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The Hard Truth About Soft Skills

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Updated By: Tammy Moore on Thu, Feb 20, 2020

If you and your team are still using the term “soft skills,” it’s time to evaluate your approach to cultivating and growing talent within your team. The hard truth about soft skills is that there is no such thing as soft skills. If you’ve ever managed or worked with a colleague who was a technical rockstar but struggled to communicate or connect with team members, or consistently exhibited poor judgment with complex issues, then you know the importance of a holistic approach to assessing the right personality, style, and skills for your team. The so-called "soft skills" are just as crucial as the technical requirements of most careers.

Things Change Fast. And Some Things Never Change.

Technology will continue to rapidly come and go, and today’s business needs will look dramatically different than the needs of tomorrow, next week, or next month. Five years from now, there will be job titles in our workplaces that we haven’t even heard of today. The same goes for degrees and areas of study. What won’t change? The need for people who are dynamic, adaptable, and flexible.

As evidenced in my own career development, I don’t believe I have ever earned a new position or promotion because I was the smartest, fastest, or most capable person in the room. On the contrary, I’m grateful for leaders and mentors early in my career (and still today) who encourage me to pay attention to my natural gifts and who push me to continue to grow in new areas.

3 Skills for Success

Image of people sitting in a circle and talking

Here’s a short list of skills that are essential for success. None of these can be automated, and they will keep us (and our team members) employable regardless of what the future holds.

Problem-solving

The ability to approach problems with resilience and capacity is key. In other words, we need people who can stay with problems for as long as it takes to solve them instead of disengaging and giving up. The ability to do this well is often accentuated with a “never give up” attitude and a willingness to encourage others around us.

Emotional Control

Some research suggests that getting control of our emotions is the single most important skill we can learn. I find that emotional control can be demonstrated by one’s ability to manage anxiety and stress in high-pressure situations and to think about the larger purpose or vision of a situation rather than “me-centered” thinking. We can help each other by recognizing triggers that spiral us, and the situation, out of control.

Purpose

Connecting to a mission beyond ourselves and our own interests can carry us and our teams through tough times which invariably happen at work. According to Annie McKee, author of How to be Happy at Work, “We are wired to seek meaning in everything we do. It’s what makes us human. In some cases, it’s what keeps us alive.” Watch for people who demonstrate purpose — they use words such as “we, us, company, vision, clients,” and steer away from “me, my, and I.”

Another hard truth about soft skills? Most companies don’t take time to articulate what they are and why they’re important. Dare to ditch the “soft skills” label and consider what skills, experiences, and behaviors are most valued at your company. Individually and as a team, reflect on: What does success look like? When do I feel best about my work? What goes “right” when our team earns a big win? This will be effort well spent, and you’ll be miles ahead of companies who continue to debate “why soft skills are so hard.” Duh.

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Tammy Moore

About The Author

Tammy Moore

Tammy believes people are the power behind courageous, leading-edge ideas and with a little guidance, mentorship, and a big dose of cheerleading, anything is possible. She focuses on hiring, cultivating, and championing the Leighton Interactive tribe.

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