Definition

soft skills

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

The term soft skills refers to the personal traits, characteristics and competencies that inform to how an individual relates to others and is often used as a synonym for people skills or interpersonal skills.

The term describes those personal attributes that indicate a high level of emotional intelligence. These skills can include empathy, analytical thinking and etiquette. Soft skills are attributes that are impossible to quantify but play an important factor in many business settings.

Why are soft skills important?

Unlike hard skills, which describe a person's technical skills and abilities to perform specifically defined 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, as well as to successfully lead and influence others.

Examples of soft skills

An employee with a high level of emotional intelligence has good communication skills and interpersonal skills. They can clearly articulate goals and can work in a team with a positive attitude.

There are several examples of soft skills that company leaders value:

  • ambition
  • self-management skills
  • time-management
  • confidence
  • friendliness and manners
  • enthusiasm and optimism
  • focus
  • common sense
  • empathy
  • situational awareness

Another important soft skill is adaptability. The ability to be diplomatic and respectful, even during disagreements, is a key soft skill. This skill requires the employee to maintain a professional tone and demeanor even when frustrated. In 2018, LinkedIn listed leadership, communication, collaboration and time management as the top four most in-demand soft skills.

Technology company iCIMS Inc., which develops recruiting and other employee management-related software, analyzed its proprietary data and found that problem-solving, adaptability and time management are the top three soft skills that recruiters seek in candidates.

They also seek candidates who are ambitious, confident, friendly, charismatic, articulate, enthusiastic, determined, easygoing, efficient and focused, according to findings publicized by iCIMS on its website in 2018.

most valued soft skills

Why are soft skills important?

Business executives and leaders are making soft skills more of a priority when hiring, as they are often essential for workers to succeed in modern organizations.

Business projects often require employees to work as a team, making employees' abilities to have positive interactions with others just as valuable as the technical tasks they're asked to accomplish. As a result, business leaders are seeking workers who possess team work, collaboration, communication, problem-solving skills, and other emotional and cognitive capabilities to work in multimember, multidisciplinary teams that are geographically and/or cultural dispersed.

For businesses that have a customer service/relations component, strong soft skills are a way to ensure a positive relationship between customer and company without providing extensive training.

Soft skills training

Businesses and individuals can close the soft skills gap through training. Individuals should start by asking family and trusted colleagues for feedback, which can help individual employees to identify the soft skills which require improvement.

Individuals can also improve their soft skills through mentoring and classes, as well as by simply observing and emulating how others successfully interact with peers and handle difficult interpersonal situations.

Working with a professional coach and reading self-help books and articles can assist in this process, as well as self-assessment tools like the Myers-Briggs personality profile test.

This was last updated in October 2018

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useful informarion but needs further elaboration without using technical jargon..
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It is already required by most of us.
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Even apprentices need to start with some soft skills or they wouldn't be there at all. And without some soft skills (AKA passion, humanity) the office would be a far emptier place. After that, we all (hopefully) learn on the job.
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I had very, very few soft skills required for the workplace (or life in general!). I was a very shy child and I've always been introverted. So, I'm always working on it and continuing to learn how to act and behave more socially. And it is acting - I'll always be an introverted person even if it is sometimes beneficial to act otherwise. 
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I tried to be practical in this aspect, by encouraging my co-worker soldering skill.
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I have to learn them on the job
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There's a recent Freakonomics podcast episode that I thought was very interesting. It was about how many people who played in rock bands for extended periods developed many skills that helped them immensely in different careers (I've been amazed at how many musicians I performed with over they years made a successful transition to technical careers). In many ways, the soft skills that are essential to surviving as a performing musician dovetail nicely into technical careers, including the ability to interact with others, to sync up in work situations, and perhaps most important, the development of a "thick skin".
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Did you intuitively possess the soft skills required for workplace success or did you have to learn them on the job?
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This is a great article for not only the tech sector (although sorely needed in many cases), but for every sector. Ever wonder why the other person got promoted, there's a good chance that it might have been people skills. I am fortunate in that I am very outgoing and have always been identified as the person who can bridge gaps. I compliment abuell, most people do not try to work on their soft skills let alone recognize the fact that they may be lacking. Great article.
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I started out with reliance on tech skills but over time my clients and teams expected the soft skills. I think I has to be become more aware and develop and continue to work on these soft skills as my career progressed.
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Both
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Frankly, all the soft skills I needed in the workplace I learned in kindergarten - and throughout my childhood. My first job reinforced those behaviors that I already developed. Subsequently, I learned that not all work environments are the same nor do they require application of the same soft skills to be successful. The one skill that is critical is to adapt to the culture of the workplace.
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No one is born good at "soft skills". Some were grown in the environment that stimulated the growth of these skills. Later in life, some people make a choice to work on the improvement of those skills. The organizations could do a better job helping people to develop these skills. On the other hand, a responsible adult should take charge of their own personal and professional development.
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Which employee soft skills have been most beneficial to your company?
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@bariyar, we expanded this definition. Take a look!
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Since the term, 'skill' is contrasted with 'instinct' or the inborn ability, we concede that soft skill is not and inborn quality. It is acquired by exposure to various types of situations.
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Soft skills are neither good nor bad in nature as most of the people think or define! Soft skills are simply a person's way or nature or ability of carrying out an action or event by words, behavior, acts or inaction by which the resulting consequence is favorable  or unfavorable to him or her.

for example a liar can cheat a  person using his soft skills of convincing the people to trust him. A person can compliment and elevate another person's spirits and bring cheerfulness in his life. A person can behave rudely and get rid of a nagging person or a beggar who begs every time he sees him during the day!

Soft skills simply means the way we present ourselves to others to make an impact on them so that we achieve what we desire to get.

In Personality Development and communication training people mainly speak about the constructive ways of soft skills to bring about positive results. but Beware there are millions of people who use their soft skills to betray you, to cheat you, to put you down, to defeat you, to disillusion you, to disappoint you, to give you false hope, to convince you for wrong things or even to put you suffering and death!

As good human beings in universal brotherhood we should always help each other to constructively develop our lives and personalities but should also learn and train one another to recognize the anti social elements who can use their soft skills falsely for their selfish gains!
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