What are 'Soft Skills'

Soft skills are character traits and interpersonal skills that characterize a person's relationships with other people. In the workplace, soft skills are considered a complement to hard skills, which refer to a person's knowledge and occupational skills. Sociologists may use the term soft skills to describe a person's "EQ" or "Emotional Intelligence Quotient," as opposed to "IQ" or "Intelligence Quotient."

BREAKING DOWN 'Soft Skills'

Soft skills have more to do with who people are, rather than what they know. As such, soft skills encompass the character traits that decide how well one interacts with others, and are usually a definite part of one's personality. Whereas hard skills can be learned and perfected over time, soft skills are more difficult to acquire and change. The soft skills required for a doctor, for example, would be empathy, understanding, active listening and a good bedside manner. Alternatively, the hard skills necessary for a doctor would include a vast comprehension of illnesses, the ability to interpret test results and symptoms, and a thorough understanding of anatomy and physiology.

Soft Skills for Workers

Employers look for a balance of hard and soft skills when they make hiring decisions. For example, employers value skilled workers with a track record of getting the job done on time. Employers also value workers with strong communication skills and a strong understanding of company products and services. When communicating with prospective clients, workers with employee skills can put together compelling presentations even if their specific job is not in sales or marketing. Other valued soft skills are the ability to coach fellow coworkers on new tasks and cultural fit.

Soft Skills for Leaders

Company leaders are also most effective when they have a strong set of soft skills. For example, leaders are expected to have strong speaking abilities, but good leaders are also good at listening to workers and to other leaders in their fields. Negotiation is a big part of the job for company leaders. When negotiating with employees, clients or associates, leaders need to be skilled in staying considerate of what others want, while they remain focused on pushing for what they want. Good leaders also need to know how to make their own work most efficient by strategically delegating tasks to workers.

Soft Skills for Organizations

Soft skills benefit businesses when they are practiced on a company-wide basis. For example, a collaborative spirit among workers is important. Efficiency and output improves when workers collaborate by sharing knowledge and tools to get jobs done. The ability to learn new methods and technologies is also a desired soft skill for all workers. Companies that value learning as a soft skill recognize various learning styles and encourage workers to pursue the methods that work best for them. Good troubleshooting is a soft skill that is also valuable to companies. For example, companies can operate more efficiently when all workers know how to troubleshoot software problems instead of relying on the information technology (IT) department for every fix.

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