Research from Harvard University, Stanford Research Center, and the Carnegie Foundation found that 85 percent of professional success comes from having soft skills. While hard skills are easy to show off on a resume, soft skills remain vital for long-term professional success. Soft skills can play a significant role in advancing your career because they help you understand others, create valuable relationships, keep conflict low, and inspire others to be their best.
Additionally, employers understand the importance of hiring workers with soft skills. According to a recent Global Talent Trends report from LinkedIn, 91 percent of talent professionals believe soft skills are an important part of the future of talent recruitment. With soft skills sought after by employers, it would be in everyone’s interest to develop them. Doing so can lead to better career opportunities both now and well into the future.
To become a better leader or team player, learn the top soft skills you’ll need to succeed in the workplace and advance in your career.
- Research has shown that soft skills are responsible for 85 percent of professional success.
- 68 percent of workers want to receive more feedback—accepting that feedback is a key soft skill.
- Developing soft skills allows you to work well with the people around you.
- Empathy can lead to better job performance.
- Don’t be shy about highlighting your soft skills during the hiring process.
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are interpersonal skills that enhance a person’s ability to work well with others. They include a person’s behaviors and attitudes when interacting with those around them. Unlike hard skills, which have been the subject of training and education for generations, soft skills are difficult to evaluate as they usually defy quantifiable measurements. They can even be more difficult to learn than hard skills, often taking years of practice to refine and develop.
Examples of Soft Skills
- Emotional Intelligence
- Ethical Behavior
- Stress Management
- Critical Thinking
- Leadership Skills
- Collaboration Skills
- Positive Attitude
- Communication Skills
- Time Management
Benefits of Developing Soft Skills
Whether you’re looking for a job or looking to hire, soft skills are an essential part of an effective team. While someone may have the hard skills to get the job done, soft skills are those intangible elements that often mean the difference between success and failure. Here are just some of the benefits you can gain from developing soft skills.
- Good cultural fit: Soft skills are the biggest determining factor of whether you’re a good fit for the company culture.
- Improved productivity: With better soft skills, you can cooperate and collaborate with your team members. That means you’ll get more stuff done in less time.
- Improved emotional intelligence: With better emotional intelligence in the workplace, you can understand your coworkers more. This can also prove a huge benefit in your personal life as you connect with loved ones.
- More efficient communication: Enhancing soft skills means you can communicate more efficiently with others across an organization. You’ll convey more meaning in a few sentences than you would with an hour-long meeting.
- Greater personal growth: As you develop better soft skills, you’ll find they enhance your current hard skills. Additionally, they will deepen personal connections and help you grow as a person.
- Leadership preparation: If you’re not already in a leadership position, improving your soft skills will help you prepare to take that role in the future.
How to Develop the Top Soft Skills Needed in the Workplace
While there are a large number of soft skills to develop, it would be easiest to narrow down your list to a handful you can work on at a time. The following list of soft skills are just examples, but you can pick others you feel may be more necessary for you.
1. Active Listening
“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”Larry King
Active listening goes beyond simply hearing what someone is saying. Instead, it requires you to give your full attention and attempt to truly understand the other person. Research has shown that while people spend 55 percent of their time listening, they only retain one-fourth of the information they get. Active listening allows you to retain more information while showing you care about what people say.
One of the most important parts of active listening is the elimination of distractions. If you’re on your phone during a conversation, you’re not truly listening. Put away those distractions, and give people your undivided attention. This is one soft skill that people will greatly appreciate.
When a coworker came to David to discuss an important project, he put away his smartphone and gave his full attention. He listened to everything the coworker had to say, summarized what he heard the person communicate, and asked good follow-up questions to ensure he understood everything.
2. Accepting Criticism
“Wise people prefer to benefit from constructive criticism rather than be ruined by false praise.”Shiv Khera
There will always be room for improvement no matter how skilled you are. That’s why you should work on accepting criticism and feedback openly. Being open to feedback shows a willingness to get better. It also leads to more engagement at work. One survey found that 68 percent of workers wanted to receive more feedback in their jobs. When you show that you have an open mind and can accept criticism and feedback, people will be more willing to give it.
You may have to set an example and give feedback to others. Encourage them to do the same. As you create an environment of more open communication, feedback will be shared regularly. This will lead to everyone around you improving as well.
When Alice was told by her boss that she needed to be more receptive to clients’ needs, she took a day to think about how she could provide better service. After that, she created a plan to start implementing the feedback she received. Rather than rejecting it or insisting she wasn’t wrong, she worked hard to get better and meet expectations.
3. Work Ethic
“Work ethic is important because, unlike intelligence, athleticism, charisma, or any other natural attribute, it’s a choice.”Mike Rowe
Work ethic has everything to do with a person’s determination and willingness to sacrifice. It takes time and effort to get things done, which doesn’t always come easy. When you have a strong work ethic, you show you’re able to put personal comfort aside temporarily to help out others and the organization as a whole.
Improving your work ethic starts with doing what you’re asked to do. You hold yourself accountable for your performance, getting the job done when you say you’ll get it done. If you accompany every task with complaints and excuses, you won’t be trusted to handle more important responsibilities. Work ethic also benefits from learning new hard skills, so take advantage of training opportunities as much as possible.
Lawrence promised his boss Sarah that he’d help her with a side project for an hour each day the following week. However, he was slammed with work later in the week. Keeping true to his promise, he started work an hour early each day so he could fulfill his prior commitment to Sarah and keep the project deadline on track.
“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.”Mohsin Hamid
Empathy represents gaining a greater understanding of another person. This usually involves trying to see the world through their eyes. When you show empathy toward someone else, you gain more compassion for their struggles and happiness from their triumphs. It can be one of those interpersonal skills that is subtle yet profound. At the same time, it may lead to more professional success. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, when you’re more empathetic, you perform better in your job.
Empathy at work means not blaming others for understandable mistakes. It means giving people a chance to get better and not holding grudges. This soft skill can make the work environment pleasant for everyone around you.
When Gregory noticed Richard was coming in a few minutes late every day for the past couple of weeks, he didn’t get upset. After checking in with him, he found out that Richard was helping his wife with their sick children in the mornings. Gregory insisted that he take his time, and if he needed it, he could come in a half hour late each day until the kids got better.
“Success is a cooperative effort; it’s dependent upon those who stand beside you.”Jon Huntsman
Being cooperative is all about having the ideal team player attitude. It involves working together as a team toward a common goal. When you’re cooperative, you help others achieve more. By doing so, you end up at a higher level than you would if you only worked on your own.
Hiring managers love a person who exemplifies this attitude. They want people who will combine their talents to form a cohesive and effective team. This is one of those people skills that instantly draws others to you as you bolster their efforts.
Elizabeth and Ellen disagree about the direction of their company’s new marketing campaign, but instead of arguing about it, the two work together to craft a plan that implements both people’s ideas. By joining creative forces, they’re able to create a campaign that ends up winning several awards.
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”Maya Angelou
When you have creativity as a soft skill, you are able to channel innovation in everything you do. That means coming up with creative solutions that others likely would not have thought of before. This is a definitive way to set yourself apart from others.
Those with a creative mindset never settle for the status quo. They’re constantly thinking of new ideas that will shake things up. While not every idea will be a resounding success, failure provides valuable learning opportunities. A creative person never gives up and only feels encouraged the more they’re allowed to innovate.
As his team struggled, Michael decided to take a different approach to increasing sales. While most of his team spent their days cold-calling new customers, Michael hosted a networking event to meet potential clients in person. He knew this was a better way to establish relationships and leads. His new style and strategy led to impressive results. The department would later go on to adopt these changes, earning Michael accolades in the process.
“All failure is the failure to adapt; all success is successful adaptation.”Max McKeown
An adaptable person is someone who can change strategies and tactics to meet the challenges they face. If you’re adaptable, you accept that changes will always happen—it’s how you react that matters the most. Adaptable people take every change with a positive attitude and an optimistic outlook.
Don’t let a constantly changing situation keep you down. Think of it as a chance to try something new. As long as you make the most of the situation and don’t complain right away, you’ll put yourself in the perfect position to succeed.
Sophia was nervous about getting a new manager. Instead of complaining or adopting a negative view of the situation, she embraced the opportunity. She quickly hit it off with the new boss and took advantage of the change to improve herself and her situation.
4 Ways to Highlight Your Soft Skills During the Hiring Process
As you look for a job, your soft skills should become part of the conversation. Don’t shy away from them. While some people may tend to focus on hard skills, soft skills can often make the difference between two people who have similar qualifications. Here are some tips to help you highlight your soft skills as you go through the hiring process.
- Include soft skills on your resume: Never forget to include soft skills on a resume. This is a great way to capture a hiring manager’s attention and stand out from those who only list their hard skills.
- Go into more detail in your cover letter: If you’re worried the interviewer won’t ask about your soft skills, talk about them in the cover letter. Be more detailed in your cover letter and provide examples and situations where those skills come in handy.
- Bring soft skills up during the interview: A job interview is your chance to help the interviewer get to know you better. There’s nothing wrong with talking about your soft skills directly. Mention what skills you believe you possess and how they can benefit the organization.
- Use examples: Don’t just say you have a certain skill—give a specific example of that skill in action. For instance, talk about a time you experienced a lack of communication at work and how you used your communication skills to overcome that challenge.
How to Find Employees With Strong Soft Skills
If you’re a hiring manager or executive, you’ll want people with excellent soft skills as part of your organization. Finding them, however, can be difficult. So, here are some ways you can assess candidates for these skills in the future:
- Before hiring someone, write down what skills and qualities you’re looking for.
- Include your list in the job description.
- Interview those who mention these qualifications on their resume and cover letter.
- During interviews, ask questions focused on behavior and attitude.
- Keep your questions consistent between applicants.
- Note the reactions to your questions, not just what the applicant says.
- Test abilities through hypothetical scenarios and brain teasers.
5 Tips for Developing a Strong Set of Soft Skills
Whether you’re interviewing for a new role or you want to become a better leader for your team, anyone can benefit from developing soft skills. You can start today by following some of these tips.
- Consult with a mentor about what skills you need to develop.
- Take feedback from others seriously.
- Observe someone who exemplifies a soft skill you would like to have, and learn from them.
- Practice a specific soft skill during the week.
- Look for online courses that will train you in the soft skill you want.
Being a true leader can also help you develop soft skills. No matter your position, you can take on valuable leadership skills to help others grow. For more on how to develop those skills, you can read the following article: