soft skills

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: A guide to talent management tools and trends
Contributor(s): Mary Pratt

Soft skills is a synonym for "people skills." The term describes those personal attributes that indicate a high level of emotional intelligence.

Unlike hard skills, which describe a person's technical skill set and ability to perform specific tasks, soft skills are broadly applicable across job titles and industries. It's often said that hard skills will get you an interview but you need soft skills to get -- and keep -- the job.

The attributes of soft skills

Good manners, optimism, common sense, a sense of humor, empathy and the ability to collaborate and negotiate are all important soft skills. Other soft skills include situational awareness and the ability to read a situation as it unfolds to decide upon a response that yields the best result for all involved. 

Another important soft skill is adaptability. An employee with this attribute has the ability to work in various situations equally well and move from one situation to another with ease and grace. The ability to be diplomatic and respectful even when there are disagreements is also a key soft skill. This skill requires the employee to maintain a professional tone and demeanor even when frustrated. 

An employee with a high level of emotional intelligence has good communication skills and interpersonal skills. He can clearly articulate goals and can work in a team. He knows when to take a leadership role and when to sit back. He knows when to speak, when to listen and when to suggest a compromise. 

How to improve your soft skills

Business leaders value technologists who have soft skills or people skills because they have empathy and the ability to adjust their communication to the audience at hand. Although many individuals inherently possess these abilities, others must work to develop them.

Asking family and trusted colleagues for feedback can also help employees identify which soft skills require improvement as can simply observing and emulating how others successfully interact with others and handle difficult interpersonal situations. A professional coach, self-help books and articles on leadership can assist in this process, as can self-assessment tools like the Myers-Briggs personality profile test.

This was last updated in December 2015

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