What are soft skills and why do you need them?

Hannah Sims · 07 May

Is this the worst-named noun in the working world?

There's a lot of business-speak we love to hate, from web-readiness to disruption. But we have a real problem with the phrase 'soft skills', because soft skills are anything but soft.

‘Soft’ makes them sound easy, fluffy, unimportant – worthy only of under-qualified LinkedIn self-promoters.

Hard skills are the tools you need to do a job.

You can’t be a surgeon without the hard skill of suturing. You can’t be a blogger without the hard skill of being able to use a keyboard. But even with those hard skills, you'll still need soft skills to do the job.

Soft skills have a lot to do with emotional intelligence. When we don't take them seriously we undervalue our co-workers, and miss out on ways to develop in our own careers.

Part of the problem comes because the courses we take in soft skills are often short and barely scratch the surface. Anyone who can proudly put 'negotiation' on their CV will tell you that it takes more than six hours in an airless training room to survive a bullying client and a multi-million dollar transaction.

Here are the five soft skills you didn't think very much of – until you realised you didn't have them.

soft skills

Communication

It pretty much underpins everything you do; communication is the soft skill you can’t do without. The fact that there are so many channels of communication in your average office: from Slack, to Skype, to SMS, to semaphore, makes the case for clear and careful speech. But communication isn’t just about speaking (or typing, or waving your flag around) it’s also about listening. 

Conflict resolution

Too often, people’s emotions get in the way of resolving work issues, even ones as silly as the office temperature. To be a master of smoothing over, you need to apply emotional intelligence and be prepared to communicate and compromise. The ability to see a situation from someone else's stand point, especially one you disagree with, is a difficult skill to master, yet it's essential to conflict resolution.

Negotiating

Anyone who’s ever attended a negotiation course will come away with their eyes opened. It’s not just about what you get out of a transaction that’s important. It’s about keeping a working relationship with the person, too. The best negotiators value people and relationships over the product at stake – and still manage to wangle two puddings at the work canteen instead of one.

recruiting trends

Leadership

How can you learn leadership when you’re not in a management position? And how do you learn how to lead when you are? Some people fall into leadership by necessity (or damage control – see the Dilbert principle). But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a skill. Leadership requires empathy, foresight, planning, delegating to the best person, spreading enthusiasm and motivation, listening, problem solving, and even making sure your team feels adequately rewarded and growing. Not much to ask, is it?

Teamwork

These soft skills start to blur into one, don’t they? Teamwork requires a heady cocktail of soft skills, the same way that leadership does: communication, listening, negotiating... Teamwork has had a bad rep, marred for years by the prospect of dreaded company away-days and raft-building. But you can’t get away from the fact that teamwork is strengthened by getting to know and trust your colleagues. There are plenty of fun ways to bond with them (or at least learn their names) through Perkbox Recognition