes states that “Foundational soft skills have become even more important given the rise of remote and autonomous work, and are growing in importance across industries, levels and work environments. In fact, these soft skills were featured in 78 per cent of jobs posted globally over the last three months.”
And, while technical capabilities matter, the article proceeds to state, that they can only take you so far. “To really soar, you need skills that are harder to measure but critical to success. In LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report, 89 per cent of recruiters say that when a hire doesn’t work out, it usually comes down to a lack of soft skills.”
Typically, workers can acquire this knowledge through formal coursework, on-the-job training and real-world experiences.
The Indeed site gives a list including:
- Being open to feedback received from supervisors, managers, and colleagues.
- Frequent communication
- Teamwork emphasis
- Getting outside your comfort zone
Entrepreneur magazine says:
- Interact with different types of personalities who are introvert, extrovert, assertive, submissive, and aggressive.
- Be flexible.
- Praise people lavishly.
- Make the speaker feel important.
- Accept criticism graciously.
- Above all, be adaptable.
McKinsey talks about reskilling “Significant portions of the workforce within the next 5-10 years will be required—tens of millions of mid-careers, middle-aged workers, particularly in advanced economies—with the development of soft skills a key element.”
In the ever-evolving landscape of professional success, soft skills emerge as the true differentiators. As we’ve explored, these intangible qualities are the glue that binds technical expertise and human interaction, driving collaboration, empathy, and effective communication. In a world where automation and digital advancements continue to reshape industries, it’s the strength of our soft skills that will set us apart and enable us to navigate the complex and diverse challenges that lie ahead.
Remember, soft skills are not merely an option; they are the pillars upon which successful careers and thriving workplaces are built. For smart enterprises and smart industries, the future is here. “As automation and artificial intelligence dramatically change the nature of work, employees must fine-tune the social and emotional abilities machines cannot master. To encourage this behaviour, employers must adjust the ways they assess, educate, train, and reward their workforce on soft skills such as collaboration, communication and critical thinking,” aptly concludes McKinsey.