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The Importance of Soft Skills in the Workplace

Published September 16, 2020 (last updated on July 3, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Content Writer

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The modern workplace is more demanding, complex, competitive, collaborative and diverse than ever. For an employee to thrive under today’s conditions, they need the right balance of hard and soft skills.

Hard skills are learned abilities that are acquired and enhanced through experience, practice, repetition and education. While they have always been essential, currently the demand for soft skills is on the rise.

What are Soft Skills in the Workplace?

Soft skills are difficult to visualise, given that they cover those intangible skills such as leadership, collaboration and communication. Many define soft skills as those innate human behavioural skills that combine interpersonal, situational and emotional abilities that help employees cope with the complexity and unpredictability of the modern workplace. In the past soft skills may not have been explicitly mentioned in the job ads but the importance of soft skills was always acknowledged, especially among those earmarked for promotion or management.

Soft skills encompass emotional intelligence, which is critical when dealing with colleagues in stressful situations. The reasons soft skills are important in specific workplaces are many, such as demonstrating:

  • How well an employee can fit into a group dynamic

  • An indication of relationship building, be it with colleagues or clients

  • The ability to grow a professional network

  • The ability to accept and implement feedback, as well as look for ways to improve

  • Attention to detail, time management and the ability to delegate prove employees are a reliable resource

  • Initiative and motivation

  • Leadership capabilities

Why is it Important to Have Soft Skills?

The importance of soft skills grows every year. Despite the rise in automation and artificial intelligence meaning more and more tasks are becoming automated,  people are still required to problem solve, innovate, manage conflict, and interpret and make decisions based on information. Without the ability to work together in a cohesive team, utilising soft skills like creativity and innovation along with technical skills, your organisation is either not going to be competitive or effective.

In a rapidly changing work environment, being able to cope with change is paramount, and that’s when soft skills come to the fore. Being able to adapt and demonstrate agility are the hallmarks of successful organisations.

Top 10 Soft Skills to Look Out For

There are as many soft skills as there are innate human behavioural skills, but the top ten soft skills that employers should look for are:

1. Communication Skills

Either oral or written, being able to communicate with clarity is vital to ensure effective interactions with customers and colleagues alike. Some examples of the benefits of an able communicator include:

  • Clarity of messaging

  • Confidence

  • Demonstrating empathy

  • Being able to actively listen to others

  • Providing constructive feedback in a tactful way

Being perceived as friendly and approachable is also an important skill to have in the workplace.

2. Teamwork

Teamwork skills allow employees to operate in a group setting, quickly and effectively accomplishing tasks. Some examples of teamwork-related skills include:

  • Conflict management

  • Delegation

  • Active listening

  • Collaboration

  • Idea exchange

  • Negotiating

3. Adaptability

Adaptability demonstrates an employee’s ability to embrace change – particularly important in fast-paced or constantly changing work environments. Some examples of adaptability include:

  • Curiosity

  • Decision-making

  • Calmness

  • Open-mindedness

  • Critical thinking and analysis

4. Problem Solving

Problem solving abilities use analytical and creative thinking to find solutions. Types of problem solving skills include:

  • Lateral thinking

  • Logical reasoning

  • Initiative

  • Conflict resolution

  • Negotiation

  • Decision making

5. Creativity

Even though a broad type of soft skill, creativity is vital in developing innovative solutions to problems. Types of creative skills include:

  • Problem solving

  • Inspiration

  • Imagination

  • Insight

  • Innovation

6. Work Ethic

Work ethic is a soft skill that proves dedication, both to your organisation and to employee’s own career. This, in turn, can indicate an employee’s seriousness to the longevity and viability of their own career. Soft skills examples related to work ethic include:

  • Integrity

  • Responsibility

  • Discipline

  • Dependability

  • Commitment

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7. Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills are vital, as they’re used every time employees interact and communicate, either with co-workers or with management. Examples include:

8. Time Management

Time management skills are vital to a business working efficiently and productively. Employers know time management skills are important to ay well run business. Some time management skills are:

  • Goal setting

  • Prioritising

  • Self-starter

  • Focus

  • Stress management

9. Leadership

Leadership enables employees to guide others while achieving your business goals. It is critical for business success. Leadership skills include:

  • Project management

  • Empathy

  • Conflict resolution

  • Selflessness

  • Agility

  • Cultural intelligence

10. Attention to Detail

Attention to detail means employees will be both thorough and accurate in their work. Some skills related to attention to detail are:

  • Critical observation

  • Organisation

  • Scheduling

  • Memory

  • Acuity

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is Critical Thinking a Soft Skill?

Yes, it is. Critical thinking is the process of systematically analysing problems in order to find ways to solve them. Critical thinking involves thinking of several possible solutions and logically evaluating the attributes of each one, comparing and then selecting the solution that presents as the most promising.

Which Soft Skills are Most Valued by Employers?

Current in-demand soft skills that employers are looking for include creativity, leadership, collaboration, a growth mindset, emotional intelligence and communication skills. There are others, but an employee who possesses the aforementioned will undoubtedly be a valued member of any business or organisation that values exemplary customer service.

What are Some Ways to Teach Your Employees the Soft Skills They Need?

Firstly, the most cost effective is by coaching/mentoring, especially effective in imparting soft skills such as communication and leadership. Mentoring or coaching gives you the opportunity to tailor a learning approach that’s specific and targeted. The coaching process in the workplace typically implies collaboration with the employee to identify, target, and plan for better performance. Live interactive workshops are another effective way to teach soft skills, especially if you want to train an entire group of employees in a specific soft skill. The best workshops aim to find answers to real, current problems in your business. Peer learning is another effective learning tool, where you team colleagues in project groups that require collaboration.  

What are the Differences Between Hard Skills and Soft Skills?

Hard skills are very specific and unique to your business area. They differ from soft skills, which are general characteristics relevant to personality traits. Some soft skills you’d like to see in all employees regardless of their position or expertise, such as empathy and humour, while other soft skills make more sense in certain jobs and are less important in others.

What are Examples of Hard Skills?

Hard skills are part of the skill set required to do a job. They are job-specific and are typically listed in job postings and job descriptions. Hard skills are acquired through education and training including college, apprenticeships, online courses or on-the-job training. The most in-demand hard skills for 2020 according to LinkedIn are

  • Blockchain
  • Cloud Computing
  • Analytical Reasoning
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • UX Design
  • Business Analysis
  • Affiliate Marketing
  • Sales
  • Scientific Computing
  • Video Production

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