What are soft skills?

Man walking and talking with group of people in office

What are soft skills?

With different names in different workplaces, soft skills are often under-valued and under-recognized for their importance in business success. Whether you call them people skills, social skills, emotional skills, or something different, soft skills encompass the set of skills that facilitates relationship building, empathy, and understanding of your customer.

Soft skills don’t have to be an abstract concept. Like technical skills, they can be defined, tracked, and enhanced with the right training and coaching.

Soft skills include things like:

A person’s willingness to admit mistakes, accept responsibility for them, learn from mistakes, accept feedback constructively, monitor the quality of their work when unsupervised; and display an honest and ethical approach to work and others in the workplace.

Your ability to achieve or adjust goals and behaviours when expected or unexpected change occurs, by planning, staying focused, persisting, and overcoming setbacks. For example, at work we use this skill to change our work plans to meet new deadlines, to learn how to work with new tools, and to improve our skills through feedback.

The way an individual shows or expresses their feelings about a person (supervisor, employee or co-worker), work activity, event or idea. They can show their feelings verbally (tone, inflection, etc.) or by behavior (body language, inappropriate physical actions, etc.). The focus is not on internally held attitudes, but rather on how they are expressed, thus attitude can be thought of as a tone imparted to an interaction.

Having a belief in one’s own competence and the ability to express one’s own perspective to others. It includes being able to function in uncertain situations, being appropriately assertive and taking reasonable chances.

Your ability to contribute and support others to achieve a common goal. For example, at work, we use this skill to provide meaningful support to team members while completing a project.

Your ability to receive, understand, consider, and share information and ideas through speaking, listening, and interacting with others. For example, at work, we use this skill to discuss ideas, listen to instructions, and serve customers in a socially appropriate manner.

Your ability to imagine, develop, express, encourage, and apply ideas in ways that are novel, unexpected, or challenge existing methods and norms. For example, at work we use this skill to discover better ways to complete tasks, to develop new products, and to deliver services in a new way.

The desire to set and achieve high standards on the job. Fundamentally, motivation speaks to the individual’s desire to be an excellent employee; it involves showing a willingness to expend the effort needed to excel. This can include striving for specific work standards, but also high personal standards associated with goal setting, showing initiative, and doing one’s best with and without supervision.

The way a person presents themselves to others in terms of their dress and adornments, hygiene, etiquette and manners, and language

Your ability to identify, analyze, propose solutions, and make decisions to address issues; monitor success; and learn from the experience. For example, at work we use this skill to make hiring decisions, select courses of action, and troubleshoot technical failures.

A person’s ability to experience workplace stress without it impacting on their performance or coworkers. It also includes the person’s ability to keep personal stress out of the workplace. It requires that an employee seek help for stress issues in a timely manner.

A person’s ability to work cooperatively with others, handle conflict and anger appropriately, communicate effectively, be empathetic and respect differences (cultural, religious, gender etc.)

A person’s ability to set and follow priorities, properly follow schedules for arrival, breaks, etc., and stay on task in an efficient manner. The later includes meeting deadlines and communicating efficiently with others.
Barista handing patron a coffee

Soft skills in the workplace

The value that soft skills contribute to a business’s bottom line should not be underestimated. Customers connect with brands and companies that make them feel valued. It’s not just the product you produce, it’s how you treat the customer that often makes the difference.

More than just customer service, soft skills challenges can also impact team functionality. Improving and supporting soft skills development can lead to higher productivity and a more fulfilled workforce.

Can soft skills be taught?

Research has shown that soft skills can be developed through a combination of setting clear expectations for behaviours, assessing proficiency, and providing training paths that enhance those skills that require improvement. ReSET helps managers do all three. 

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