In a recent survey conducted earlier this year, it is reported that soft skills are worth over £88 billion (more than RM476 billion) in gross value added to the UK economy each year, making it an important contribution to the service industry. Another large-scale survey conducted in the USA found that the top attributes companies look for when hiring new employees are communication skills (83%) and the ability to work within a team (74%).
Where qualifications, credentials and experience are important factor in determining whether someone gets offered their dream job, soft skills are the vital deciding factor as to whether someone will succeed in their career.
Hence soft skills are being highly valued by more and more companies now as they realize how these skills directly contribute to the wellbeing of the organization. Soft skills are also increasingly being recognized as key competencies that working adults need in order to secure employment and succeed in their chosen field.
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What are soft skills?
The term ‘soft skills’ refers to a cluster of personality traits that a person possesses. It refers to the interpersonal and relationship-building skills needed to help people communicate and collaborate effectively. It includes an individual’s ability to listen well, pay attention to details, communicate effectively, manage conflict calmly, work well with others (even while under tight deadlines), manage time & work pressure effectively, accept criticism & responsibility, be likeable, and maintain a positive mindset in general. Soft skills are relevant to everyone in all occupations and employment levels, including senior executives.
With these soft skills, anyone can excel as a valued member or leader of their organization. Matters such as problem solving, managing a team and delegating assignments, as well as team building are much easier if employees have good soft skills. Knowing how to get along with others and displaying a positive attitude are crucial for success.
Why soft skills matter
However, the importance of these skills is still often undervalued or overlooked, and thus far less soft skills trainings are provided to employees. Organizations are still holding onto to the ‘expectation’ that their employees should know how to behave accordingly while doing their job, such as being friendly, cooperative and producing high quality work in a timely manner.
What organizations fail to realize is – just as every individual is unique, not all employees possess the same qualities, behaviors and attributes to succeed in the workplace. When there is a skills gap, the whole organization is not working in sync, leading to various challenges. For example, it can lead to increased workload on other staff, difficulties in meeting quality standards, delays in introducing new work practices, or even losing business opportunities to competitors, resulting in diminished productivity, competitiveness and profitability of an organization.
Soft Skills that are Key for Success
Out of the most common soft skills one should possess to ensure success, the top five that have been identified to be most essential are:
1) Communication & interpersonal skills
This is perhaps the most common ‘requirement’ that you will find in most job postings. Skilled communicators are able to develop constructive working relationships with colleagues, understand instructions given and convey their ideas in an agreeable manner. They are also able to change their communication style to suit different tasks – from handling costumer complaints to persuading customers to purchase products or services. Examples of effective communication skills include: effective listening; accurate and concise oral & written communication; the ‘know how’ to asking good questions.
2) Teamwork skills
Good team players will have a clear picture of the team goals and will work effortlessly with others to achieve them. They are accountable, open and honest, adaptable & flexible, punctual with meeting deadlines, willing to listen to others’ feedback and are proactive in offering constructive suggestions. Moreover, they possess a positive and encouraging attitude, as well as being proactive in offering constructive suggestions.
3) Time and self-management skills
When there are deadlines to meet, good time managers will know to prioritize the most important tasks first, and then decide which actions will produce the maximum results with the minimum effort. They are also ‘good jugglers’ – knowing how to work on several different projects at once and having a sense of urgency to complete tasks. Other than efficient work habits, good time managers also need to be good ‘self’ managers – having well developed ethics and a sense of loyalty, taking responsibility for own actions, and dedicated to continually developing self for career as well as personal aspirations.
4) Decision-making & Initiative-taking
Gathering all relevant data and important facts, seeking advice, looking at the big picture, considering alternatives, taking finer details into account, being aware of consequences and preparing alternatives – these are all things that go into making good decisions and taking initiative. With these traits, a person is then able to identify and analyze problems better, take effective and appropriate actions to create workable solutions.
Sometimes though, even with the best plans, things may not work out exactly how we envisioned it to be. In such instances, it is important to remember that “There is no failure; only feedback” – which simply means to see the situation as feedback rather than failure. Instead of being wrong we’ve learned how not to do something. Instead of feeling bad we are free to form a new plan of action and try again.
5) Professionalism & Leadership skills
Leadership skills is one that most people would know of. What about professionalism? Is that even a skill? Actually it is, and one that the younger generation is seen to be lacking more and more of. It was revealed that many interviewers and managers have commented about how potential candidates or younger team members are behaving quite unprofessionally. Such behaviors range from pouting or whining when asked difficult questions, being absent from interviews and not having the courtesy to inform interviewers, throwing tantrums in the workplace, as well as replying emails in slang terms, SMS short forms or emoticons.
In order to refine professionalism & leadership skills, one should learn to accept criticism positively, understand what is appropriate decorum and etiquette in different situations, and invest time in building professional relationships.
In summary, soft skills are as essential to an organization and to a person’s career growth as technical skills are.
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