Why Soft Skills Are Not That Soft

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Often perceived as secondary to the more established hard skills, it can be tempting to dismiss soft skills. Yet, they are central to virtually everything you do. Ultimately, not mastering them will turn out to be a disadvantage.

How can you communicate effectively? What is the best way to solve a problem? How can you persuade others? What are the techniques to be a good team leader? The answers to these questions can help you build soft skills. Under the pretext that they’re not as important as subject-matter knowledge for our jobs, less time is spent to improve them.

Here are four reasons why soft skills are actually not as soft as portrayed.

#1 Soft skills are hard to acquire

All soft skills have one thing in common: they are not part of formal education. The higher education system deploys far more resources to develop technical skills, leaving most people lacking in soft skills. In the same way as you can’t learn how to code by only watching an hour-long tutorial, soft skills need constant practice too. For example, you can’t become a convincing public speaker unless you put yourself in that situation often. Some people are lucky enough to get a form of rigorous training. They either get a taster as entry-level employees or more substantial coaching once they reach leadership positions. But unless you embrace self-learning, it’s a hit or miss. You’re either naturally inclined to master soft skills or not.

#2 Many organisational problems derive from a lack of soft skills

Roadblocks in the smooth operation of an organisation come from employees’ lack of soft skill development. Overwhelmed by your workflow in the office? Learning how to manage up will help. Can’t solve a disagreement with a co-worker? This demands some knowledge of conflicts management. Bottlenecks created in teams due to a lack of appropriate management? An up skill in team leadership techniques will solve this. Toxic colleagues and managers ruin the work environment? An immersion in emotional intelligence is needed. Are misunderstandings delaying the delivery of a project? Communication skills are the answer. The list can go on. The obstacles are as varied as the underlying soft skills that are missing.

#3 Soft skills are a hard barrier to career progression

Hard skills are undoubtedly important. But soft skills can both get you a foot in the door and support your career progression. At entry-level, organisations know that fresh-out-of-college applicants don’t have all the expertise needed. The latter can be taught on the job. What is even more important at this stage is whether job candidates demonstrate the right attitude and a good culture fit. But soft skills don’t just give you a better starting point. They are the one hard barrier that can hinder your jump to top management positions. Technical skills will only bring you so far in your career. The shift from knowledgeable expert to manager depends on how well you juggle yourself, your people and your processes.

#4 Soft skills are future-proof

Soft skills are the one category of skills that remains essential to adapt to the rapidly changing world of work. The ability to learn, unlearn and relearn can be the single differentiator between those who succeed or fail in the future. As routine tasks will be increasingly easier to replace by new technology, so will specific tasks that we now construe as technical. Human work will remain valuable insofar as it demonstrates qualities that surpass the technical: creativity, innovation, an ability to solve new problems and be resilient in the face of change. Don’t believe this? The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report shows that the top 5 skills in 2020 will be complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management and coordinating with others.

Soft skills are not in the educational curriculum nor do you get formally tested on them in the workplace. But this shouldn’t deceive you. They have a very hard centre and are, in fact, a prerequisite to success.

I am a coach and trusted advisor to driven and gifted people who feel there’s an inkling of rebellion in them. I help them create more fulfilment and reduce stress in their work and careers, on their terms. Connect with me here: www.anisiabucur.com

Coach — Career and Work Transformation | PhD Researcher | Facilitator

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