Soft skills are basically personality traits and abilities that allow a person to navigate the world effectively and efficiently without pissing other people off. They’re absolutely essential and yet so many people don’t have them. Either because they never knew that they needed them, or because they know that they need them but never learned.
I’ve put together a list of soft skills here – with a brief paragraph on why they’re necessary and a good resource or two that should allow an interested party to give educate themselves. Check it out and let me know if I’ve left any off that you think are necessary.
Know thyself. The most basic of soft skills – because without this one, you won’t know if you’re lacking in any of the others. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is step one. It helps you improve, but it also helps you to avoid putting yourself in situations where you’re not likely to succeed.
- Public Speaking
“But I don’t need public speaking!” Bullshit. Every meeting I’ve ever been to had someone speaking to a group of people – sometimes a small group, sometimes whole departments. People need to use public speaking skills in job presentations/interviews, sales pitches, parties, and in testimony. These moments can always be improved with basic public speaking skills – considering things like tone and pacing, awareness of audience, and visual presentation.
- Work-Life Balance
How do you know that you’re about to burnout? How do you know when your spouse is about to leave you because you spend more time at the office than you do with them? How do you know whether your children are seeing as much of you as they should be? Once you know these things – how can you take steps to improve the situation?
Basically, how to not be a prick to other people – even when you think they deserve it. There’s a lot of opportunities to be a prick, either when you’re in a position of authority over others or even when you’re a low man on the totem pole. You can help other people improve, or even remove them from your orbit, without being a prick about it. Diplomacy is all about tact, and it’s a skill every one ought to learn.
- Goal Setting
I’ve seen goals like ‘Become famous’, or ‘End world hunger’ a lot. Both in students’ reports and in government policy (which is baffling). These sorts of goals are nebulous, difficult to track, and ultimately near-impossible to achieve in their current state. You need to know how to formulate goals – not just personal goals, but also goals in the workplace. For example, when your boss needs you to develop goals for yourself, what do you say? How do you formulate your goals so that you can clearly and demonstrably achieve them – giving your boss something to look to when they’re deciding on your end-of-year bonus?
You’ve just quit a soul-sucking job. Now what? An endless series of job applications and hoping and praying for a lucky break? In some industries, job seeking is almost akin to buying lottery tickets. And you can’t just start networking when you need something, because people can usually tell when you’re only interested in them because of their connections. They’ll know that you’re not being genuine. You need to know how to cultivate relationships carefully and well before you need them. That is what networking is designed to do.
If you have a problem, you need to be able to identify the cause. Otherwise the problem will repeat itself or – sometimes – get worse with your inaction. You need to know how to troubleshoot so that you can recognise where the problem genuinely lies so that you don’t end up just treating the symptoms. This can be an IT thing, but it can also be applied to more general problems – like why you can’t lose weight, why you’re stressed all the time, or why the dog keeps peeing on the rug.
- Creative Problem Solving
Once you understand the problem, you need the solution. It could be a simple problem – like the fact that your hotel room curtain won’t close properly. You pull it closed. It flaps open again. “Well, I guess that’s just my life now,” you say, and do nothing else. You go to sleep with a shaft of light crossing your eyes.
Or you can do this:
That’s one example, but there are others. People who can’t problem solve learn to be helpless in how they approach the world and navigate it. Creativity = flexibility. Creativity allows people to act quickly and efficiently and get things done.
- Project Management
It’s not just a business skill – any project your encounter (renovating your house, planning a party, whatever) will need to be managed in order to effectively execute it. You need to know how to manage a project well so that you’re not wasting time or going off track. This is another area where effective goal-setting is important, too.
- People Management
Managing people is, again, a skill that is not limited to the workplace. The skills are transferable and necessary.
- Decision Making
People taking forever to make a decision is a pet peeve of mine (I love Chidi on The Good Place, but I could never be friends with him). Especially when the decision is something trivial – like where to eat, or what to wear, or what to Secret Santa gift to get a person you barely know. We only have so much time on this earth! Some things just aren’t worth hesitating and dragging your feet over. Bigger decisions should take a little bit more time so that you’re certain that you’re making the right choice. But for the love of all the gods: Make. A. Decision. And do it in a timely manner.
- Conflict Resolution
Literally everyone I’ve ever met has had a problem with someone they worked with, someone in their family, or someone in their social circle. I don’t care who you are or what context you’re in, everyone needs to know how to resolve conflicts.
When you’re at work and you see something that seems sketchy, how do you judge whether it’s something that you need to call out? So many businesses and organisations work in areas that seem grey; technological advances are riddled with moral quandries (thanks for giving us Alexa, sure hope she isn’t being used to spy on us…), and so many industries rely on low wages, bad working conditions, and poisoning the environement (the fashion industry is a big one here). Even if you’re not making the decisions, you should still know how to judge the ethical or moral vigour of choices being made, and then decide what actions you’re going to take based on that.
- Emotion Management
Managing emotions is a skill that many need but few practice explicitly. It’s something that we usually do after a problem has occurred – after we’ve lost our temper or freaked out over a project. Learning to manage emotions before they become problematic is an extremely useful skill.
- Organisation (of space and time)
Some people can keep their schedules in their head – what time they need to be somewhere and when, whether their bills are due, etc. Some people can tell you where anything is in their house. Others need to learn that skill.
- Motivation Management
People who only work when they are motivated are people who only eat at irregular intervals.
- Adaptability and Resilience
Your life might change with a simple decision or mistake – a car crash, getting fired, getting promoted, losing a loved-one, getting married, etc. Hell, the world might not even be here in twelve years, and if it is it will be drastically different to the world we’re in right now. Being able to move with the punches and get back up quickly afterwards is a super useful skill.
- Diversity Awareness
Being sensitive to difference is an important skill. That doesn’t mean bending over backwards, nor drawing unnecessary attention to differences, nor – and I can’t stress this enough – pandering to diversity. It means understanding what it means to be different in this world. There are so many ways that diversity awareness can be a boon to your life and your workplace, and I’m not going to go into them here because that’s not what this post is about. You don’t need to be super-dooper-woke to respect a person’s pronouns or agree that historically things have been very difficult for nearly everyone who wasn’t straight, white, and male. There are people who rail against the SJWs ruining the world with their political correctness, so let’s just not call it ‘political correctness’; let’s call it ‘being kind’, or, ‘knowing that your experiences are not universal’.
- Written Communication (tone and clarity)
I don’t care who you are or what you do, you need to be able to put together a coherent sentence, structure a paragraph, and write an email. You might need to persuade someone to hire you, or ask for help from a client/coworker, or even argue about something on the internet (try arguing about something on the internet while using bad grammar, see what happens). Knowing who you’re talking to and why will affect what choices you make in communicating – being able to communicate in different places and different ways is a skill that can only help you.
- Logical Reasoning
Applying logic makes so many things so much easier, and yet it is a skill that people hardly ever use unless they absolutely necessary – and at that point, they’re rusty.