What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills make the biggest difference in the workplace.  Employers seek them, co-workers love those who have them, and leaders know they are the difference between being effective and not.  So what are they?

Simply said, soft skills are qualities that do not depend on acquired knowledge, as opposed to “hard skills” like ability to operate machinery, add a column of numbers or kick a soccer ball.

Some common soft skills referred to in the workplace are:

  • common sense
  • good communicator
  • positive attitude
  • ability to deal well with others
  • being a good teammate
  • flexibility
  • executive presence
  • creativity
  • strategic thinking
  • being open to feedback
  • reliable
  • confidence
  • ability to influence others
  • leadership
  • dedication
  • likability

Sometimes we think of these as elements of Emotional Intelligence (EI), sometimes they are described as people’s qualities or personality traits.  We all know they’re important (just imagine the difference between working with someone who possesses the above list of skills vs. someone who doesn’t) but we often lack a way to address our own deficiencies in these areas.

The first step is knowing where the gaps are for you; where are you strong and where are there opportunities for growth?  In addition to your own sense about this, the most effective way to find the gaps is to request feedback from others.  In an Executive Coaching engagement, we do this through a 360 leadership Assessment, in order to get feedback from all sides: supervisors, peers, direct reports, etc.  People tend to be more open to giving feedback anonymously in this way, but you can start by actually requesting honest and open feedback yourself.  Consider something along the lines of: “Sally, I’m looking to work on my interpersonal skills and I really trust and value your opinion.  I’m sure there are areas you see for me to improve that I’m unaware of.  What would you say are three places I could improve?  I promise to listen openly and take your suggestions to heart.”  Then, listen.  Do not defend or justify.  Take notes.  Repeat back to Sally what she said or ask for examples or suggestions.  Thank her for her time ad generosity in helping you improve.  Consider checking in with her in a few months to see how you’re doing.

This is where coaching can be invaluable.  A coach is trained to not only help you recognize the patterns in your behavior, but to get at the root of the cause and help you shift the behavior from there.  It’s the difference between treating a sore muscle with ice to relieve the pain, or revising your workout so you don’t have the pain in the first place.  The ice will be a temporary fix, but not address the root cause.  It’s the same with a coach: our job is to get at the root cause of habit or behavior and address the issue there.  This is particularly effective with soft skills since these skills, or lack thereof, have developed over time and are firmly rooted in our beliefs and how we interact with the world.  If you could change them easily, you probably already would have.

You don’t know what you don’t know. 

If you want to shift your soft skills, please contact us for a complimentary consultation.

Click here for more on measuring Soft Skills.