What Are Soft Skills?
Simply put, soft skills are the personal attributes that allow us to effectively relate to others. These skills enhance our personal interactions and lead to greater job performance and satisfaction. Unlike hard skills, which are the technical and knowledge skill set we bring to our work, soft skills are interpersonal and can be applied in a broad array of situations. Soft skills encompass both personality traits, such as optimism, and abilities which can be practiced, such as empathy. Like all skills, soft skills can be learned.
Applying these skills helps us build stronger work relationships, work more productively, and maximize our career prospects. Often we place the focus of our career development efforts on hard skills – technology skills, knowledge, and other skills that specifically relate to our ability to get work-related tasks done. This means we neglect to develop our soft skills. However, soft skills are directly transferrable to any job, organization, or industry. As a result, they are an investment worth making.
Soft skills can include, or relate to, the following:
• Critical thinking
• Conflict resolution
• Problem solving
• Emotional intelligence
• Handing difficult people
• Delivering constructive criticism
• Working under pressure
• Team work
• Managing people
• Time management
• Organizational skills
Why Soft Skills Are Important?
Here are the reasons why soft skills are more important than ever:
1 – HARD SKILLS ARE USELESS WITHOUT SOFT SKILLS
In most jobs, technical skills alone are not enough to be truly effective. A salesperson with an unrivalled knowledge of their product and market will have little success if they don’t have the interpersonal skills needed to close deals and retain clients. A business manager needs to be able to listen to employees, have good speaking skills, and be able to think creatively. All careers require at least some soft skills to make the hard skills valuable.
2 – SOFT SKILLS ARE HARDER TO LEARN
Hard skills aren’t necessarily hard to acquire. They can be easily taught, and can be learned and perfected over time. Soft skills are more challenging to develop, since they have little to do with knowledge or expertise, but are closely linked with a person’s character. It takes conscious effort, ongoing practice, and a commitment to self-development to improve your soft skills. Hard skills may look impressive on your CV, but the soft skills are what will set you apart from the many candidates who have similar expertise to you.
3 – THE MODERN WORKPLACE IS INTERPERSONAL
Skills such as listening, collaborating with others, presenting ideas and communicating with team members are all highly valued in the modern workplace. Strong soft skills ensure a productive, collaborative and healthy work environment, all vital attributes for organisations in an increasingly competitive world.
4 – CUSTOMERS DEMAND SOFT SKILLS
The modern market offers consumers an unlimited number of choices through technologies such as the internet and smartphones. For these consumers, convenience and low prices are easy to come by, so customer service is often what influences the choice to use a particular business. The ability to communicate efficiently and effectively with customers is therefore a vital factor in an organisation’s success.
5 – THE FUTURE WORKPLACE WILL RELY ON SOFT SKILLS
Automation and artificial intelligence will result in a greater proportion of jobs relying on soft skills. Thanks to cutting-edge technology, tasks that require hard skills are continuing to decline, making soft skills key differentiators in the workplace. As an example, look at this fascinating study by Deloitte Access Economics, which predicts that two-thirds of all jobs in Australia will rely on soft skills by 2030. This trend will inevitably be mirrored globally.
Soft Skills vs Hard Skills
Hard and Soft Competencies
The definitions of hard and soft skills distinguish between the hard technical skills of performing the job and the soft behavioral skills required in the workplace. Hard skills refer to the skills in the technical category, dealing with data and administrative skills. Soft skills are defined as the “interpersonal, human, people or behavioral skills needed to apply technical skills and knowledge in the workplace” (Weber et al. 2009; De Villiers, 2010). Also, the core competencies for today’s workplace are: soft skills and hard skills. Soft skills are viewed as complements to hard skills and are requirements for successful workplace performance.
Hard skills are those skills associated with specific technical knowledge and task-oriented skills (Ashbaugh, 2003). Hard skills are primarily mental or cognitive in nature. They are most likely influenced by an individual’s intelligence quotient (IQ) (Rainsbury, Hodges, Burchell, & Lay, 2002).
Soft skills are often associated with interpersonal, emotional, and behavioral skills and place more importance on personal behavior and managing human relationships (Buhler, 2001; Douglas & Christain 2002; Rainsbury et al., 2002). Soft skills are primarily affective and behavioral in nature, and most likely influenced by an individual’s emotional quotient (EQ).
In view of the fact that hard/technical skills may differ according to context and functional role (e.g. for an auditor or events manager, project management may be regarded as a hard skill, whilst the same skill may be deemed to be a soft skill for a debtors or line manager), two domains of competencies will first be defined and then subdivided into subskill competency categories. Both the domains and the categories are not mutually exclusive and are illustrative rather than comprehensive (De Villiers, 2010). Also, hard/technical skills may differ according to context and functional role (e.g. for an auditor or events manager, project management may be regarded as a hard skill, whilst the same skill may be deemed to be a soft skill for a debtors or line manager) (De Villiers, 2010).
In relation to important of hard and soft, Coll, Zegwaard, & Hodges (2002) found that comparison of hard skills and soft skills are important. Hence, it shows that the science and technology students, like their business student counterparts, perceive soft skills to be as equally important as hard skills. Also, in determining the importance of the two competencies of hard and soft skills, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) claims that employers afford 20 percent of the weighting to hard skills (amenable to certification) and 80 per cent to noncertified soft skills (CBI, 2007; Moss and Tilly, 1996; Keep and James, 2010). Also between sectors the importance of soft and hard competences was also investigated, Keep & James (2010) argue that employers in different sectors may place very different relative weighting on soft skills. It seems likely that sectors such as hotels and catering and retailing will value soft skills higher than non-service sector employers (Keep & James, 2010).
Reasons for Preferring Hard and Soft Competence
Researchers consider soft and hard domain of competencies to indicate the employee competency, and consider the recruitment and selection outcome for four motives.
First: the importance of soft and cognitive/ hard competences for employee, also required by the organization, since hard and soft skills needed in modern organizations. Also, both skills are considered for job success and organizational effectiveness (Snyder, et al., 2006). For the soft competence, the previous studies consider the important for job performance such as (Spencer and Spencer, 1993; Desman, et al, 2011; Snyder, et al. 2006; Coll & Zegwaard; 2006; Evers & Rush 1996; Promis, 2008). Furthermore, Heimler (2010) considered the basic (soft) competency skills to be important for job performance. Furthermore, it has shown that hard skills components such as thinking critically and solving problems are technical skills and important for employees. However, Dunne and Rawlins (2000) also realize the competence importance and assume that mastery of technical skills within disciplinary content is more important to employees (Robinson, and Garton, 2008; Whitefield & Kloot, 2006; Schleifer and Greenawalt, 1996).
Second: the hard and soft competencies are represent most of the competencies needed for workplace success and performance, Thus Spencer & Spencer (1993) identified a number of competency categories which were combined under cognitive/ hard and behavior/soft competency where the authors claim that it accounts for 80-95% of the distinguishing features of superior performers in technical and managerial positions (Rainsbury, Hodges, Burchell & Lay, 2002; Coll, Zegwaard,& Hodges, 2002).
Third: these competencies classification (hard and soft) were employed by the more recent literature which also, revealed that these skills are the most important and top skills required for success of graduates such as: professional knowledge, interpersonal competencies, management competencies, leadership competencies, and critical thinking competencies (Holtzman & Kraft, 2011, DeLaune, 2004, Gault, et. al, 2010, Heimler, 2010, Martensen & Gronholdt, 2009, Desman et al, 2011).
Fourth: the hard and soft competencies were considered in the selection process. Such soft / behavioral competence can measured by several selection methods such as an interview; Analysis presentation, and general mental ability test (Lievens, Harris, Van Keer, & Bisqueret, 2003; Bertua, Anderson & Salgado, 2005; Blickle, et al., 2011). Also for the component of cognitive/ hard competence such technical experties, thinking competence, were considered in selecting methods and decision selection, and also, performance evaluation. The employer conduct the general mental ability (GMA) test to measure these competencies, to distinguish between candidates in the selection methods and selection decision process (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998; Bertua, Anderson & Salgado, 2005; Blickle, et al., 2011).
The fifth reason is performed particular for cognitive hard competency with three components; (technical expertise, analytical thinking and conceptual competencies), they were classified that can measure employee competency at different job positions, and utilized for different graduates professionals from different schools (Breuning, Parker, & Ishiyama, 2001; McClelland 1998; Billing (2007). As well, These competencies can be transferable between jobs (Gick and Holyoak, 1987; Boyatzis , 2008).
Soft Skills List
There is no absolute one list of soft skills. Defining soft skills can be a real challenge. Scanning the literature on the subject shows that there is no common definition for the term ‘soft skills’. However, the importance of “soft skills” in career advancement and business success is being increasingly recognized.
Generally speaking, soft skills were seen in the studied literature as self-management skills and people related skills.
In general, there are three categories of competences in organizations. They relate to soft skills and are mostly inter- and intra-personal skills.
Methodological Competence focusing on flexibility and includes skills such as problem solving, adaptability and analytical techniques.
Social and Participatory Competences are essential for team working, focusing on communication and interpersonal skills alongside leadership and decision-making skills.
As high productivity becomes the norm in modern organizations, current research reveals
that employees require the relevant training and learning to be able to perform highly. With work environment changing, traditional instruction and control methods are being replaced by flat structures; teams are being encouraged to make
decisions; employees require higher skill sets and there is better partnership between employees and management.
According to numerous studies, the transformation in organizational structures in the workplace necessitates employees to develop key competencies. The ability to work in a team, to communicate effectively and to cope with conflict and pressure are essential in the modern work environment.
The findings indicate that soft skills are becoming more important, both to cope with the fast pace of change, and to work with an increasingly participatory management style.
The higher educational level of many new graduates joining the work force, and their high expectations of opportunity and professional development, are forcing management in companies to show high levels of soft skills in practice in order to manage and retain such employees. In many cases, this is exposing skill deficiencies of previous generation managers, who may have lower educational levels and be less used to participatory management styles.
Taking into account the literature review and employer surveys, a popular definition for soft skills is the inter-personal and intra-personal skills required to be effective in the workplace.
Inter-personal skills include:
- Ability to work in a team.
- Communication and influencing skills.
- Leadership, coaching skills.
Intra-personal skills include:
- Orientation to learning, creativity, flexibility
- Motivation, perseverance