Soft skills: what is it, what is it for and how to develop them

 

Employers often indicate in job vacancies the requirement – “developed soft skills”. Global Education Futures experts report that soft skills are among the key competencies of the 21st century.

Let’s find out what the term means, how and why to develop soft skills.

What are soft skills in simple words

Imagine that you are talking to a man on a topic important to you. He keeps interrupting, looking at the door and letting you know that it’s time to end the conversation. Depending on who the person is to you, you may be surprised or offended. And in fact, he’s willing to listen to you. He just needs to make an urgent call. A communication problem has arisen. One person doesn’t know how to tactfully interrupt the conversation. Another is not interested in whether the other person is comfortable to talk now. This happens because of insufficient development of soft skills.

The term “soft skills” appeared in the 1960s. The U.S. Army conducted a study of the behavioral skills of personnel in a social environment. As a result of the study Dr. P.G. Whitmore published a paper where he used the concept of soft skills for the first time.

The opposite term – “hard skills” means “hard skills”. That is related to education, technical training, specialization of the employee.

Example. Hard skills for a developer are knowledge of programming languages or web design. Soft skills are attentiveness, trainability, communication skills.

Why do we need to develop soft skills?

Technology is changing rapidly. That is why list of hard skills, which employers are interested in, is constantly changing. A striking example: programming languages. Pascal and Visual Basic, which were popular in the early 2000s, are now outdated. But there are many new ones: Go, Python, C++. Programmers have to learn them not to lose their value in the eyes of employers.

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Soft skills are always needed. Managers want trained, empathic, stress-resistant employees for any position in the company. IBM HR-specialists believe that people with developed flexible competences are more likely to build a successful career. Soft skills should be constantly improved because the process takes a lot of time.

Main types of soft skills

There is no exact list of soft skills. Let us distinguish the main types:

  • Communication: empathy, emotional intelligence, teamwork, customer focus. Communication skills help you blend in, understand your own and others’ emotions, and work effectively on team projects.
  • Thinking: creative thinking, critical thinking, attentiveness, proactivity, trainability. The ability to find non-standard solutions helps to win the competitive battle in business and career. Proactivity and mindfulness are needed to anticipate and fix problems.
  • Management: leadership skills, decision making, and goal setting. Management skills aren’t just important for managers. One needs to be able to make decisions and set achievable goals within personal competences.
  • Adaptability: working under uncertainty, stress resistance. The business environment is constantly changing, the pace of work is increasing. Therefore it is important not to be afraid of unfamiliar tasks, to cope with the flow of information, to remain productive in any environment.

How to develop and pump up soft skills

Developing soft skills is often not easy because changes affect a person’s deep psychological attitudes.

To pump soft skills:

Identify strengths and weaknesses. Think of situations when you successfully solved a problem or solved a problem.

  • Think about what skills helped you. And vice versa: analyze the cases when you faced difficulties. Determine which soft skills would be useful to you.
  • Get tested. Talk to your company’s HR professionals. Perhaps they use soft skills tests when selecting candidates. If they do not, find free resources on the Internet. Just don’t take tests from entertainment sites too seriously.
  • Make a plan for self-development. Set goals and select training materials. The wording should be precise. Instead of “develop communication skills,” set a goal of “learn how to negotiate with clients.” Find books, online courses, and webinars on the right topic.
  • Learn in a playful way. Board games and quests develop logic, decision-making skills, and teamwork skills. Participate in business games if your company hosts them.
  • Find a mentor. It doesn’t have to be an expensive coach. A colleague or supervisor who has developed agile skills will do. Ask him to share his experience. Observe how he behaves in difficult situations.
  • Closely monitor his or her progress. Analyze which skills are improving and which still need to be worked on. Books, channels, and online courses have been selected to help you.
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