10 Soft Skills Every Employee Needs to Know

by Sharlyn Lauby on August 24, 2014

In the workplace, skills are typically broken down into two categories: hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are defined as specific, teachable actions that can be defined and measured. Examples include the ability to use a particular software, arithmetic, or accounting. Soft skills are traits or qualities that make someone a good employee or team member.

career, skills, hard skills, soft skills, learn, employee, workplace

Today’s post isn’t about which one is more important. Both are important. But sometimes, we have a tendency to minimize soft skills. Frankly, I think it’s because of the word “soft”. Soft can be misinterpreted as fluffy or unnecessary. Make no mistake – soft skills are incredibly important to our business success. Here’s a list of ten soft skills I regularly hear managers say they want employees to possess:

  1. Self-awareness – It starts here. We have to know who we are and be comfortable in our own skin. This doesn’t mean we won’t set goals and try to improve ourselves. Being self-aware allows us to better understand our working relationships with others.
  2. Communication (verbal and written) – There are so many mediums for communication – email, texting, social media, etc. We have to get our messaging right. That means using the right medium for the message. Then crafting the message so it is heard by the intended audience.
  3. Listening (and accepting feedback) – I totally understand that multi-tasking is a part of life. That being said, sometimes multi-tasking isn’t appropriate or effective. We improve our listening skills by focusing. When others are giving us feedback, they deserve our attention.
  4. Networking – This isn’t just about finding a new job. Networking takes place both internally and externally. Effective networking takes good communication and listening skills. People who are good networkers are able to ask for information and help when it’s necessary.
  5. Collaboration (and teamwork) – There’s nothing wrong with being an individual contributor and enjoying working alone. But we must be able to work with others when the project calls for it. And we must be able to adjust our communications when working in a group so the team is successful.
  6. Meeting management (both as a participant and meeting leader) – As much as we might love for meetings to disappear, that’s not going to happen. But we can learn how to make meetings more effective. Managing meetings well and contributing valuable information is essential.
  7. Conflict resolution – Managers today do not want to play referee. Frankly, they don’t have time. Companies are operating lean and everyone’s plate is full. Employees need to resolve their own conflicts.
  8. Problem solving – Remember that well-worn cliché, “Don’t just bring me a problem, bring me a solution.” It’s still true. Companies expect employees to share their thoughts about how to solve problems. Even if the solution presented isn’t adopted, it likely started the conversation.
  9. Stress management – Work/life balance and employee burnout are popular topics of conversation these days. Employees need to manage their own stress. And not just by taking a vacation. Understand what brings on stress and how to alleviate it within the normal business day.
  10. Time management – One way to control stress is to control time. Learning how to effectively manage your time can have a huge impact on productivity and the number of hours spent on work.

Like hard skills, soft skills can be acquired. There are three ways to perfect your soft skills:

Hear – Examples are listening to podcasts, webinars, feedback from coaches and mentors, etc.

See – Including reading blogs, articles, and watching role models in action

Do – Set a goal and try it yourself

People have to possess both the technical skills for the job and the soft skills to be an excellent employee. What soft skills do you think are essential for today’s employees?

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

John August 24, 2014 at 12:24 pm

The fact that the importance of soft skills is often being downplayed because of the name itself is a precious observation. Besides, sometimes it’s difficult for hiring managers to evaluate who really posses these traits, as phrases such as “team-oriented” and “problem-solving” became a commonly over-used CV filler.
Another soft skills I think deserves a mention is a “growth mindset” – an ability to perceive a difficult situation as an opportunity to learn, grow and change for the better. Sometimes employees spend a lot of time focusing on an abstract “career growth”, rather than adopting the growth mindset which seeks progression through excelling at their day-to-day duties.

Stephen August 24, 2014 at 8:46 pm

In many ways I agree! Soft skills are very improvable and very important in the workplace.

I would probably add: Managing your own emotions (I guess a type of self-awareness).

I also think it would be a good idea to recruit with soft skills in mind. As a total psych geek, I think EQ (Emotional Intelligence) tests should be a psychometric tool on every recruiters belt buckle. It’s linked to success in the workplace, satisfaction, and many other desirable traits!
Stephen recently posted..2 Styles of Competition at Work: Winner Winner Chicken Dinner?

Sharlyn Lauby August 25, 2014 at 8:17 am

@John – Thanks for the note. Your comment about managers having difficulty identifying and evaluating soft skills is spot on. Sometimes it’s because they need skills development in those areas as well.

@Stephen –Totally agree that organizations should recruit with skills in mind. Thanks for sharing.

Joe August 25, 2014 at 8:44 am

Self-awareness–excellent! This most important “soft skill” is all too lacking today, but critical in almost every aspect of life.

Karla Porter August 25, 2014 at 9:00 am

I shared with the students in The Arc of Luzerne County’s Transition to Community Employment (TRACE) program. Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities / autism face many of their challenges in the area of soft skills. We cover all 10 and this serves as a great summary – thanks Sharlyn =) P.S. I’m always looking for guest speakers via Skype! http://trace.mixxt.org/networks/content/index
Karla Porter recently posted..Does liking a page on Facebook equal endorsing it?

Sharlyn Lauby August 26, 2014 at 8:53 am

@Joe – Couldn’t agree more. But self-awareness is hard. It means facing our weaknesses. We have to learn how to manage them constructively. Thanks for the comment.

@Karla – The work you’ve done is amazing! Thanks for sharing the TRACE program with readers. We have an ARC location in South Florida so individuals can look for the one closest to them.

Sandy August 29, 2014 at 11:10 am

Can I just say how much I hate the “royal we” style of the bullet points? It’s incredibly patronizing, like talking to a two-year-old. Unless you are presently, actively engaged with the other person (as in, “We are going to the store now,” and you are both currently in the car on your way to said store), “we” should not be used when speaking to adults with functioning minds.

This is especially true of instructions. If the instructions to assembling your furniture said “We must put tab A into slot B,” you’d likely just assume the writer did not speak English natively and was simply doing the best they could (since this is often the case). However, the rest of the article puts the lie to that theory; the writer obviously speaks English quite well, native or not, and specifically chose the “we” structure for a particular reason. Whatever it was, it made the list nigh-unreadable for me, because it sounded so incredibly patronizing; good skill set or not, talking down is one of the quickest ways to lose my interest.

Constance Williams August 29, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Ease up here Sandy on the acerbic criticism of Sharlyn. I’m quite positive that in this basic yet insightful piece, she includes herself and therefore the “we” references are completely appropriate. I believe, “we” including the seasoned amongst us (you, me, Sharlyn) and the viewer audience need regular reminders of these important tips. Well done Sharlyn. Keep them coming.

Sharlyn Lauby August 30, 2014 at 7:02 am

Thanks for the comments. I certainly do not intend to offend anyone.

I’m using “we” in the together sense. I do not believe it would be appropriate for me to tell someone that they need to become more self-aware or a better problem-solver and imply that I’ve mastered it. When it comes to soft skills, all of us need to look continuously for opportunities to improve. Myself included.

Eric - Corporate Chess September 4, 2014 at 1:05 pm

I’ve learned the hard way that the soft skills are the one’s that most often kill. These soft skills (to which I would add, “playing politics”) will make or break your career faster than any hard skill will. Employers can almost always find someone to replace your hard skills. But there are surprisingly few people who can really master the soft skills. This tends to be particularly true of introverts. IMHO, the soft skills are the most important to career advancement.

Mark Hudison September 18, 2014 at 8:46 am

I think networking and listening to others are very important skills. You learn alot when you become an active listener. Take feedbacks positively as a means to improve yourself.

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