There’s Nothing Soft About Soft Skills in the Workplace

Published by Liz Lewis | Researcher at Indeed 

There’s a lot of buzz about soft skills these days and a growing awareness that these personality traits, habits and behaviors are key to professional success. But what role do they actually play in the workplace and beyond?

It might seem that soft skills in the workplace such as emotional intelligence, creativity and flexibility wouldn’t matter as much in an era of nonstop technological innovation. On the contrary, they’re more important than ever. These are uniquely human capabilities that can’t be replaced or automated; they’re like our superpowers.

It’s time to start using these powers for good — but we must gain a deeper understanding of what soft skills actually are in order to leverage them.

What are soft skills, anyway?

Soft skills are often misunderstood, so it’s important to clarify what this term means. Some think it’s the ability to be nice or friendly — but “soft” simply means that these skills aren’t easily measurable.

Soft skills in the workplace are distinct from hard skills such as coding, SEO or the ability to speak a language. We can demonstrate hard skills through things like assessments, certifications and education. When it comes to hiring, hard skills often receive more emphasis because they’re easy to quantify and prove. However, soft skills are equally valuable — if not more so.

Key soft skills in the workplace include:

  • Dependability
  • Adaptability
  • Teamwork
  • Time management
  • Grit
  • Communication
Innovations in tech drive demand for soft skills 

Soft skills are becoming more important for all aspects of hiring, but why is this happening now? Technologies such as AI, automation and robotics are changing the way we work, and this trend will only continue.

Some have wondered if workers would be replaced by robots, but instead, we’re seeing the opposite: Distinctly human capabilities are more in demand than ever. Many hard skills can be automated, but capabilities such as empathy, analytical thinking and emotional intelligence can’t be programmed or quantified.

For example, we use empathy when we need to understand other people’s perspectives or put ourselves in their shoes, such as when conflicts arise between coworkers or when coaching a team member who is struggling. It’s unlikely that a conflict-resolution robot will be invented anytime soon; to prepare for the needs of tomorrow’s workforce, focus on hiring for soft skills today.

A case study of why soft skills matter: emotional control

Let’s consider one important soft skill: emotional control. This refers to the ability to regulate emotions and how we display them. It’s an invaluable skill because it helps people navigate and respond appropriately to challenges; in fact, some experts say that emotional control is the most important soft skill at work.

Employees with good emotional control are self-aware and know how to keep their feelings from bubbling over. They understand their weak points and triggers, which helps them minimize unnecessary conflict and avoid overreacting. Similarly, emotional control enables people to stay cool under pressure and make better decisions. This is a huge asset for employees and teams, particularly in today’s high-stress world.

Hiring for emotional control can make the difference between a candidate who looks great on paper and someone who will excel once they’re hired. Say you hire a team leader who has many years of experience and a Master of Business Administration from a top school but has poor emotional control. He might blow up at employees instead of offering constructive feedback or shut down when he feels frustrated.

In contrast, a leader who can keep her feelings in check will be able to build better relationships, maintain rapport in the workplace and manage more successfully. These capabilities are essential and could even transcend a gap in hard skills.

Prioritize soft skills now to pave the way for future success

From emotional intelligence to creativity and collaboration, soft skills are valuable attributes and behaviors that contribute directly to professional success. Despite fears that new technologies could replace workers entirely in some fields, we are witnessing something much different: a renewed appreciation for uniquely human capabilities.

Keep soft skills in the workplace on your radar today as you build tomorrow’s workforce — both by prioritizing them during hiring and by nurturing them among current employees and teams.

Remember, there’s nothing soft about soft skills!