What Are Soft Skills? Definition, Importance, and Examples

Soft Skills

Tara Anand / Investopedia

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 to be 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 emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) as opposed to intelligence quotient (IQ).

Soft skills have more to do with who people are than what they know. As such, they encompass the character traits that decide how well one interacts with others and usually are a definite part of an individual’s personality. In a competitive labor market, employees who demonstrate that they have a good combination of hard and soft skills often see a greater demand for their services.

Key Takeaways

  • Soft skills include attributes and personality traits that help employees interact with others and succeed in the workplace.
  • Examples of soft skills include the ability to communicate with prospective clients, mentor your co-workers, lead a team, negotiate a contract, follow instructions, and get a job done on time.
  • Hard skills are measurable and usually obtained through formal education and training programs.
  • Workers with good soft skills can help companies achieve higher levels of efficiency and productivity.
  • In contrast to hard skills, soft skills are more difficult to acquire through training.

Understanding Soft Skills

Employers look for a balance of hard skills and soft skills when making hiring decisions. For example, employers value skilled workers with a track record of getting jobs 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 soft skills can put together compelling presentations even if their specific job is not in sales or marketing. Another valued soft skill is the ability to coach fellow co-workers on new tasks.

Company leaders often are most effective when they have strong soft skills. For example, leaders are expected to have good speaking abilities, but great leaders are also good at listening to workers and to other leaders in their fields.

Negotiation is a big part of the job for many company leaders. When negotiating with employees, clients, or associates, leaders need to be skilled in staying considerate of what others want while remaining 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.

Companies often like to hire employees who possess soft skills that mesh well with the rest of the staff, considering them to be a good cultural fit for the company.

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Workers acquire hard skills through formal education, training programs, and concentrated effort. Hard skills are the quantifiable skills that workers need to have to successfully perform a specific job. Employers often test or evaluate a candidate’s hard skills before hiring. Examples of hard skills include computer programming, writing, web development, and graphic design. Some hard skills are more in demand than others, and employers may need to hire recruitment agencies or headhunters to fill jobs that require high-level skills.

Coaching is one of the most common and effective methods for improving soft skills.

Hard skills can be learned and perfected over time, but 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.

Valuable Soft Skills for Employees

Soft skills benefit businesses when they are practiced on a company-wide basis. For example, a collaborative spirit among workers is important. Team members who are able to work well with people of different generations and backgrounds are generally more productive and better able to focus on common priorities. Efficiency and output improve 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 also is valuable to companies. For example, companies can operate more efficiently and increase productivity when all workers know how to troubleshoot software problems instead of relying on the information technology (IT) department for every fix.

Soft skills can also be thought of as people skills. These can include good communication and interpersonal skills, leadership, problem solving, your work ethic, time management, and teamwork. These are characteristics that can be carried over to any position.

What is the difference between a soft skill and a hard skill?

Hard skills are the measurable skills acquired through training, education, and practice. They are the abilities needed to perform a specific task or job. Soft skills are behavioral and interpersonal skills that relate to how effectively people interact with others and handle situations.

Why are soft skills important?

How well you interact and treat others is crucial for career success. Trust develops through positive interactions and relationships, and productivity increases in environments where soft skills flourish.

How do I improve soft skills?

Although not customarily acquired through formal training, soft skills can be learned. To improve soft skills, the person must be open to feedback and make decisions to change behaviors. Training can provide tips and strategies for developing better practices, such as active listening and empathizing with others. And practicing can strengthen areas where deficiencies exist.

What is soft skills training?

Soft skills training is training to help develop or improve interpersonal skills. It consists of lessons to improve communication, increase active listening, resolve conflicts, and more.

Article Sources
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  1. Jefferson Community College, Career Services. “Skills Employers Want! Hard & Soft Skills,” Page 5.

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