What are soft skills and why it is important for everyone

Let’s define the terms

All our skills can be divided into:

Hard skills are the professional skills we have learned in educational institutions, courses, etc. The extent to which a person’s competence in this skill can be measured (through testing or examination).

For example knowledge of a foreign language, knowledge of programming language, ability to use the software for designing, ability to drive a car, the ability to calculate the balance sheet, etc.

Soft skills are sometimes also called personal skills (or social and communication skills). These are skills that are not directly related to professional activity, but their possession or non-existence has a significant effect on the quality of a person’s work or his or her possible career growth. It is almost impossible to measure the level of these skills in a person.

For example, the ability to take responsibility, punctuality, stress resistance, analytical thinking, emotional intelligence, communication skills, organization, ability to manage one’s emotions, delegation, etc.

The emergence of the concept is attributed to the studies related to the reform of the US Army personnel training system in 1959-1972, as well as the study of competencies under the leadership of David McClelland in the selection of employees of the Foreign Information Service of the US Department of State in 1971-1991.

What exactly can be attributed to Soft skills?

Communication: listening, persuasion, and argumentation, networking: building and maintaining business relationships, negotiating, conducting presentations, basic sales skills, self-presentation, public speaking, teamwork, results orientation, business writing, customer focus, etc.

Self-management: emotion management, stress management, management of one’s own development, planning and goal-setting, time management, initiative, ability to reflect, ability to adequately perceive criticism, etc.

Thinking: systemic thinking, creative thinking, structural thinking, logical thinking, information retrieval and analysis, decision-making, project thinking, tactical and strategic thinking (for managers), etc.

Management skills: performance management, planning, task setting, motivation, task implementation control, feedback, project management, change management, delegation, etc.

Why is it so important?

At the moment, there is a large number of studies that prove that soft skills influence the way a person’s career (and private life) will be built.

In March 2018, Linkedin conducted research in the field of Skill gap (rare skills) for IT specialists, and the research revealed that soft skills affect the ability of a newcomer to join the team of experienced specialists. What does this mean?
Beginners with advanced communication skills are able to “integrate” into the team more easily and create a friendly atmosphere. Such a person will be ready to be helped by colleagues and even if he or she did not have all the necessary knowledge (i.e. hard skills) for work, he or she will be helped and explained. Thus, he will develop much faster professionally than newcomers with underdeveloped soft skills.

In 2017, the American Psychological Association published a study that led psychologists to the conclusion that a pleasant, friendly employee is much more likely to be promoted than a self-confident and arrogant one.

In 2016, Kazan State Energy University published a study that analyzed the importance of soft skills for the efficient operation of engineers of energy companies.
As a result of the analysis obtained in the course of the study, it turned out that soft skills are in demand by 76%, hard skills – by 24%. Of the soft skills, the most important for the activities of energy company engineers were: communication competence – 75% and self-governance competence – 74%. Next are the following competencies: teamwork skills – 73%, creativity – 70%, aspiration to achievements – 68%, leadership – 67%, high motivation – 66%.

When analyzing the results of the ranking of soft skills of energy engineers with different levels of performance efficiency, it was found that for highly efficient energy engineers soft skills are quite significant – 81%. Soft skills also proved to be quite significant for the average efficient power engineers of electric power companies – 77%.

The level of importance of soft skills among inefficient power engineers is 58%.

Thus, the obtained results show that soft skills occupy the leading position among rather efficient power engineers. Therefore, their importance to the efficient operation of engineers in energy companies is quite high.

How to develop soft skills?

There is a lot of advice on this topic online, but I would like to give my own individual advice, which, in my opinion, is quite good for the development of soft skills among young people:

Define your life goals. Especially in terms of work. What do you want to get out of your job in addition to a decent salary? What emotions and feelings? Self-realization is an important part of a harmonious personality. Many people have a good salary, but their behavior is far from adequate (complexes, arrogant behavior, irritability, etc.). The reason is that in addition to the material expression of success, people need to get the satisfaction of higher needs from work, such as respect for others, self-respect, a sense of belonging to important business, satisfaction from solving complex problems, etc. There are many such needs and they are very individual.

Be independent – try to solve personal problems and individual tasks without shifting this responsibility to other people (parents/spouses/friends/colleagues, etc.).

Develop a habit of putting yourself in the place of another person. This will help you better understand others, become more friendly, tolerant and develop emotional intelligence.

Learn to control your emotions, especially the negative ones. If it is very difficult and outbreaks of aggression or frequent depression become your constant companion, it is necessary to consult a psychotherapist and tell him about your emotional problems. He or she will teach you how to deal with emotions without compromising your mental and physical health.

Learn to put together your own opinion about what is going on around you. Reading the media, listening to friends, reading bloggers – this is good (curiosity is always a plus), but it is important to have your own opinion. Comparison of facts, analysis of events and development of logical chains in the head is an important and useful skill.

How do children develop logical thinking? With the help of logic games and puzzles. For adults, this method also works, but you have to choose more difficult games.

With the development of management skills story is a little bit different. Some of them can be obtained rather easily, because they are developed since the early age, along with the personality of the person (by the way, the independence plays an important role in the development of managerial and leadership skills). Those who do not have these skills can try to develop them by receiving special education in the field (business, management, HR management) or attending business training sessions. But in fact, even getting such education does not guarantee the development of soft skills. Many people have been attending various training for years, but they do not achieve positive results (sometimes it happens due to mental peculiarities). In my opinion, there is no need to show inadequate stubbornness, it is better to honestly admit to yourself that you will not become a leader or manager and choose another direction of work.

Observe other people. Almost every profession has people who in their time became very popular and were able to succeed. In addition to real professional knowledge (hard skills), they have probably developed soft skills. Study their biography, watch interviews with those who are in high demand in your industry. Learning from others is important. For example, there are many educated and competent lawyers in the world. But not all of them are well-known and highly paid. It is soft skills that will help you become a successful specialist and not just a good specialist.

And lastly, about the relevance:

It is believed that flexible skills should be in demand in the context of technological progress and dynamically changing business environment at the beginning of the XXI century, in particular, the participants of the World Economic Forum, as well as the Gaidar Forum noted that the transformation of education in the conditions of technological revolution leads to an increase in the need for flexible skills, and the U.S. Business Education Association and the OECD define flexible skills as a critical factor in employment in the modern labor market.

Most goods and services today require the cooperation of professionals from different fields. Such cooperation is only possible on the basis of developed soft skills.

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