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The rise of soft skills

Going back to basics in a fast-changing world

4 minute read
Group of colleagues laughing

While the world is quickly embracing all the benefits of advanced technology and working remotely, nothing beats face-to-face connection in an organisation.

However, to get the most out of face-to-face interaction, soft skills are important.

Defined as personal attributes and interpersonal skills, which enable effective and harmonious relationships with other people – particularly in the workplace – Speaking Savvy and the Soft Skills Academy Chief Executive Officer Lisa Evans said while there were still humans in the workplace, every individual needed to have soft skills.

“Building trust and rapport, authenticity around human communication and connection is something automation will not be able to replicate,” she said.

“Being able to build effective professional relationships is key to being successful in business and being in a high-performing organisation.

“It’s not something which individuals can pass to somebody else – you need to take responsibility via your own learning and development, and we need to cultivate our soft skills because we should want to get ahead as an individual.”

Melissa Langdon Consulting Director Adjunct Professor Melissa Langdon FAIM said soft skills – or human skills – were critical workplace competencies, which are difficult to replicate in a world of artificial intelligence and automation.

“The ability to coach, communicate and show curiosity towards others are valuable human skills complementing the achievement of task-oriented goals,” she said.

“They allow organisations to innovate, build capacity and respond with agility to a changing world.”

But what are some soft skills and how can they be incorporated in a workplace for the entire organisation to reap the rewards?

Different types of soft skills

Ms Evans said there was a range of soft skills, however, one that stood out the most was effective communication.

“Effective communication comprises being able to speak confidently and clearly, and being able to articulate your ideas to get your point of view across,” she said.

“This soft skill would also enable you to navigate more challenging conversations, so it encompasses speaking, presenting and communicating your ideas.

“Influence is another important one, as well as persuasion – being able to inspire others to buy into your ideas.

“We know people don’t change because we tell them to, they change because they are buying into our ideas.

“So, the ability to influence and persuade in an authentic way is really important.”

Ms Evans said other soft skills recognised within the workplace included trust and empathy, navigating cognitive bias and emotional intelligence.

According to Dr Langdon, two soft skills becoming more important in the workplace are coaching and curiosity.

“The ability to leverage different team members’ strengths, support them with their challenges, find opportunities to learn from failure and support innovation is at the heart of coaching,” she said.

“Curiosity is about being humble and open-minded, avoiding judgements, seeking feedback, challenging biases and assumptions, and creating cultures that celebrate difference through respectful and robust conversations which support innovation.”

The benefits of soft skills

Ms Evans said the importance of soft skills in the workplace was emphasised more after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need to be able to navigate complex and fast-changing workplaces, and we need to be able to be versatile and adaptable in the work we are doing and in the way we do our work,” she said.

“The benefits of having soft skills are you are more self-aware, you have a high level of soft leadership, and you are then able to understand and show empathy and compassion for others.”

Soft skills versus human skills

Dr Langdon said many leadership experts had started to veer away from the term ‘soft skills’ due to the word ‘soft’ being reductive and diminishing the importance of critical human skills like building relationships, resolving conflicts, coaching others and creating effective workplace cultures.

“These critical human skills are just as important – if not more so – than task-oriented skills such as managing budgets, meeting deadlines and managing productivity,” she said.

“In the past, soft skills have sometimes been attributed to women while hard skills or task-oriented attributes have had a more masculine association. This gendered language is problematic in a progressive and contemporary world.”

Implementing and developing soft skills

Making the decision to invest in the development of soft skills on both an individual and organisation level can pay dividends.

“Firstly it’s important to recognise their importance – soft skills are just as important as technical skills,” Ms Evans said.

“Recognise they are more on-the-job skills, so they are something which needs to be developed over time, and there is a need to invest in quality training and coaching for their employees.”

Dr Langdon said there were a number of ways to increase the level of human skills being used in the workplace daily.

“Coaching programs, training and development workshops, actively seeking feedback and setting organisational values and key performance indicators are all linked to core human skills,” she said.