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What are soft skills in the workplace?

Learn about soft skills, what they are, and why they’re so crucial towards success in the workplace.

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What are soft skills?

Simply hiring the most experienced candidate may seem like the most logical and sensible decision; but there’s a lot more to what makes a good team member than qualifications and experience. Understanding the difference between soft and hard skills, and why soft skills are absolutely essential is vital in establishing a stronger, more efficient team.

As business continues to evolve at a rapid pace, and the traditional concept of the “career” shifts and reshapes, having transferrable skills that can be applied in any position and any industry is only becoming more important every day.

While for a long while, hard skills were considered the more “professional skills” and soft skills were viewed only as resumé space-filler, studies have shown that these days, human resources professionals tend to favor soft skills over hard skills when choosing the ideal candidate.

Hard skills are measurable, tangible proficiencies that, while important in any position, are not the ultimate determinant of what makes a good employee. Hard skills refer to technical ability, like mathematics, reading comprehension, language fluency, and computer skills, to name a few.

Soft skills, on the other hand, are personality traits and characteristics that are less quantifiable, but equally as important in the workplace and beyond, if not more. They’re rooted in behavior, attitude, and values.

While hard skills have a larger impact on the work you produce, soft skills help develop human connections and establish a sense of culture and community in the workplace. Having said that, soft skills absolutely have a positive impact on the work you produce, especially when working collaboratively.

What are the most important soft skills?

Soft skills are more than just people skills and a positive attitude. The key soft skills listed below can intertwine with one another and share many mutual principles and applications. There is no single most important soft skill and the list is ever-growing, but these are some of the most valuable personal attributes to possess in the modern workplace:

Soft skills list

1. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence encapsulates many of the vital characteristics of soft skills, from conflict resolution, to social skills, to self-awareness, to compassion and empathy.

A person with high emotional intelligence has the ability to interpret, comprehend and manage the emotions of both themselves and those they work with. They can handle and manage pressure while helping others feel at ease, and they understand how their behavior can impact their work environment. This ability to build strong interpersonal relationships is a soft skill that can bolster the productivity and performance of your team.

A large part of emotional intelligence is also having excellent listening skills. Active listening inspires more open, productive communication in the workplace and ensures that everyone in the team feels recognized, understood, and valued.

2. Communication

Communication skills are crucial in the workplace, not just to help establish an open and welcoming environment, but to ensure that the work you produce is focused and clear.

A team that knows how to communicate well will be more efficient, more organized, and more in-tune with each other’s ideas and perspectives. Having communication skills doesn’t just mean having the gift of the gab; it goes far beyond verbal communication. The ability to easily communicate complex ideas and convey important messages with clarity and brevity, whether spoken, written or otherwise, will minimize mistakes and inefficiency.

Good collaborative work is simply not possible without efficient communication. It’s especially important as remote, digital working environments become more and more prevalent; strong soft skills help bring people together even when they’re working from afar. Tools like Dropbox are designed to facilitate and improve collaboration and communication, but ensuring that those using the tools have the soft skills to match is key. This is especially true in a Virtual First environment where it can difficult to get your point across. Using a screen recorder like Dropbox Capture lets say more in less time and make an impact in your own words. It’s a great way to make the most of async communication.

3. Teamwork & respect

Being a good team player means going above and beyond to reach the collective goals of the team. It means putting selfishness aside and truly caring for those you collaborate with, taking whatever steps necessary to ensure the team operates with fluidity and cohesion, and putting the best interests of the team above your own. Team players are open and honest with one another, they exhibit dependability and loyalty in every way.

Mutual respect between you and your coworkers is absolutely vital. That means respecting different views and opinions, respecting each person’s responsibilities, and respecting the work that you do. A workplace without respect simply cannot produce respectable work.

4. Flexibility & creativity

The ability to adapt to new environments and challenges is a hugely valuable trait. No matter what the job, company, or industry, we should always expect the unexpected, and have the flexibility to adapt to whatever comes our way. Whether it’s adapting to new technology, new systems and structures or simply a new project, versatility is crucial towards any team’s success.

Creativity is equally important in an ever-evolving business environment; having the ability to think outside the box and strategize innovative concepts and ideas makes you a reliable, valuable member of any team. Some problems require fresh solutions, and creativity is what drives innovation and progress. A team of creative thinkers is a team that is well equipped for growth and development.

5. Problem-solving & critical thinking

Coming hand-in-hand with flexibility and creativity, problem solving skills are the ability to deconstruct issues and take immediate, logical actions to solve them. Knowing that your team is ready and able to strategize productive, rational solutions to unexpected problems will heighten and inspire confidence in the workplace and help you tackle challenging obstacles without stress or burden.

The ability to look deeper at an issue and analyze and evaluate its nuances with a logical, systematic approach will ensure that you always arrive at the strongest solution possible. Critical thinking means completely deconstructing every angle of the issue and avoiding decision making that’s based on instinct or intuition.

6. Leadership

Regardless of their specific job title or position within the company hierarchy, leadership skills are absolutely essential in any role. You want your team to be motivated, driven, and goal-oriented, and you want to facilitate growth and development. Ensuring each individual in your team has strong leadership skills gives you reassurance that you can rely on anybody to take control.

When you bring a member into your team, you want to be able to see them in your long-term business plans. You want a team that is willing and ready to grow, and that has the space and tools to do so.

A good leader does not simply make commands, they inspire and encourage their team, and they care about those who work with and for them. Leadership is not reserved for bosses, managers and supervisors, and a person with leadership skills has the ability to take ownership and authority over even the smallest of projects or tasks.

7. Time management & organization

Knowing you can trust your team to get the job done promptly, without compromising the quality of the work, is hugely important. Time management is more than just showing up on time and delivering work when it’s asked for, it’s about knowing how to prioritize, how to schedule, and how to make the very most of the time you’ve got. Time management doesn’t just improve productivity and efficiency, it will also have a positive impact on the quality of the work you produce.

Clutter is never good for any working environment, whether it be in the office, digitally, or in your mind. Being organized means knowing how to efficiently manage not only the space you work in, but also your time and workload. Someone who is truly organized will have the ability to create and adhere to systems and structures that aid efficiency, and will not allow themselves to become overwhelmed or their processes to become messy.

8. Motivation & work ethic

You want to know that you’re getting the best work possible out of you and your co-workers, and one way to do so is to understand, encourage and leverage the motivations of those you work with.

A highly skilled coder, for example, may seem valuable, but their true potential won’t reflect on the work they do unless they’re driven to do their best.

Motivation can and should be influenced by both personal and professional achievement. You need to know that your team truly cares about what they are doing. If they’re not passionate about the work, and if they’re not dedicated to the wider goals of the team and organization, they will not do their best work.

Work ethic is very similar to motivation. A person with a good work ethic enjoys what they do, they understand and accept their responsibilities. They’re disciplined, focused, and always professional. Strong work ethic and motivation means understanding that hard work pays off and putting the utmost effort into every aspect of the job.

Using soft skills online

Soft skills may seem like a quality that’s only exhibited in-person, but there are plenty of ways to recognize and apply soft skills when working and collaborating remotely and online. As remote working becomes more and more prevalent in businesses across the globe, the need for soft skills to make online collaboration organic and productive is more important than ever.

Whether it's the ability to organize effective file systems, using tools to facilitate task management, or encouraging fluid communication within your team, Dropbox makes efficient online teamwork easy by enabling you to embrace and enhance your soft skills.

Soft skills result in hard workers

These are just some of the many important skills that can lead to tremendous career success.

It doesn’t matter how good someone is at a specific task, if they do not have good soft skills, they will not be that valuable of a team member. Soft skills are needed to understand the goals and vision of the company, to recognize the intent of the work, to both communicate and receive ideas, to foster a comfortable and safe working environment, and to enable a worker to reach their maximum potential.

It’s not that technical skills aren’t important, but unless the strong soft skills are there too, that technical ability will not have the opportunity to shine through.

As a hirer, when you’re creating a job description or formulating interview questions, always be sure to keep these skills in mind and be clear that they are no less important than experience and expertise. Ensure that when you read a cover letter, assess a resume, or conduct an interview, you’re looking beyond the qualifications and job-specific proficiencies, and monitoring the interpersonal skills, attitudes, and values of the candidate.

Hiring with soft skills in mind means establishing a versatile, efficient, productive, and enthusiastic environment where everyone feels valued and trusted.

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