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, rather 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. 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.

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 employee 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 coworkers 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 good leaders also are 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.

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 improve when workers collaborate by sharing knowledge and tools to get jobs done. The ability to learn new methods and technologies also is 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 when all workers know how to troubleshoot software problems instead of relying on the information technology (IT) department for every fix.

[Important: 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.]

Key Takeaways

  • Soft skills include personal traits that help employees interact with others and get the most out of their hard skills.
  • Hard skills include the technical knowledge and physical ability to perform certain jobs or tasks.