The Importance of Soft Skills In The Workplace
Written By: Raizel Harjosubroto, SkillsCamp
Soft Skills In The Workplace
Did you get my email? Many of us would ask this question when we walked by our coworkers at the office. The good old days, where a lot of us got to see our interpersonal skills put to work in a physical environment. Like those small interactions in the boardroom, where teams got to excitedly dream on whiteboards together—the type of collaboration that is hard to mimic over video calls and emails.
Enter 2020, where many individuals unfortunately—and maybe in some ways, fortunately—moved their offices from physical spaces to virtual ones. In part, this happened because several organizations and companies across the nation and world had to make an extreme pivot to fit society’s new work-from-home lifestyle in response to pandemic policies. As a result, the way we used our soft skills in the office (e.g., teamwork, collaboration, communication, public speaking, time management, stress management, conflict resolution, etc.), started to look and be practiced differently.
Anecdotal evidence suggest that this physical to virtual soft skill transition has not been without its challenges. Especially for those individuals and companies who up until last year either did not prioritize foundational soft skills development or thought that soft skills like teamwork, building a team, collaboration, etc., was something that had to be performed in person in a room together.
In a virtual and digital world, people and companies are finding out that being or having their employees be proficient in soft skills are of critical importance.
What Are Soft Skills?
News flash: soft skills are not the same as hard skills.
Soft skills are the skills one needs to help set them up for success in the workplace (physical, digital, social, and virtual)—and in life. At SkillsCamp, soft skills are seen as the skills (sometimes less defined and can be universal) that typically characterize our relationships with other people and how we approach work and life.
A team or a group of employees working together that understands stress management, conflict resolution, collaboration, mindfulness, etc, increase their chances of being able to maintain momentum through a variety of challenges, unforeseen events, and hardships, Bringing Soft Skills to the Forefront and Bailey Parnell - Workplace Learning Report Synopsis, 2018.
Hard skills are the talents and abilities that can be measured, as defined by EdgePoint Learning. These are specific skills related to a role, like copy-writing, coding, illustrating or filming, and can be learned through schooling or even on the job.
Let’s bring that (this soft and hard skill discussion) to real life.
Imagine you’re the leader of a marketing agency and have just found and hired someone who has amazing skills in graphic design. Meaning that your new hire named Alex went to school for graphic design and through their resume has convinced you that they can put together beautiful, eye-catching visuals for your clients’ ad campaigns. Hard skills: check.
Over the next one month you take your new hire through your on-boarding process to ensure they are well-supported and comfortable serving clients. Now imagine, in a meeting a client is giving feedback on some mock-ups Alex created, but the feedback turns into a low-level argument between Alex and the client. Later, Alex refuses to make the changes and is having a hard time seeing the client’s point of view. Eventually you have to step in before you lose the client. Soft skills? No check.
In summary, while Alex has the technical (i.e., hard skills) that can easily be measured, Alex lacks soft skills. Without soft skills, building strong relationships, especially with old or new existing clients or even coworkers that can bloom into beautiful collaborations is not possible.
In other words and in reference to the example above — knowing how to truly listen, resolve conflict, and be flexible actually helps one (e.g. Alex) to showcase their “hard” (e.g. design) skills. You see, it is not hard vs soft skills, rather it is how to maximize both for impact.
Can You Teach Soft Skills?
Can you teach soft skills? This isn’t an easy question to answer, but if a workplace is just as dedicated to helping their employees grow personally and professionally as they are to producing good work, then yes you can.
Soft skills have a big impact on people. There are several different types of soft skills. Many are associated with personality traits like emotional intelligence, good communication, high productivity and a good work ethic. These types of skills are best learned over experiences with other people on the team through interactive activities. For example, imagine trying to learn how to give an informative presentation when you have no one to present to! That’s why these skills are also known as “people skills,” “life skills” or even “social skills.”
Taking it a step further, teams can integrate soft skills development into a high-impact educational practice, a.k.a., a HIEP. These sorts of practices could include writing-intensive courses, collaborative assignments and projects, undergraduate research or community-based learning, according to SkillsCamp’s white paper, https://www.skillscamp.co/download-level-up-whitepaper-skillscamp/.
Here’s why HIEPs work:
They’re effortful and require a commitment to a program that involves dedication to time and energy.
They’re interactive as folks can build relationships, engage in mentoring and share ideas with peers.
It involves rich and frequent feedback to help participants understand their progress and success.
There’s an opportunity, in real-time, to apply to the new skill or ideas learned.
It allows for personal reflection, which helps an individual be more emotionally aware.
Understanding the importance of introducing a soft-skills learning strategy in a team—and truly implementing it—can give the workplace many benefits. We might see it in the way team members reply to emails. Perhaps someone who is known to let deadlines pass them will start using tools they learned by understanding time management. And maybe those who are usually quiet in meetings have picked up the courage to speak more in front of their peers, eager to share their ideas since they’ve learned how to express themselves in the workplace.
Practice Makes Perfect
Just like working out and doing math homework, ensuring you and your employees understand soft skills requires practice. Practice means that there will be lots of trial and error. These up and down experiences will help shape the way you and your employees approach work. In addition, your soft skills will become more intuitive as they are practiced and executed by you, your employees, and even your peers. That’s why employers must give themselves and their employees as many opportunities as possible to put these skills to work!
It’s also important to note that managers make the expectations of their employees as clear as possible. Sometimes there can be a disconnect between a manager’s expectations and an employee’s understanding of their performance. If you’re worried that your team doesn’t understand your expectations and goals set out for them, ask them to self-assess and then regroup to get to a point where you’re on the same page about their roles and responsibilities.
Lastly, to help your employees, teams, etc., practice those soft skills while ensuring they do not become overwhelmed, make sure you are giving them a variety of opportunities to practice, reflect, adjust, and learn via:
Team-based and solo projects
Long-term and quick-hit tasks
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The old saying could not ring more true. The best way to ensure that teams are equipped with soft skills is to be proactive. Soft skills are just as crucial and needed as hard skills, so don’t let them fall through the cracks as you think about your learning and development priority list!
Raizel Harjosubroto is a self-proclaimed internet explorer using her freelance writing, social media, and digital skills in helping organizations share their stories, including SkillsCamp.
She has helped other organizations with their e-newsletters, sharing the latest news, trends, and conversations around digital wellness and internet culture.
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