Don’t Underestimate Soft Skills: Here’re 14 to Get You Started!

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If you’re like me with a Singaporean childhood that was heavily embedded in a curriculum that emphasised ‘hard’ subjects like math and science, then you’re likely to think of hard, technical skills as paramount for success in life.

Technical skills, knowledge, and experience are necessary for any profession. However, such a mindset can blindside us to the importance of  soft skills. Soft skills refer to essential interpersonal people skills, attitudes, social capabilities that people need to possess besides the technical aspect, to excel at their job. 

While hard skills may help you in getting hired, these days, it can pose as a problem when teamwork or presentation is required.  

A study conducted by psychologist Daniel Goleman on 200 large, global companies found that Emotional Intelligence (EI) was also found to be twice as important as Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and technical ability and truly effective leaders were distinguished by a high degree of EI.

We’ve all gained soft skills from past jobs, responsibilities, life experiences and interests. The great thing about soft skills is you don’t need qualifications for them and you can start working on them right now, whether you’re at school or work!

Here’re 14 highly valued soft skills to get you started!

1) Emotional Intelligence (EI) Skills

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EI is a highly valued competence that refers to the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, including the ability to understand another person’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships well. The most emotionally intelligent individuals can deal with various social situations because they’re aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and can perceive others intuitively; when you understand yourself and how others feel, this allows you to effectively respond to them.

2) Communication Skills

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Having good communication skills doesn’t mean you have to be an expert in the English language or a brilliant speaker. The important thing in communication is not what or how you speak, but rather if the other party understands you. If someone understands you well even if you speak broken English, you’re considered to have good communication skills! Of course it’s still important to express yourself well, whether it’s crafting an email, speaking during a meeting or giving a presentation. The ability to explain technical concepts to partners, customers and coworkers that aren’t familiar with it is a highly sought-after skill. Good communication skills also involve active listening. 

3) Empathy Skills

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Empathy is the ability and experience of understanding another person from their perspective, to put yourself in their shoes. Empathy is considered the most important skill you can possess.

Without empathy, it's difficult to appeal and care for the needs and interests of others. Click To Tweet

As leaders, the action of portraying sensitivity and understanding, are important traits to have in the eyes of employees. It will also lead to greater success in life. Empathy can be developed through enjoyable activities or via your hobbies. When you do something you personally enjoy, you’re able to relate to those similar to you or even meet different people, allowing yourself to empathise with them. Exposing yourself to a diverse array of people outside your industry or comfort zone expands your perspective so that you may better understand where your colleagues and customers are coming from.

4) Conflict Resolution Skills

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Every company, SMEs or MNCs, will encounter conflicts between individuals or departments. These conflicts are costly, so having the ability to solve or ease such conflicts are essential to developing mutually beneficial relationships in businesses to focus on more important things such as moving towards company goals and project milestones. Conflict resolution is also an attribute of a good leader and manager, which requires persuasiveness and the ability to exert influence while sensitively seeking a solution that will benefit all parties. When conflict is handled efficiently and respectfully, it also acts as an opportunity to strengthen the bond between affected parties. 

5) Negotiation Skills 

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We negotiate when we want a certain situation to go our way. But negotiation isn’t about catering to just your needs, it’s also about embracing the other side. Being able to understand the other side’s interest and leverage and obtain a successful negotiation is important. We’ll faced undesirable situations that come with conflict and hostility and the ability to negotiate will help us achieve the desired result that also requires essential communication skills.

To learn more or enhance your negotiation skills, take a look at this article: What Can These Masters Teach You About Negotiation?

6) Leadership Skills

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Businesses value individuals who can effectively take charge, are independent, dedicated, motivated in accomplishing goals. Individuals with leadership qualities can help organised and motivate coworkers to achieve business goals. Perhaps the most important skill a leader needs is to be able to think strategically and plan ahead that drives everyone forward. Leadership skills is also being willing to take risks and push beyond boundaries.

7) Teamwork and Collaboration Skills

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Employers want employees who interact and work with others well in a team. Click To Tweet

Employers value teamwork and see it as an important trait to have in fellow employees. Like leadership, good teamwork and collaboration involves a combination of other soft skills. Working in a team towards a common goal requires social intuition and interpersonal acumen to know not only when to take the lead but also when to be a good follower. Good team players are both perceptive and receptive to the needs and responsibilities of others.

8) Project Management Skills

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“What are we trying to achieve?” is the essence of project management.

The effective organisation, planning and implementation of projects can set you one notch above others. Employees with good project management skills save their bosses and business valuable time and effort because they can be given projects to run independently. Effective project management requires a range of other competencies, such as efficient and detailed planning, a good sense for time and deadlines and coordination with various stakeholders to the desired budget and quality.

9) Problem Solving Skills

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The ability to use creativity, reasoning, past experience and available resources to resolve issues is useful and valuable. Problem solving also extends beyond specific analytical skills but involves a particular mindset: those who can approach a problem with a calm and collected head will often reach a solution more effectively than those who cannot.

This is a holistic soft skill which includes the willingness to work with others, as problems cannot always be solved alone. Having an instinct to know who can help you reach a solution, and how they do it, is a great advantage.

10) Research, Observation and Interpretation Skills

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Hiring managers seek employees that’re skilled at assessing situations, able to seek multiple perspectives and gather more in-depth information. However, it’s not enough to be able to just gather information and leave it as it is.

The ability to meaningfully analyse, interpret and make inferences helps people gain more insights.

What story does the data tell and what questions are raised? According to Lynne Sarikas, the MBA Career Director at Northeastern University, rather than handing your boss a basic spreadsheet, if you can instead “give them a business summary and highlight the key areas for attention, and suggest possible next steps,” you’ve just set yourself one notch above your peers.

11) Decisiveness Skills

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Indecisiveness wastes precious time for businesses, especially when markets and industries move at a rapid speed today; lagging behind in decision-making can mean the difference between establishing oneself as a market leader or becoming obsolete.

However, knowing the distinction between decisiveness and recklessness also implies a soft skill in itself. Decisiveness is based on the information you have and not in speculations. Decisiveness entails a number of different competencies simultaneously, including the ability to put things into perspective, weigh options and choices, assess all relevant information and anticipate the consequences of making a choice. 

12) Networking Skills

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Networking is essential, especially for entrepreneurs in forming relationships with others. Click To Tweet

The stronger your network is, the easier it is for your business operations, whether it’s sourcing for business partners, or getting advice from industry mentors. Networking is for anyone who’s interested in connecting and developing professional relationships with others. This connection can be of advantage in either your career or business growth. It’s important to remember that the networking process should benefit both parties and not just one person. Having valuable people skills helps in this aspect too. 

13) Adaptability and Flexibility Skills

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The adage, “change is the only constant”, is truer today than ever before.

In today’s technology-driven and rapidly evolving business environment, the ability to pick up on new technologies and flexibly adjust to changing business surroundings is important. We can either resist and be taken away by change, or we can move with it.

The modern workplace strongly value employees who can adapt to these changes quickly, and those who excel at their job are also the same individuals who embrace new ideas and are flexible in how they approach work. Employees need to have a passion for learning and inculcate the ability to stretch their skills to be more adaptive to the changing needs of the business.

14) Strong Work Ethic

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Unsurprisingly, employers seek employees that take initiative, are reliable, attention to detail and can do the job right the first time.

Having a positive attitude and the initiative to work well without round-the-clock supervision is a vital soft skill for any employee. Employers value employees who can work independently, listen to instructions properly and yet help their colleagues who need help. Not only does it demonstrate reliability and commitment, but it shows that you can fit efficiently into the company culture easily without the need for constant oversight.

How Do I Develop Soft Skills?

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The good news is soft skills can be learned. Do not underestimate informal ways to improve your soft skills. Take time to go for relevant courses, attend activities or events that requires you to apply the above mentioned soft skills. 

Be open to having mentors. When approaching a potential mentor, compliment that person with a specific example in which you’ve seen him demonstrate a particular skill, advises Ed Muzio, the author of Make Work Great. “Then ask whether that person would be willing to share ideas with you about how you might achieve the same level of capability.”

Working with nonprofit organisations gives you the opportunity to build soft skills, and volunteering is ideal because such organisations are very welcome and appreciative for any help to come on board. Such social environments are risk-free spaces for you to practice soft skills that you might want to further improve on.

How Do I Present My Soft Skills?

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You should first spend some time noting what soft skills you have and highlight them in both your CV and during job interviews. However, while hard skills can be shown via qualifications, soft skills are harder to display during the hiring process.

Claims about soft skills should be strongly reinforced with real examples drawn from professional, personal or academic experiences to prove the credibility of it. 

For instance, to demonstrate empathy skills, mention a recent case at work or school where perhaps there were disagreements and tension during a project meeting. Since disagreements happen pretty often, it’s puts you in a good light if you were to explain how you handled the situation gracefully by learning to look and understand the opinion of another (empathy) and came to a peaceful resolution (problem-solving). 

Therefore, remember to show, don’t tell: anyone can say they have a certain skill, but who’s going to prove its true? 

When undergoing an interview, this is your first opportunity to demonstrate interpersonal skills to your prospective employers. Be professional, make eye contact, shake hands, listen closely to the questions and answer them truthfully. As soft skills are all related to social and emotional factors, this first impression counts for a lot!

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