What are soft skills, and how to develop them? Complete guide

Your profession in the future will be determined by two skills — soft skills and critical thinking. Read: 93% of employers want to see soft skills in candidates' resumes. Here are 8 of the most requested ones.

This article will teach you how to develop “soft skills.”

The content of the article:

What are Soft Skills, and why is it important

In a simple model of professional competencies, skills are divided into soft skills (flexible) and hard skills (complex).

Soft skills are cross-professional skills that help solve life problems and work with others.

Regardless of the specialty, you must get along well with colleagues, clients, managers (read Five soft skills that every manager should improve), and bosses. Soft skills cannot be learned in a training or course. They are laid down in childhood and develop throughout life. Therefore employers value people whose skills are well-developed. Soft skills are helpful in any area and are associated with emotional intelligence.

Hard skills are narrow professional skills needed to solve specific problems in everyday work.

For example, for a designer, “hard skills” will be the ability to use graphic editors, and for a carpenter, the ability to handle a jigsaw. Hard skills can be mastered in a few weeks, and their effectiveness can be measured. Hard skills are needed for specific tasks, are formed in the learning process, and are based on technical knowledge.

Scientists from Harvard, Stanford, and the Carnegie Foundation found out that “soft skills” are 85% of a person’s success in the profession, and hard ones make up only 15%.

Google conducted an internal study in 2017 to identify the most productive teams within the company. The researchers found that their best teams were mixed groups of employees with strong “soft skills.” Further research showed that improved communication, empathy, and leadership skills contributed to job success.

Developed “soft skills” can be listed on your resume to help recruiters identify your strengths and qualifications:

Soft and hard skills should complement each other to solve problems of varying complexity. For example, it will be helpful for a graphic designer to master soft skills: communication, creative thinking, and empathy, and hard skills: possessing Adobe Photoshop, Sketch, and Figma.

What soft skills to develop, where to use and how to upgrade

Here is a list of 14 crucial “soft skills” that will help you land an excellent job in the future. We tell you what these soft skills are, where they are helpful and how to develop them:

  1. Communication
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Service/Customer orientation
  4. The project, people, and self-management
  5. Mentoring
  6. Solution of problems
  7. Making decisions
  8. Emotional intellect
  9. Nonviolent communication
  10. Knowledge management
  11. Working in uncertainty mode
  12. Lean
  13. Ecological thinking
  14. Introspection and self-reflection

1. Communication

Communication is the transfer of information, knowledge, or information between people — for example, a greeting, a short conversation, or buying goods in a store. Communication helps to establish contacts to satisfy human needs to fulfill life and professional tasks. In the coming decades, people will communicate with each other so that the skill will be relevant regardless of changes in communication. The communication block includes two important skills:

Business communication — the ability to correspond and negotiate with colleagues, clients, and managers to solve problems and achieve goals. As billionaire Warren Buffett said, “Not being able to communicate is like winking at a girl in the dark.”

Presentation and oratory — the ability to speak clearly and convey your ideas to others so that you are understood and remembered.

Communicate more specifically, such as negotiating with clients. Join a debate club or sign up for negotiation courses. Arrange discussions and business games with friends.

2. Critical thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to process and consume information carefully. We are constantly in the information flow. It is easy to get lost in it, lose focus or become a victim of manipulation. The skill helps to check information, look for relationships between facts, and reason, make the right decisions and formulate strong arguments.

How to develop. Develop logic and observation. Try to determine the role models of behavior of colleagues at work. Watch how they react to incoming information. Learn to ask questions. Apply critical thinking techniques to the news. For example, start with simple 5W+H or IMVAIN information verification techniques.

3. Customer focus

Customer focus is the ability to determine the needs and desires of your audience in time to satisfy them with maximum benefit. For example, if your customer does not have time to go to the store, you can deliver the goods to his home. The client will see the care and save time, and you will get a loyal customer. The skill helps to compete in the labor market, goods and services. In a country with a developing market economy, this is especially valuable.

How to develop. Analyze your target audience. For example, if you get a job, it will be HR, department heads, and directors. Think about their problems with applicants and how you can solve them. Study audiences in different areas of your life, help satisfy requests and close these people’s problems.

4. Project management

Projects are everywhere. These projects include making a website, building a house, and organizing a trip.

Various people gather around the project, for example, the client, assistants, contractors, and external forces in the form of the state. The person who manages the projects stands in the middle of the system. It has leverage and connection to all its components. It depends on him how the project will turn out. Businesses, NGOs, and government agencies in Russia are moving to project management, so the ability to manage projects becomes necessary for people of all ages.

How to develop. Present your current affairs in the form of projects: set goals, deadlines, and milestones. Think about how you can optimize your projects: get more value or save resources. For example, if you are often late for work, prepare clothes and food for the morning in advance or change your route.

5. Mentoring

The traditional education system is rigid and unwieldy. There is a gap between the competencies we get at the university and what is required in real work. You need a mentor or mentor to grow professionally and quickly adapt to the market’s requirements.

A mentor will help you create a training plan and monitor progress. They work with him regularly to see progress and adjust their training. If you become a mentor, you can share skills and knowledge with others who need this competence. Adapt the team to the task, project, or workplace.

How to develop. Think about what competencies you need to upgrade and how to do it more efficiently. Make a yearly learning plan for yourself. Follow it, and record the results. When you learn to manage your learning, invite colleagues or friends to become their mentor for a while. This is how you develop the skill and help other people.

6. Solution of problems

Non-violent communication (NVC) is a method to understandably and accurately convey information to the interlocutor and achieve your goal. In non-violent communication, you communicate an observation to the interlocutor, supported by his fact, talk about your need and formulate a request. So you will not harm people, satisfy your needs, identify violent communication in your address and stop it in time. The skill helps to negotiate in joint meetings and personal communication with colleagues and relatives. The main thing is not to overdo it with softness and uncertainty of expressions, fraught with a loss of authority and trust in you.

Marshall Rosenberg, the author of an introductory book on NVC, suggests that each of the four components of nonviolent communication should be articulated. Without judgments, judgments, and shifting of responsibility.

How to develop. Learn to understand yourself and treat people with empathy. Use the non-violent communication technique with friends to practice it safely. Attend NVC meetings and training where people learn to communicate without violence.

7. Making decisions

Decision-making is choosing the best solution from possible options. This skill helps you quickly and efficiently achieve your goals. For example, if you were offered two interesting vacancies but didn’t know which one to choose, you could miss both.

How to develop. To develop decision-making skills, you must see the maximum number of options, correctly prioritize each situation and choose the best possible. If there are difficulties at work, contact the manager with a solution, not a problem.

8. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand the emotions, motivation, and intentions of oneself and others and manage it all. The skill helps solve practical problems, make decisions, and communicate with others. For example, if you see that the audience is tired during your presentation, take a break.

How to develop. To pump emotional intelligence, you must develop empathy towards yourself and others. Observe your own emotions and the emotions of others. Think about what they are connected with and how they affect others. Try to control yourself and make better decisions based on your observations.

9. Nonviolent communication

If something goes wrong, you can complain or take action. Problem-solving skills help you cope with difficulties at work and in life. The more you pump it, the more difficult situations you will be able to handle. Problem-solving is similar to project management and decision-making — you overcome challenges to achieve goals and get results.

How to develop. List a few significant problems in your life and come up with 20-30 solutions to each. Set a deadline and try to implement each of them within that time. If you can’t solve a problem, come up with new ways to deal with it. Remember that the main thing in a problem is to find a solution.

10. Knowledge management and learning

Learnability is learning new information and applying it to solve everyday problems. Knowledge creates skills, and skills create skills. It is important not to collect concepts and theories but to put them into practice, turning them into full-fledged competencies. Knowledge management helps you select suitable sources of information, sort them, and manage your learning plan.

How to develop. Make a learning plan, filter the information you need, and select the knowledge you want to put into practice. Theories and concepts of learning are essential to living. Try on yourself and analyze. For example, try it out in real life if you learned about the time management matrix.

11. Working in the mode of uncertainty

The modern world is described by the abbreviation VUCA. It’s a world of instability (volatility), uncertainty (uncertainty), complexity (complexity), and ambiguity (ambiguity), and we will have to live in it. Working in uncertainty mode is the ability to quickly respond to changes in the conditions of the task, make decisions, manage projects, and own resources. To compete in the market and be in demand, you need flexibility and the ability to adapt quickly to changes. For example, the skill of working in the mode of uncertainty includes stress management.

Stress management is managing the state and behavior of oneself and others during physical and psychological stress periods: tight deadlines, force majeure, and heavy loads.

How to develop. You need to develop independence. Come up with ways out of various difficult situations, and try approaches that have yet to be used. Try new tools: instant messengers, online learning formats, and remote work. Follow the trends and new technologies, and choose what suits you. Start your own business or start a blog. Think over its development in different circumstances: when everything is going well, in a crisis, when there are many competitors, or there is no desire to deal with it.

12. Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing is the ability to eliminate waste of any kind, find bottlenecks, and improve the process of creating something. The skill helps save a particular person’s resources or an entire production. For example, if you correctly calculate your workload, you don’t burn out, so you can do more and better. The skill is necessary for small, medium, or prominent production entrepreneurs.

How to develop. Organize your own space: desktop, computer, apartment. In lean manufacturing, there is 5S technology — removal of unnecessary, self-organization, cleanliness, standardization of processes, and improvement of the order. Start with it — put things in order in the cabinets, and create your system for storing and sorting things, garbage and information.

Sort letters and files on your computer and phone, and make your space convenient. The better your systems are, the better you will develop the skill. Plan your tasks through kanban or a scrum board.

13. Ecological thinking

Ecological thinking is the ability to consciously relate to ongoing events without harm to yourself and others. Ecological thinking implies responsibility for one’s actions and a positive attitude toward the world. The skill helps to get involved in your work and get satisfaction from the result. For example, if the project deadlines are shifted, you do not panic but are looking for a solution to the problem. Overcome difficulties faster and strive to finish the work with high quality.

How to develop. Develop a proactive mindset instead of a reactive one. For example, if you are rude in a queue, do not be rude in response, but first, think and decide whether to be rude in response. It is not worth answering if this does not make anyone feel better.

Be environmentally friendly with your home resources: separate waste collection, turn off the water when brushing your teeth, buy less plastic, or recycle your clothes.

14. Introspection and self-reflection

Self-reflection is an independent analysis of one’s actions, behavior, and activities. It helps to evaluate your actions, realize them and decide what to do next. For example, if you’re having trouble getting along with co-workers, self-reflection can help you find communication errors on your part. This skill develops mindfulness — you will make better decisions if you know yourself and understand your needs.

At each stage of training, you need to set goals consciously. The skill of goal-setting helps to formulate and achieve them.

How to develop. Observe yourself: note the details of your behavior and actions. Try keeping a diary — write down your impressions of the day, insights, and behavior analysis. Every day, write down the people you are grateful for.

Read: Motivation and self-organization: why is managing your condition the primary soft skill?

How to understand what soft skills I need?

To understand what soft skills you need:

  1. Think of a few work situations or projects where you performed very well in your opinion and the opinion of others. Make two lists: the “soft” skills that helped you and the skills that weren’t enough.
  2. Assess the level of development of your skills on the Dreyfus scale:

    Newbie. Strictly follow the rules, and do not exercise.

    Advanced beginner. You react a little to the situation and consider all aspects of the work separately with equal importance.

    Competent. You can cope with an overabundance of information, act and plan deliberately.

    Specialist. Take a holistic view of the situation, prioritize, and recognize deviations from the norm.

    Expert. Go beyond the rules, adopt guidelines and maxims, intuitively understand the situation, and use more approaches to solve problems.
  3. Take the Peterson and Seligman Strengths Test.
  4. Take a test to determine the level of development of soft skills.
  5. Take the test Menteora.
  6. Think about what tasks or problems you want to solve in your professional and everyday life. Write down the soft skills you need.

Is it challenging to develop soft skills?

To form a skill, you must acquire knowledge and work it out in practice. Knowledge is information that we receive and remember for ourselves. There are many sources of knowledge: books, articles, lectures, personal communication, and advice from a mentor. Let’s take driving a car as an example. The study of the car’s structure, the rules of the road, and the theory of driving is knowledge.

Applying knowledge in practice is a skill. The skill will be driving still needs to be city or training ground. The skill still needs to be formed.

The skill will be formed when the skill reaches automatism — we will learn to perform the task equally well, without losing quality, regardless of changes in external conditions. Confident driving, regardless of the weather, emergencies, and other external factors, is a skill.

Each “soft” skill has its levels and development criteria. The more you practice, the better your skills develop. The main thing is to get feedback and analyze your experience. Otherwise, you will stand still.

How to understand at what level of developing soft skills

Soft skills assessment tools:

Youthpass. At the end of the training, participants are often awarded certificates. Youthpass uses certificates to evaluate the results of non-formal education in the Erasmus+ program. One part of the certificate confirms participation in the project. The second helps the participant determine how his eight key competencies have changed due to the educational event. The trainer creates a space for reflection, helping the participant independently assess their competencies.

Eight key competencies that help you compete and quickly adapt to changes in the global world. In the European Union, this is an officially recognized model.

Open badges, Mozilla, and badge craft. In 2010, Mozilla introduced educational badges — indicators of achievement, skill, or quality. They are used for motivation, setting educational goals, or a virtual summary of competencies. On the badge, indicate the organization that issued it, “competence assessors,” and the person’s achievements.

The teacher assesses students’ competence in the formal education system. In non-formal education, anyone can issue badges: the course organizer, a classmate, an expert, a colleague, and the participant himself. The badge system creates a unique educational environment and helps in alternative learning channels.

Appraiser. The International Guild of Youth Coaches has developed the Appraiser platform to assess the competencies of community members. Each coach’s competence was broken down into indicators, which he defines as strengths or growth areas. For example, learning includes development through feedback, assessing one’s competencies, and finding resources for learning. The sum of indicators of strengths and areas of growth gives the level of competence as a whole.

Next, the 360 ​​method is connected — based on the results of joint work at an educational event, the trainer’s assessment is compared with the assessment of team members and participants. After introspection and feedback, coaches draw up their development plans.

Cities for learning. The competency assessment is completed with a new development plan. An excellent example of a project that allows you to make such plans is the Cities of Learning Interactive Opportunity Map.

The map of Vilnius shows events that you can join. Everyone has a separate card describing the event and organizational moments. You can participate in any event or create your own.

You look for places on the map that suit your interests and goals and make an educational route — playlists. Acquired competencies can be confirmed with digital badges.

Develop soft skills, evaluate your progress, and make study plans. Emphasize well-developed competencies in resumes and cover letters to get a fascinating high-paying job.