Soft skills are non-technical skills that relate to how you work, which includes how you interact with colleagues, solve problems, and manage your work. These skills are at times referred to as interpersonal skills, essential skills, or non-cognitive skills – this means that they are not related to the process of acquiring knowledge through the senses, experience, or reasoning.
You may wonder, what then is the importance of these skills?
Soft skills are important for the success of most employees and even employers because in addition to technical knowledge and abilities, they relate to how one works. It is for this reason that most employers/hiring managers typically look for job candidates with soft skills, because nearly every job requires employees to engage with others in some way and as such they make someone more successful in the workplace.
Someone can be excellent with regard to technical, job-specific skills, but if they can’t manage their time or work within a team, they may not be successful in the workplace. Soft skills are particularly crucial in customer-based jobs as it takes several soft skills to be able to listen to a customer and provide that customer with helpful and polite service.
Another great thing about soft skills is that they are transferable skills that can be used regardless of the person’s job and as such this makes job candidates with soft skills very adaptable employees. Soft skills vary from communication skills, interpersonal skills, adaptability, teamwork, time management, problem solving, leadership abilities, listening skills, critical thinking, conflict resolution, empathy, etc.
Unlike hard skills that are learned, soft skills are similar to emotions or insights that allow people to “read” others. These are much harder to learn, at least in a traditional classroom and as such they are also much harder to measure and evaluate.
However, if you’ve been working for a while, chances are you’ve already developed some soft skills. For example, if you’ve worked in retail, you’ve worked in a team environment, have had to develop and apply communication skills. You may even have had to adapt to certain changes within the workplace. If you’ve helped an unhappy customer and resolved his/her problem, you’ve had to actively listen to the customer, used conflict resolution skills and problem-solving skills to resolve it. If the customer’s problem was a complex one, you may even have had to think creatively in order to come up with the solution, while keeping to the applicable workplace policies and procedures. If in discussing problems with your manager, you have taken the initiative and suggested viable solutions to those problems, you have demonstrated problem solving and even critical thinking abilities/skills.
If you are new to the world of work, there are various activities, either in your community or at school, where you may have had to work with others (team work), communicate with your team, solve problems, adapt to changes and even manage your time effectively to meet a specific dead line. Thus you would have implemented a range of soft skills, albeit it not being in the formal working environment.
To develop much needed, or to further improve, soft skills that you do possess, you first need to assess where the need lies. This can be achieved through a combination of self-reflection and obtaining feedback from your colleagues, manager, supervisor etc. Therefore, you need to be open to honest feedback in order to receive constructive criticism and further use that information to improve in your workplace role, including in particular your soft skills. With the feedback received, draft a development plan linked to the development area/s identified.
Your development may be through a blended method, where you may be required to attend some training and also work at enhancing the required skills within the workplace, as well as other aspects of your life. You can do this through, amongst others:
In helping members to improve their success within the workplace, MISA provides for certain soft skills training based on the applicable terms and conditions of the benefit. For more information in this regard, contact the MISA Training Department on 011 476 3920 or on Training@ms.org.za
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela.