Soft skills increasingly important in the workplace

Pamela Drake

So-called soft skills deal with our ability to relate to one another and form deeper connections with colleagues and customers. Authenticity, compassion and empathy are some of the aspects of this ability to build a strong foundation for collaborative and innovative workplace performance.

We might not believe the ability to genuinely care for each other and understand each others’ situations and perspectives falls into the realm of essential workplace skills. Employers are coming to realize, though, these skills are key to cultivating long-term harmony and resilience. When a team feels safe and trusts other team members, they do their best work. Leadership sets the stage by being authentic, transparent and owning mistakes.

Research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center concluded that 85 percent of job success comes from well-developed soft people skills. Only 15 percent of success comes from such hard skills as knowledge and technical expertise. Research began with the work of Charles Riborg Mann and a study of engineers in 1918. What have we done with this information learned so long ago? Not enough.

Soft skills — also called human skills — are becoming the hard skills of our work force. As organizations struggle to remain productive and competitive, success increasingly depends on communication, leadership and teamwork.

Soft skills aren’t always recognized as a priority in education. Most institutions assume students already possess these skills, having learned them from their families or other life experiences. This can be incorrect. Social and emotional skills have a positive effect on learning and professional success. Hopefully, the academic world will realize the necessity of these skills and include them as part of a curriculum to build emotional intelligence.

Interpersonal and social skills, which cover how to interact with others and present oneself in an acceptable manner, are fundamental elements of soft skills. Core emotional competencies to develop these skills include:

Self-esteem. If we feel good about ourselves, we will demonstrate positive feelings about others.

Self-awareness. A recognition of self must occur before we can become aware of others. To be fully aware of others requires not only self-awareness, but also a good understanding of how others respond to us.

Empathy. The ability to sense, understand and accept another person’s thoughts, feelings and behavior is a primary characteristic of skilled communicators and those proficient in interpersonal and social skills.

Support. A supportive environment consists of family, friends and peers who encourage individuals to achieve goals and improve relationships.

The mastery of soft skills is a complex process that requires constant attention to ourselves and others. It’s a balance of managing the mind, health and happiness.

In these uncertain times, changes, conflict and friction are increasingly prevalent. We’ve had to move out of our comfort zones with remote working arrangements and adapt to increased online time and less face-to-face time.

Communication has always been vital. But now, a communicator must be proficient at talking and collaborating through video calls and group chats. Core communication skills remain intact, but there are additional factors of which we need to be cognizant. We must practice active listening, reframe what’s said to clarify meaning, remain mindful of body language and be clear about the point you want to make. It can be more challenging with virtual meetings to ensure all voices are heard, requiring an extra level of diligence.

To tie this back into the workplace, we must realize the benefit of soft skills to the achievement of the economic and social objectives of an organization.

Improving mental focus is a first step. It’s an issue we deal with every day when we feel scattered at work due to the volume of tasks and continuous distractions. We must rely on self-awareness and awareness of others to strengthen our mental focus and remain resilient.

Behaviors, decisions and judgments are a result of our thought processes, which also includes our emotions.  We must cultivate emotional intelligence, relying on soft skills in a professional context.

Let’s look at happiness and how it affects organizational culture. Scientists define happiness as “subjective well-being.” After 20 years of studies on well-being on both personal and professional levels, the evidence shows happiness can be learned.

A happy employee is less stressed and more engaged and productive. The workplace should make happiness a priority and foster personal and collective well-being. 
The roots of efficiency lie in the way people interact and the values that define the team. Effective communication and constructive conflict management promote happier, more emotionally resilient employees. So do such values as civility, compassion, gratitude, kindness and trust. Work can be rewarding and fun in the right environment.