Soft skills, people skills, human skills. Whatever you want to call them, there’s no denying their importance in the workplace.
Just how important? Over 90 percent of executives rated soft skills as a critical priority, per Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report. These days, executives understand and know that it plays a key role in building a meaningful culture, improving leadership, and fostering employee retention.
These skills are just as important on an individual-level too, especially the higher up the ranks you want to get. According to a 2017 report from iCIMS, 94% of recruiting professionals believe an employee with stronger soft skills has a better chance of being promoted to a leadership position than an employee with more years of experience but weaker soft skills.
Now, this is not to say that these skills outweigh technical know-how, or vice-versa. To put it into a balanced perspective, here’s what our EVP of Culture & Analytics, James Brooks, Ph.D., has to say:
“Hard skills give employees a healthy foundation for their job and specific duties. But it’s the soft skills that can take employees and a business to a much higher level of performance.”
And, the beauty of these skills is that they’re just that: skills—things that can be learned and strengthened over time. You might not learn about them in a K-12 or higher education setting, but they can be taught and put to use in the workplace all the same.
To start, here is a list of soft skills (more than 50 organized by key categories) along with quick tips, behaviors, and actions you can take to further develop them.
The ability to both articulate a message and actively listen.
Getting to the Point: Share your answer or conclusion first, then go back to fill in details as needed.
Presenting Facts: Separate facts from feelings. Focus on the facts and not your emotional reactions to a situation.
Presentation Skills: Write down the main point you want to get across so that if nothing else, people remember that one thing.
Engaging Conversation: Learn what is important to others, then incorporate those subjects into your conversations.
Speaking Up: Decide in advance the best person to speak to on a given topic and how you can get them to hear your point of view.
Active Listening: Make it a point to fully understand before being understood.
The ability to analyze and assess situations.
Encouraging Imagination: Spend time with imaginative people who easily see new possibilities. They can be contagious.
Critical Thinking: Research and fact-check a wide-range of information before forming conclusions.
Incorporating Creativity: When trying to generate creative solutions, get out of your day-to-day environment to encourage new thinking.
Logic and Rationale: Think in terms of both pros and cons. Work to establish a positive and negative case to fully evaluate any decision.
The ability to understand and acknowledge motives, tendencies, traits, social contexts and idiosyncrasies.
Awareness of Others: Always assume that your perception of others is incomplete. See how their styles compare to yours and adapt your behavior to work together more effectively.
Self-Awareness: Identify one or two colleagues who will give honest feedback on areas where you need, or want, to improve.
Social Awareness: Be a student of others by striving to learn one new thing about another person.
Managing Emotions: Focus on the facts in a situation. Stay calm and follow up at a later time when you can maintain objectivity and make meaningful progress.
Seeking Feedback: Be open and ask others what more you can do to succeed in your work. Assume each person has meaningful and helpful advice.
Giving and Receiving Feedback: Share criticism in a way that you would want to receive it. Put yourself in their shoes as you communicate.
The ability to relate to and work successfully with someone else.
Showing Consideration: Ask others how you can be helpful in a situation and work actively to help them meet their goals.
Empathy: Ask others how they feel about a situation. Genuinely listen to their responses and ask how you can support them.
Flexibility: Say ‘yes’ to opportunities you’d normally turn down. Grow comfortable with being more adaptable in your approach.
Compassion: Intentionally look for areas of agreement to build on instead of finding areas of disagreement.
Appreciation: Write down a list of three to five things that you value in a person.
Compromise: Have discussions with others to understand what matters to them. Focus on finding common ground.
The ability to work with other people to achieve a common goal.
Collaboration: Solicit others’ ideas before sharing your own. Build on them first, instead of countering them.
Team Building: Build diversified teams that complement each other rather than looking for people that just get along.
Teamwork: Make an intentional choice to believe that challenges can be better solved in a team environment.
Managing Differences: Explore the perspectives of others with a belief that they always know something you do not.
Relationship Building: Aim to connect on a personal level in your interactions with others. Share something about yourself and learn about the other person.
The ability to consistently systematize and prioritize your work.
Attention to Detail: Identify areas where you need to pay especially close attention to detail. Focus and make a plan so that you’re more deliberate.
Embracing Change: Choose to accept the reality that nothing in life stays the same and everything will change over time. Expect and plan for change.
Time Management: Take time to organize a to-do list every morning to understand how planning is a critical aspect of managing your time effectively.
Task Completion: Group tasks that are similar and work through them in a given amount of time. Take note of how beneficial it is to think of these tasks collectively as one activity.
Building Stability: Define what stability means to you and how you can create it for yourself and your colleagues.
Forethought and Planning: Stop before you start. Begin with a picture of the end in mind and then determine how to reach that point.
The ability to adjust to unexpected or trying circumstances and respond accordingly.
Releasing Control: Think through the responsibilities you would share with others if you knew for certain they would succeed.
Receptivity to New Ideas: Reserve judgment on new ideas for a day or two. Come back to them when you have the mindset and energy to focus on how they can work, not why they can’t.
Patience: Be 10% kinder for 10% longer when others test your patience.
Focus: Practice completing one task before starting another.
Acceptance: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Ask yourself, “In what way does this make sense to him/her?”
Personal Fulfillment: Practice identifying two things you are grateful for every day. Verbalize them to yourself or others.
Work-Life Balance: Participate in renewing activities in the following areas: recreational, physical, learning, relational, spiritual, family and character growth.
The ability to bring others to your way of thinking without force or coercion.
Assertiveness: Present ideas without sounding positional. Be willing to modify your approach to gain support from others.
Persuasion: Make it a habit to know what those around you value. Position your ideas to reflect their interests.
Speaking with Purpose: Avoid speaking for an extended period of time, which dilutes your message. Share in 30 or 60-second bursts and pause in between key points.
Negotiation: Seek a win-win outcome in order to make an agreement more easily obtainable.
The ability to manage tasks, people and goals.
Delegation: Don’t expect others to perform at your level. Show appreciation when you first hand over a task. When others don’t execute well, focus on helping them make incremental improvements.
Execution Capability: Include an after-action review or project post-mortem for all significant projects. Include all team members who worked on the project and harvest what the team sees as learnings that can be applied to future efforts.
Drive Action: Identify your objectives and write down three to five steps for each that are essential to success.
Decision Making: Use the 80/20 rule as most decisions can be made without complete information. Aim for good decisions instead of perfect decisions.
Taking Risks: Adopt a mindset that you’ll miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Setting Expectations: Check in with people after you communicate expectations to make sure they understand what you are asking of them.
Accountability: Take ownership when something goes wrong. Acknowledge your mistakes and how you will address them.
Now, since this list of soft skills deals with your understanding of yourself and your interpersonal interactions, you’ll find that some come more naturally than others. Don’t dismiss or neglect the ones that don’t come so easily, though; define yourself not by who you are and who you’re not, but by who you can become.
Doing so will only serve you better in the workplace and deepen you as a person outside of it.