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What Are Soft Skills? Definition, Uses & Examples For 2023

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Are you experiencing difficulty in both your personal and work life because of insufficient skills?

You’re not alone.

Many individuals encounter obstacles when trying to reach their objectives in today’s fiercely competitive environment, not due to a lack of technical knowledge but because they lack essential soft skills.

Fortunately, with adequate comprehension and persistence, anyone can cultivate these skills.

In this article, we’ll explore the definition, uses, and examples of soft skills that could help optimize productivity and accomplishments in 2023 and beyond.

What Are Soft Skills?

At their simplest, soft skills are the opposite of hard skills.

Soft skills are skills you can’t prove on paper, they’re personal attributes and abilities related to how a person interacts with other people.

It’s up to a job applicant to prove they have them, either in an interview or a cover letter. They’re any non-technical skill you can transfer between jobs.

Examples of soft skills include::

  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Active listening
  • Diplomacy

Why Are They Called Soft Skills?

Soft skills it’s not a new term. The phrase goes back to the 1970s.

At the time, the American Military wanted a way to distinguish between intrapersonal skills and more concrete, obvious skills.

Hard skills were so-called because they primarily comprised the skills needed to work with heavy machinery.

Conversely, soft skills were anything related to people management.

For better or worse, soft skills got their name because those people-managing abilities had a historic association with the feminine.

Think of those Good Housekeeping ads from the 1950s about how to diplomatically manage husbands, dinner parties, and everything else under the sun.

The term stuck because hard skills had concrete evidence to back them up, and soft skills didn’t.

It was easy to prove you could drive a tractor. But you didn’t know how good a candidate was at dealing with officious customers until you could watch them in a situation.

Soft Skills Versus Hard Skills

By now, you know the differences between hard and soft skills. But do these different skill sets have anything in common?

How Are They Alike?

Hard and soft skills have several things in common.

First and foremost, both are integral to successful job performance and thriving workspace.

Hard skills are needed to create products and handle platforms while soft skills are essential for appeasing disgruntled clients and bettering the workplace environment.

To a certain extent, it’s also possible to offer training in hard and soft skills.

Many hard skills have an educational component, like a university degree. Soft skills are more likely to involve on-the-job coaching or team-building elements.

Another similarity between hard and soft skills is that both take time to acquire. No one is born knowing how to code a computer.

Similarly, you aren’t born with instant empathy. While one is a hard skill and the other a soft skill, both take time to hone.

Why Are Soft Skills Important?

While you could try to go through life with only hard skills in your resume, employers increasingly appreciate the contribution soft skills make to the workplace, and in many jobs are just as important as hard skills. Here’s why.

1. They Show How You Work as a Team

Since soft skills are primarily intrapersonal, they help ascertain how a group of employees works as a team.

It’s also why some employers opt to use a group interview strategy.

It allows them to measure the intrapersonal ability of potential employees. It also allows them to ensure incoming employees are a good fit for the workplace.

2. They Help You Build Your Network

Another vital part of many jobs is making connections. Being proficient in a variety of soft skills facilitates networking.

That helps employees because it gives them a wider social network and client base. But it helps the people they work for because every network connection you make becomes an opportunity to grow the business.

3. They Show Your Potential for Growth

Like any skill set, there are different levels of skills when discussing soft skills. You may start with a modest negotiating ability but grow to be your company’s most diplomatic deal broker.

Given most soft skills are closely related, showing efficiency in communication and empathy, is a great sign that people can also be great at problem-solving, for example.

What Are The Main Categories of Soft Skills?

Soft skills are closely related, however, that doesn’t mean that all soft skills serve the same purpose. Here are the top categories of soft skills.

1. Negotiating

No two people are the same, so workplace disagreements inevitably happen.

Negotiation is integral to ensuring you can work amicably with your colleagues. Negotiating is also important in jobs where you spend significant time talking with clients or brokering deals.

Business and law are careers that rely on their representatives being consummate negotiators.

2. Customer Service

Customer service is another soft skill that’s important, most obviously in retail. It taps into employees’ intrapersonal skills and relies on them to be able to tackle a variety of situations.

Sometimes these can be challenging, like dealing with a demanding customer. Having the customer service skills to pacify them effectively is essential, whether you work in a café or a bookshop.

Good customer service ability also includes persuading someone to make a purchase and knowing when to let a customer browse.

3. Time Management

Time management is a soft skill that’s widely applicable. Not everyone multitasks well, and good time management is vital for anyone whose job requires juggling multiple plates simultaneously.

4. Conflict Resolution

As discussed, disagreements are inevitable. We all have different values, and sometimes they come into conflict with each other.

The ability to resolve those differences satisfactorily is imperative if you want a peaceful work environment.

It’s also a valuable skill if your job involves overseeing disputes, whether in the courtroom or over a board meeting.

5. Communication

Communication has to be at the top of the most essential soft skills. It helps with workplace transparency, negotiation, and collegial relationships.

Having great communication is key to branching out into other soft skills.

6. Problem-Solving

Another soft skill that transfers well is problem-solving. Jobs are full of challenging situations or scenarios that don’t go to plan.

7. Interpersonal Skills

As discussed, interpersonal skills are all the ways we navigate our social interactions with others.

Being a great listener, having no issues cooperating, even making eye contact when speaking with someone and making them feel comfortable is part of having great interpersonal skills.

If you have strong interpersonal skills, you may even smooth out communications between clients or customers and your superiors by helping them understand one another.

8. Leadership 

Sometimes working effectively means knowing when to delegate to other people.

Employers are more likely to hand over responsibility to people that exhibit strong leadership skills. That’s because they combine several soft skills that ensure people work well together and stay on task.

It’s not a soft skill that comes easily to everyone, but can be honed with practice.  

Soft Skills Examples

Most jobs and professions require employees and leaders to be great at soft skills, with that said, depending on the position or role, you may need some soft skills instead of others.

Here are some examples of important soft skills depending on the context.

Soft Skills Examples for Students

Students often feel they leave high school or college with no demonstrable skills. But that’s far from true.

The combination of a classroom environment and obligatory community service equips students with many soft skills, including:

  • Problem-solving
  • Analytical thinking
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Negotiation
  • Empathy

Students may not have these skills on the level of a seasoned business person, but they have the foundations to grow those skills as they get older and more experienced.

Soft Skills for Resumes

After all this talk about soft skills, one of the most important questions is which ones to put on a resume.

Examples of soft skills that look good on a resume include:

  • Communication
  • Work ethic
  • Leadership

You can also include any training courses you participated in that were designed to foster or enhance soft skills.

Soft Skills in Education

Education inculcates many soft skills. First and foremost is critical thinking.

That’s a tremendous asset in the workplace because it allows you to think laterally and come up with creative solutions to tricky problems.

Other soft skills education teaches include:

  • Communication
  • Time management
  • Teamwork
  • Ability to work efficiently and independently

What is the Most Important Soft Skill?

There’s not one single soft skill, that’s better than others. What’s most important varies depending on your work environment.

Everyone and every workplace have slightly different priorities. The ability to discern which are most important to your current situation is a soft skill in itself.

That said, some soft skills like communication, have a wider range of applicability and play a key role not only in your workplace but in achieving a happy home life and social balance with friends.

How to Learn Soft Skills

While everyday experiences like your work life, education or even social gatherings can improve your soft skills inadvertently, you can take the following into consideration to get better at it.

Take and Improve Upon Feedback

Receiving feedback gracefully is a skill in itself. But integrating it into your work routine taps into several soft skills, including:

  • Adaptability
  • Communication
  • Interpersonal skill

Crucially, it exhibits a willingness to learn and empathize with other perspectives that stands you in good stead when developing soft skills.

Build Relationships

We mentioned soft skills got their name because of their focus on relationships.

So, it’s appropriate that one of the best ways to develop stronger soft skills is through building relationships with the people around you.

Observe and Adapt

Watching how people around you navigate the workplace is another way to develop soft skills.

It’s a crash course not only in adapting to other perspectives but in changing how you do something to make it more effective or accommodate others.

Take a Course

If you want to show you are serious about enhancing your existing soft skills, there are courses available.

Volunteering for activities like team building and communication seminars will give you tips and tricks to build on the soft skills you have.

Take on a Leadership Role

Earlier, we mentioned that soft skills are an excellent way to measure growth.

One of the ways soft skills dovetail with improving your career is through leadership opportunities. Agreeing to undertake leadership roles fosters more than your ability to lead others.

It also demands you be an adaptable, organized person with clear communication and an ability to relate to others.

Wrapping Up

So, what are soft skills? They’re skills that are difficult to measure but integral to a successful career.

You use them to relate to others, manage your time and negotiate between clients and colleagues.

If you have any questions about soft skills, make sure to post them in the comments section.

Soft skills require a lot of flexibility, but once you have them, they’re an asset to any career. That’s why convincing a prospective employer you have excellent soft skills matters.

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