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Navigating the workplace in recent years is no easy task. With the advancement of technology, digitalisation and automation, jobs are being redesigned to become more efficient and productive. The move towards a more digital world has set the stage for an emphasis on soft skills, especially since they are easily transferrable to other job roles. Add the pandemic into the mix and this has greatly accelerated its importance in the workplace today.
But this isn’t a new phenomenon. In 1918, the Carnegie Foundation published A Study of Engineering Education by Charles Riborg Mann, which reported how a person’s job success is a product comprising 85% of soft skills and 15% based on technical knowledge.
More recently, a 2017 ICIMS Hiring Insights report found that 94% of recruiting professionals believe an employee with stronger soft skills can be promoted to a leadership position faster than an employee with more experience but weaker soft skills. Furthermore, LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report found that 92% of hiring managers say that soft skills are more important than technical skills, with 89% revealing that their bad hires typically lacked soft skills.
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To thrive in the future of work, it is crucial to have these 10 key soft skills, which are distinctly human skills that can’t yet be replicated by computers.
- Critical thinking: Analysing information and trustworthy data, then interpreting it to evaluate situations and make decisions.
- Decision making: Understanding the wider impact of decisions.
- Emotional intelligence & empathy: Being aware of, understanding and managing your own emotions, as well as the emotions and perspectives of others.
- Creativity: Assessing a situation and being able to imagine and generate new ideas and solutions to solve complex problems.
- Collaboration & teamwork: Integrating and working well with others and contributing to a team.
- Adaptability & flexibility: Having a growth mindset to adapt to new technologies, processes and ways of working, and being open to shifts in the workplace.
- Interpersonal communication: Being able to listen, understand and convey your ideas clearly and effectively.
- Resilience: The ability to bounce back from setbacks and challenges and adapt to changes efficiently in an ever-changing world.
- Leadership: The ability to mentor others, train new hires and guide teams, as well as take on more responsibilities to aid in the growth of the organisation.
- Time management: Working efficiently and productively by using time wisely in the face of competing demands and schedules.
But how do you acquire them to improve your work performance? Here are some tips to grow your portfolio of soft skills.
1. Find courses, workshops and other resources online. Yes, even games.
The Internet has placed a vast amount of information at our fingertips with the click of a mouse. Search and sign up for courses, workshops and seminars – virtual and physical – with reputable sources, including universities and institutions, that will help you improve specific skills. You can also read books, blogs and articles, as well as online resources like webinars and podcasts, to learn strategies and techniques on soft skills that provide practical advice and real-world examples.
Even playing games can help promote soft skills – team-building games like Escape Rooms promote communication and collaboration; role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons help with conflict resolution; and strategy games like chess encourage critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making.
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2. Learn from mentors or seniors. That includes observing them in action.
Learning from the experience of others is one of the strongest ways to improve your soft skills. Finding a mentor has often been proven to be highly beneficial to your career, as they can share their valuable lessons and knowledge to guide your career path. They are also equipped to share practical advice and feedback related to the career or role you want to achieve. You can also learn from your mentors and managers by observing them in action. Seeing how they interact with others at work can be a useful example to imitate.
3. Train yourself. Set the right goals, then practise, reflect, get better and repeat.
Getting into the groove of building soft skills sometimes starts with getting out of our comfort zone and into less comfortable situations. Identify what your strengths and weaknesses are so you know which areas you need to improve on. Set some specific goals towards improving these skills and work on them. Of course, it’s not about just trying to make yourself uncomfortable, but also training yourself to improve your soft skills by applying some necessary pressure and challenging yourself.
For example, if communication is something you need to improve on, look for opportunities to apply the skills you want to learn in your daily life. If you don’t have many organic instances to practise, it’s important to think about how you can create these opportunities to communicate in your daily routine to exercise your communication muscles. And because developing soft skills is a continuous process, set time aside regularly and intentionally to self-reflect. Think back on situations where you need to work on your response to situations and adjust your goals and strategies from there.
4. Get feedback. Listen and be open to what others have to say and make plans to improve.
A large part of improving your soft skills is being open to feedback from our mentors, supervisors and colleagues. By asking for feedback from trusted peers and being open to receiving constructive criticism, it reveals certain blind spots in your development that you were probably not privy to. Learning to listen actively can help you to better understand the perspective of others and accept their opinions, even if you disagree. Clarify your doubts and queries by asking questions, then reflect on the feedback you received. After which, consider how you can develop an action plan to address areas of improvement and implement the suggestions given. Working on these areas can help you be more confident in your abilities and achieve your career goals.
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5. Take on leadership roles and get into the action.
Well, if you’re looking to groom your leadership skills, the best way to learn is by practising them in real situations, right? But seriously, getting into a leadership position is a great way to grow your soft skills overall, as being in a leadership role will present more opportunities for you to put various soft skills into action, including communication, collaboration and decision-making. Speak to your manager or supervisor about what your interests are to see if there are opportunities for you to lead a project, or a team.
Soft skills are like muscles. We need to keep working on them to get stronger at them, especially in the beginning when it feels awkward and unnatural. Think of the specific skills you want to develop and immerse yourself in the environment that challenges you. If communication is what you want to do better at, take a look at how you can simplify your email messages or check your body language when making small-group presentations.
Whatever skills you want to improve, remember to keep trying at it – it’ll get easier the more you do it. Most importantly, don’t shy away from learning new soft skills and focus on what you want to achieve for your career.