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Soft Skills: Definitions and Development in the Workplace

By Chris Scherting, Vice President of Marketing, ej4

July 8 2020 - When you're in the process of hiring a new employee, you might be inclined to focus on the everyday requirements of the position - like familiarity with a software program or the ability to type a certain number of words per minute. But contrary to popular belief, the hard skills necessary for performing these essential tasks aren't the only qualities you should look for in a candidate. In many cases, soft skills matter just as much (or even more!).

Of course, soft skills can be harder to measure and may not be as apparent right off the bat. After all, there isn't a standardized certification that applicants can complete to prove that they're a great listener or that they possess leadership skills. However, that doesn't mean you can't screen for - and even develop - these skills. Let's take a closer look at soft skills, why they're so essential, and how you might foster them within your existing or future team.

What Are Soft Skills?

Hard skills, like knowledge of digital marketing or being able to figure out complex math equations, are fairly easy to identify and measure. But people have a much harder time determining what soft skills are.

At their most basic level, soft skills relate to communication. Common examples include collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, customer service, critical thinking, multitasking, time management, and more. Some may deal with interpersonal relationships (such as mediation or active listening), while others are more about the relationship with oneself (like accountability or stress management). Making matters more complex, many soft skills will overlap with one another - and they may not always be highlighted effectively on a resume or even in an interview.

Nonetheless, soft skills are critically important to the success of any organization. They help employees to feel motivated at work, allow team members to work well together, and foster a positive culture in the office. And whether you realize it or not, your business plays a substantial role in whether these soft skills will be highlighted and even improved upon.

Can Soft Skills Be Taught?

Certainly, teaching a hard skill is a more clear-cut process. You either learn the material and show proficiency or you don't. But soft skills, like their name suggests, are a bit more nuanced.

However, that doesn't mean they cannot be acquired; although some people may have a natural leadership ability or seem to inherently know how to listen well, these skills can still be improved upon with time and effort. Moreover, those who may come up short in certain soft skills can often make great strides if they're given the right support and tools.

Of course, many businesses fail to equip their teams with those tools -- but if you understand the importance of soft skill development, you'll realize just how essential ongoing training can be. A few ideas for soft skills training include:

  • Hiring motivated employees with a willingness to learn and grow
  • Conducting a thorough assessment of training needs
  • Gathering intriguing material for company-wide learning
  • Diversifying existing training assets and topics
  • Facilitating a learning-oriented work culture
  • Reinforcing previous training sessions with consistent references

Remember: everyone possesses some type or degree of soft skill and no one enjoys a perfect execution of those skills. In other words, there's always a natural ability that exists - and there's always room for growth. With the proper tools, your employees can feel empowered to build upon their assets and, in so doing, help your business thrive.


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