How to Develop Top Soft Skills Not Learned at School or Work


Job listings often describe the skills needed to perform in a position. However, many of the skills required for success fall under the category of soft skills.  Many employees may be hired for their knowledge and yet may end up being fired for their behavior or lack of social skills.  Forbes reported that 46% of newly hired employees will fail within 18 months.  Mitchell Communications Group found that companies lose $37 billion a year in the United States due to miscommunication.  Research from Adecco Staffing considered what the C-suite thinks about the type of skills employees lack. They found that the C-suite believed 44% lacked soft skills including communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration.  This has led to missed growth opportunity, low productivity, and reduced profits.

The good news is that we can improve these social or soft skills.  The first step is realizing that there is always room for improvement. It can help to observe others who have strong skills that may need development.  To determine areas that may need improvement, start by considering some questions.

  • Do you listen more than you speak?
  • What verbal and non-verbal cues do others receive from you?
  • Do teams on which you serve have personality conflict issues?
  • Do recognize your emotions as well as those in others?
  • Are you adaptable to change?
  • Do you find problem-solving and decision-making difficult?
  • Do you manage your time well?
  • Are you motivated to go above and beyond at work?
  • Do you rush to judgment before knowing the facts?
  • Do you seek an inordinate amount of attention for your accomplishments?
  • Do you recognize your weaknesses and are you willing to work on them?
  • Do you become upset easily if things do not go your way?
  • Do you blame others when things do not go your way?
  • Do you remain calm in difficult situations?
  • Do you apologize directly if you hurt someone’s feelings?

It may be critical for people to develop empathy by considering how they would feel in another person’s position.  When making decisions, consider how those decisions will impact others.  Most of the issues that employers deal with are communication-based.  Once you can recognize your own emotions and empathize with how others feel as well, that is a big step to building emotional intelligence.  Emotional intelligence and emotional commitment to one’s job (aka engagement) are two important pieces of the employee success puzzle.

There are two fascinating TED talks that may help.  Amy Cuddy’s talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” and Susan Cain’s The Power of Introverts may provide some insight regarding how to truly know your strengths and weaknesses and learn to embrace them.  Personality and preferences play a big role in how we interact at work.  It is important not to under-estimate the impact of interpersonal skills.  Rather than waiting for schools or employers to help, individuals can learn a lot from:

  • Read more about emotional intelligence, listening, problem-solving, teamwork, collaboration, adaptability, persuasive techniques, and conflict resolution.
  • Watch TED talks like the ones listed above and others that touch on these important topics.
  • Find a mentor who embodies the skills that require development.
  • Volunteer to help others and learn important lessons about being humble.

As with any learning, it takes time to develop soft skills. The U.S. Department of Labor created a great workforce readiness soft skills training downloadable PDF for youth ages 14-21. Although that is intended for young adults, older workers could benefit from many of the activities as well.

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