WTF are soft skills?

Being smart at your computer skills might not be enough...

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🏋️ The way we know how skills work

You prepare yourself for technical skills, you practice every day the programming language you prefer to get a job in the future, or maybe have a freelance job, or what about having a promotion if you get that certification that's very demanding in the company you work for. Those technical skills are called hard skills due to the knowledge you need to have to perform a specific task.

Most of us want to specialize in some areas of knowledge, if you're reading this blog, it's for sure you're interested in technology and you know that there are a lot of fields in which you can specialize.

The way we measure technical skills is by having a certification issued by a well-known company or institution, a score you have in a test or exam at college, or your performance at work that is known as a metric or KPI.

😳 Non-technical skills (?)

It's easy to define what skills are in terms of benefits, their measurability, their specificity, and how companies can give you a credential or certification that'll work as an exposure of your performance, however, there's a different type of skill that's quite complicated to define.

These are non-technical skills, in a nutshell, they are abilities that help us to relate with other people.

We call those skills: Soft skills because it's the opposite of hard skills, some others call them People skills because that's the only field where you are going to use them by building positive relationships.

📕 Characteristics

In most of my blog posts, I talk about knowledge and practice in JavaScript or technology in general, but now, I want to focus on these types of skills to deeply understand their use case and apply that to our career.

So, it's important to define their characteristics to differentiate them out of technical skills.

✅ Applicable in any field

When you have a technical skill (and I will use programming as an example from now on) you can only use that skill in the companies that require it. If you apply as a chef in a big restaurant, of course, you're not gonna code, you won't even use a computer there or the other way around, maybe a chef won't know how to use a computer if he's hired by Google as a software engineer. That's incompatible.

However, when it comes to soft skills, you can apply them to a big restaurant (I say restaurant because I used to work as a cook some time ago) and also at Google, for example, I can mention leadership. If you cook in the restaurant, that doesn't limit you to build a team and create a new dish or guide them on how to prepare 200 dishes in 1 hour for an event.

The same applies if I work at Google, leadership will be useful if you need to deploy certain features, but there are some insights you need to take from before doing it. In that case, you build a team, gather feedback and start working on the deployment of the feature or project.

Even though it's a different context, the leadership skills are valid and you can apply the building-team task in any place you go (or work and I will focus on the work environment when talking about soft skills).

✅ Non-measurable

I work in a company where everything is measured, they call it KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and they are specifically for hard skills. I have a KPI called CSAT (Customer Satisfaction), which consists that customers who will score my work and their satisfaction with a score. I have to get more than 8 out of 10 as a score to pass that KPI.

Most of the big companies do that, small businesses may not measure that KPI, but they have other ones like sales or revenue, which is critical for the life of the business.

On the other hand, soft skills are very difficult to measure because they define the quality of the behavior, it would be ridiculous to say in a job interview: "Hey, I'm scored with 9 out 10 as a leader". What are the facts? Was there any secret test you took? Did you go to college to learn leadership?

At the same time, (and you may see it as a disadvantage), since they can't be measured, that's why they're difficult to develop. Schools or colleges don't teach you these skills. You can go to a leadership seminar, but it won't make you a leader overnight.

Even expert leaders have difficulties applying these skills because that's not something you study for, you learn these skills by having experience, putting yourself into practice, and making mistakes.

✅ Identifiable in a context

I mentioned above soft skills can't be measured, however, you can notice if people apply those skills into their lives. You can distinguish who is acting as a leader and who is a follower.

This is like observing a person and do a checklist with closed questions (Yes/No answers) for the selected skill:

  • Does this person guide others?
  • Does this person create and take initiative?
  • Does this person have followers?

I mean, those are subjective questions people will do, some people will agree with the answers and some people won't, but you can have a framework of what that skill means.

Another problem with this is that if you want to people perceive this skill on you, you have to show up with your decisions and actions. The way you work is how people will notice what are the soft skills you have and that involves your reputation.

✅ One objective: Deal with people's feelings

In the characteristics above I constantly mention the words "people" or "others", because that's what soft skills all about. We're socials, we need to interact with others, however, the way we do it, will change their perspective they have from us.

This is not restrictive to a positive perspective but a negative too and I can assure that the lack of soft skills will affect negatively other's people perception. Of course, it could be in a different amount, with a big or small impact, but definitely, it will be negative.

If you are going to comply with any of the soft skills, it's to serve other people in a better way and these skills have implicit that there's gonna be another person or other people interacting with you.

👥 What's in it for other people?

Since the main objective is to deal with people's feelings, people will benefit from a personality with soft skills, let's check some of the benefits.

✔️ Good environment

People are gonna be comfortable with you, because you know how to handle their feelings and personalities, and everybody will look for you for any task.

Believe me, in a workstation where you have to interact with a lot of people, soft skills are on-demand, nobody can't stand someone with a bad attitude when working.

✔️ Efficiency

As there are no obstacles to deal with you, people will feel that you are a diligent person, and it will be easier to have you in their team to work.

I think that's the reason why companies are looking for people with soft skills, as the good environment is an opportunity to work well, it makes any backlog lighter as the cooperation among departments is evident.

✔️ Reduce stress

Having a bad work environment and inefficiency in processes or workload could make people stressed because there's unnecessary pressure from the overload. That's bad if you want to take care of your health and it will pay in the long term. So that's why it's important to have people managing soft skills.

🙋 What's in it for me?

Soft skills could mean an altruist term in which you give everything for everybody and nothing is for you, but I take a look at soft skills as a benefit for myself, and I think it's bigger than the benefit you deliver to others. I'll mention the most important benefits you can get from soft skills.

☑️ Mental health

This is the most important benefit I think because your health is what you need if you want to continue living, mental health is important. My experience interacting with people with bad soft skills is awful. They are unhappy people, they want to do things on their way, and once they're not approved they feel depressed.

Having good soft skills is related to optimism and happiness, and it's proven it'll affect your health.

☑️ Productivity

Productivity is doing less and achieving more. If you have a project in which you need to involve more people, the way you interact with them will help you get things done.

As I mentioned a couple of paragraphs above, there's an efficiency mindset, and people will acknowledge it.

☑️ Faster results and opportunities

Not only you're gonna get things done, but you're also going to get the results faster because there's this harmony effect that will make you achieve things easier. Imagine a group where communication is bad, nobody wants to talk to anyone, and projects get delayed because of a colleague not wanting to cooperate.

Also, as long as you have strong soft skills, it'll give you the chance to apply for better opportunities, since people notice that you are productive, a good leader, or a good communicator, being promoted is a big possibility, or getting that client for your business. It's a matter of building a reputation.

☑️ Same attitude to you

The golden rule is "treat others as you want to be treated". It's also a big possibility that if you show a good attitude due to your soft skills, you're gonna be treated the same way.

If you are a good colleague, you're gonna have better colleagues, if you communicate things well, you're gonna receive good communication, if you are a good employee, you're gonna have a good boss.

I want to mention something important with my last statement, you can argue that you're a good employee but you don't have a good boss, or you don't have good colleagues. That's why having strong soft skills is important for you. If you are not treated the same way, get out. As I mention, there are more opportunities for people with strong soft skills (there are many more for sure), better companies will agree on this and they welcome and value assets like soft skills.

📕 Soft skills list

Okay, too much talking, let's review and define some of the most important soft skills. I'm not covering all the concepts, but I'll give you some ideas for you to research a little bit more.

📳 Communication

Communication is the ability to express or deliver a message in a clear way. It seems simple, but it's not. Talking in front of people might be disgusting to some because the message has to be clear and you have to show that you know what you're saying.

Depending on the message you want to deliver, that's the way you have to adapt your tone of voice, body language, if it's a topic with some additional or special knowledge, you have to study a little bit more to express it.

It's also important to know your audience, are they elders receiving a technical topic? are they beginners in a specific field? Do you have to talk more technical jargon for important people?

I know, it looks like I'm talking about giving a speech, but communication skills are also included in a casual conversation, and it involves your listening skills. You have to understand feedback from the person that is listening to you and you have to do the same. It's one-to-one communication.

Communication will include your presentation skills, how you look and how you're perceived by others. Your confidence when talking and if you're paying attention while you're listening.

🤝 Teamwork

There's no I in a team. This is a good soft skill, having the ability to work with others, and work, in this case, means: cooperate, involve, include, plan and delegate.

Working with others is not an easy task, because you have to know that others can have a different way to do things, some of them will be organized and some will not. Maybe if you're not organized, you have to learn how to follow others' pace.

In the same way, you need to focus on being tolerant and respectful with others' opinions in which you don't agree with and understand that if you're in a team, it's because you have a goal in common you have to achieve with your partners.

💪 Leadership

Leadership is not (and it will never be) a synonym of bossing or supervising. The main difference is that a leader has followers because of their ideas and not because of their job role or position.

Maybe your boss is not a leader or if you are a boss, you may have a leader as a direct report. Leadership can be noticeable due to the grade of influence a person has over others.

There are two things (and many other more but those are important for me) that I think make a good leader, the first one is creativity and initiative, everything starts with an idea, but an idea is not enough, its execution will define if that's something worthy to work on.

That's why a leader is in constant activity, tight schedules, and several projects to do because taking initiative and creating is part of a leader's role.

The second thing that makes a great leader is an emotional intelligence, understand your own and others' feelings, and know how to react with it. Emotional intelligence is what leaders practice to gain followers.

If you can understand what others' goals are, react over them and mix them as a synthesis with your own goals, people will follow you and will agree on what you're planning.

🤠 Adaptability

The only constant thing is change. Being adaptable means learning new skills, change behaviors in response to the context, not being static, and doing the same things to obtain different results.

These days this is a critical skill for business, needs are new every day and if you want to remain in the competition, you have to innovate and adapt your company to the change.

I remember my marketing teacher saying that in the past, companies would sell products because that's what they had to offer, but nowadays, companies sell products because the customer is demanding them.

If you are adaptable, that means that you can walk along with the company's needs and goals. This term is also related to focus on improvements you can offer for the company, and to your personal life too.

🧠 Critical Thinking

Don't rush, evaluate and think over it. This is how you think about a problem, you define it, find its root cause and create solutions to solve it, then you evaluate how you do it.

This is important for decision-making and problem-solving, a person with this skill knows how to plan and how to execute with information that backs up their decision.

You even use this skill in technical tasks, like finding a bug in your code. You first understand what's the problem and what is expected, then you research to find its root cause and solve it. All that process sounds complicated because there are some steps you need to follow before you pass judgment about something, but rushing will direct you to make wrong decisions and to get carried away by the lame comments.

🤑 Negotiation

The emoji shows something interesting, money, indeed, it's related to money, people in the sales field must have these skills to close businesses. Negotiation is also a way to say, you win I win, that's why it's very useful in sales.

Not only do salesmen use this skill, but it also comes in handy when speaking with your boss for a promotion, or convincing your team members to do a project in a specific way.

Some skills you have to develop here are persuasion and confidence. It's also important to be a good communicator to deliver the benefits of the actions you want to take.

🤔 How can I work on soft skills?

There are more soft skills (and skills that are derived from them) but I don't want you to be overwhelmed. It's enough, that's not something easy if you're not used to be good at dealing with people, and not even a person that has experience on soft skills is perfect, it's a day-to-day learning curve, but I have some recommendations if you want to start working on that.

- 🚀 Understand what are your goals

Do you want to be good at dealing with people? Why? The last question is the most important here. Know what is your motivation, understand your goals. If you don't know where to go, why are you even trying? Having goals to reach (a promotion, a project, a client) will be the reason the main purpose of working on your soft skills.

🏋️ Fit your goals with soft skills

If you have goals, write them down on paper (or on a digital app, the one you use the most) and link them with soft skills. Search for a list of soft skills and create relationships with your goals.

For example, getting a promotion will be linked to negotiation skills, or starting a new project will link to leadership and teamwork and that's how you start your strategy. Those examples are simple, but I recommend you to be as specific as possible to identify required behaviors for your goals.

🙋 Ask for help

You might not be an expert, you need to get ideas and feedback from others because you're working on these skills for others. Asking for help will include reading books, subscribing to newsletters or YouTube channels that talk about this topic.

The best people to get help from are your superiors, talk to your boss about it, bosses feel good when a direct report wants to overcome the lack of skills. If you don't feel comfortable with your boss, search for a mentor, somebody you respect and you want to imitate because of their achievements (it could be your spouse or your mom too).

😌 Be actively patient

Soft skills are not something you learn overnight as I mention before, it's something you develop with time. Being patient means to wait, but not be laid on the couch until you magically have those skills. Baby steps are better.

You have your strategy, you need to be working on something every day, it doesn't have to be everything at once, but as long as you are doing a small task every day that gets you closer to your goal, that's enough, just imagine at the end of a year reaching your goal because you did something and committed to doing it.

Hard skills are important because they define the 'what' when working, but soft skills are also important, because they define the 'how' when working, specifically with others.

Ruth Ikegah's photo

Thanks for this lovely article David Salomón

Edidiong Asikpo's photo

Yes, soft skills are extremely, very important. Thanks for explaining this effectively David Salomón.