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Redefining 'Soft'— Why These Skills are Essential for Success in the Modern Workplace
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Author: Jenn Bowman

As the corporate landscape evolves, one term has transformed from a mere buzzword into a vital toolkit for success—Soft skills. These unassuming attributes that once seemed secondary to technical or “hard” skills have now taken the center stage, demonstrating how the power of human connection and communication propels modern professionals and businesses to unprecedented heights.

What are soft skills?
Soft skills encompass a variety of character traits and interpersonal skills that foster positive relationships, such as communication, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, creative problem-solving, teamwork, active listening, adaptability and leadership. In contrast to technical skills (such as programming, marketing, and copywriting) which are typically acquired through formal training, soft skills are human-centered skills that are often innate or cultivated through personal growth and experience. Although their subjective nature makes them harder to quantify, improving competence of soft skills is critical for the success of individuals and businesses as a whole.

“Soft” skills a misnomer?
In the realm of skills, ‘soft’ doesn’t quite capture the true essence of these capabilities. If anything, it discredits their importance and undermines the true difficulty of mastering them. For decades, the categorization and labeling of “hard” skills vs. “soft” skills has caused us to prioritize output at work over character and connections. But characteristics such as empathy, adaptability, and effective communication are robust tools that empower employees and employers alike. Instead of rendering us ‘soft,’ these skills fortify our ability to thrive in a dynamic, interconnected, and often competitive professional arena. In fact, Peter Hanlon, President of Dartmouth College, suggests we call them ‘power skills’ to more accurately describe these critical capabilities (Compass Partnership International, 2020).

The Importance of Soft Power Skills
Research shows soft skills are foundational to great leadership and set high performers apart from their peers (Harvard Business Review, 2023). They’re also increasingly sought by employers. As reported in a McKinsey survey, the proportion of companies addressing empathy and interpersonal skills doubled in 2020 (Mckinsey, 2021). Why the sudden uptick in interest? The impact of soft skills has become increasingly hard to deny, especially in the post-Covid era, where employers recognize the need for empathy and emotional intelligence to support their employees’ mental well-being and to maintain a positive work environment. Soft skills complement technical skills and drive collaboration, communication, and success in any endeavor. In short, they are essential to yield desirable outcomes and sustained results in any field.

Need more reasons to develop your soft skills?
Here are six good ones:

1. Enhanced Employability in Competitive Job Market
Soft skills provide a competitive edge in the job market. As technical skills become more widespread, having strong soft skills distinguishes you from other candidates. Recruiters and employers seek candidates who can not only perform tasks but also collaborate, communicate and fit well within their teams. Developing these skills (and effectively showcasing them in your resume) gives you an advantage in job acquisition, making your application more memorable and appealing.

2. Pathway to Career Advancement
Soft skills play a pivotal role in career growth. As you cultivate these skills, you increase your potential for promotions and raises. By demonstrating qualities like leadership, adaptability, teamwork and integrity you not only improve your immediate job performance, but also show your readiness for more responsibilities, leadership roles, and greater challenges within the organization.

3. Boosted Job Performance and Team Dynamics
Soft skills directly impact your job performance and team interactions. Skills like effective communication, leadership, and conflict resolution enhance your ability to contribute positively to team dynamics, manage projects, and lead others. By mastering these skills, you become a valuable asset to your team, fostering a more productive and harmonious work environment.

4. Adaptability and Job Longevity in Evolving Work Environments
Soft skills are vital for adapting to rapidly changing work environments. Their value shines as industries undergo transformations driven by technological advancements and market shifts. Being adaptable, empathetic, and open to listening and learning equips you to navigate uncertainty and transition smoothly between roles and responsibilities, ensuring you remain relevant and effective.

5. Driving Positive Organizational Culture and Innovation
The cultivation of soft skills serves as a catalyst for fostering an inclusive and innovative workplace culture. Employees who excel in communication, empathy, collaboration and conflict resolution are more likely to contribute positively to an environment where diverse perspectives are valued and creativity thrives. Such an atmosphere encourages trust, brainstorming, idea-sharing, and the development of innovative solutions.

6. Essential for Remote Work Success
As hybrid and remote work gain prominence, soft skills have become essential for maintaining productivity and cohesion. Effective remote collaboration, communication, and time management are crucial in ensuring that teams function efficiently and stay connected, despite physical distance. Your ability to engage in virtual interactions and demonstrate autonomy directly affects your performance and the quality of your contributions in a remote work setting.

In a world where technical proficiency often takes the spotlight, the rise of ‘soft skills’ (arguably better described as ‘power skills’) signals a fundamental shift in our understanding of success. These qualities—emotional intelligence, empathy, active listening, communication, leadership, collaboration, time management, resilience, integrity, adaptability, integrity, etc.—have emerged as the cornerstone of career advancement and organizational growth. Developing and mastering soft skills goes beyond obtaining just a ‘nice-to-have’ trait—it’s an investment that empowers you, and your business, to succeed in an ever-evolving professional landscape.

References
1. Compass Partnership International, 2020. https://www.compasspartnership.com/2020/08/04/moving-from-soft-skills-to-power-skills/#:~:text=Peter%20Hanlon%2C%20President%20of%20Dartmouth,accurately%20describe%20these%20critical%20capabilities
2. Harvard Business Review, 2023.
3. Mckinsey and Company, 2021. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/building-workforce-skills-at-scale-to-thrive-during-and-after-the-covid-19-crisis

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