Around two years ago, we started using Pluralsight as an e-learning platform in BlueSnap. Among tons of great technical courses, from IT to software development, I found many courses that helped me improve my soft skills. Some courses impacted my day-to-day work almost immediately. Some courses taught me new techniques, and others taught me tools that I am using daily.
What are soft skills?
When we talk about soft skills, it usually has more to do with who we are than what we know to do. We typically refer to skills as “soft” when related to personality traits and habits. Unlike hard skills, which can be measured using tests or qualifications, soft skills are harder to measure and evaluate. Despite that, most of these skills, like effective communication, effective collaboration, and active listening, substantially impact our day-to-day work and working relationships.
Why are soft skills essential?
The term “soft skills” makes it sound like optional “nice to have” skills. But in fact, these skills are crucial for effective day-to-day work and collaboration in every organization and on every level.
Soft skills help people reach their full potential and utilize their “hard” skills. For example, effective communication and presentation skills can help sell any idea — a product initiative, a technical infrastructure, or a business deal. The better your communication skills are, the easier it is for you to convey your ideas and make an impact.
In an everchanging world, where technology and occupation can change every year, such skills are becoming more and more crucial. Good soft skills are fully transferable and are valuable for any role and position. You will benefit from improving them no matter where your career path takes you. Such skills are significant assets for career progression. They can help you improve and gain promotions, while neglecting them can limit your potential.
67% of HR managers said they would hire a candidate with strong soft skills, even if technical abilities were lacking. This report, by The International Association of Administrative Professionals, OfficeTeam, and HR.com, also indicated that just 9% of HR managers would hire someone with strong technical credentials but weak soft skills. Based on a study from Boston College, Harvard, and the University of Michigan, soft skills training boosts productivity and retention by 12%.
5 Most Important Soft Skills for Technologists
There are a lot of soft skills that can help anyone to strive. Some soft skills, like creativity; resourcefulness; perseverance, and curiosity, are more by nature. Other soft skills can be nurtured, learned, and enhanced. I prefer to focus on these skills, as anyone can quickly improve them.
Communication skills are essential soft skills. Most of us must communicate with colleagues, customers, suppliers, bosses, and even executives during our everyday work. Good communication skills help us better express ourselves, portray our ideas, and clarify our needs to others. Communication skills can also help us better understand others and their needs.
Effective communication skills can help reduce friction both in verbal and written communication. Active listening is a great tool that can help you understand others. Effective writing skills can help with written communication, from articles, like this one, to daily email communication. Effective writing skills are crucial for technical writing or writing technical reports.
I believe most people don’t like clutter and enjoy an organized environment. In the same way most of us find pleasure in a tidy house, a neat, well-organized work environment can help us reduce a lot of our day-to-day work stressors. Organizing our work requires effort, the same as tidying our house requires it, in addition to having the right tools and techniques.
Time management, task management, and information management are just a few skills that can lead to better organization capabilities. There are many tools to help with these tasks, but you should find the effective ones that suit you.
Problem Solving and Decision Making
When I first heard of the term decision-making techniques, I thought: “I know how to make decisions.”, but I was wrong. I was using a minimal set of tools.
Most of us are familiar with the associative brainstorming technique. You put a term or a question on the board and cycle it with randomly related adjectives. That is what we learned in elementary school. But there are far more advanced brainstorming techniques to help with complex problems. Advanced brainstorming techniques, like mind mapping and affinity diagrams, can help us generate better ideas and solutions, personally or in a group. In addition, nominal group, group passing, and stepladder techniques can significantly help generate ideas in a group.
Decision-making techniques help us understand which suggested solutions are the right ones and increase our confidence in the decisions made. Voting systems, for example, aid decision-making and make the process quicker and easier.
Collaboration and Teamwork
Collaboration and teamwork are essential skills for teams to work effectively. However, effective collaboration is a big challenge in these pandemic times that limit us to collaborating remotely using online tools.
While it takes a team effort to collaborate effectively, you, as an individual, can develop collaboration skills and become a more significant part of your team. You can also implement better teamwork practices and principles in your group.
If you are in a leadership position or not, to make an impact, you must lead. Learning leadership principles can help you lead various activities and initiatives in your team, department, or organization.
How to Improve these Soft Skills?
Many people believe that soft skills are hard to learn and improve, and many people believe that most of these skills are by nature and not by nurture. I beg to differ. There are many ways to improve your soft skills — from online articles and YouTube videos to web-based courses and classroom-based courses. In addition, learning soft skills can be fun, and you can practice them in your everyday work.
As I mentioned before, I spent hours watching courses on Pluralsight to improve some of my soft skills. I can recommend the learning path “Communications for Technologists”, which helped me improve my written and oral communication skills. I can also recommend the learning path “Developing Soft Skills for Today’s Workplace”, which significantly impacted how my team works together.
Improving Soft Skills is Fun
Improving soft skills is a fun and rewarding journey. As you start sharpening your soft skills, you will notice how useful and impactful it is for your day-to-day work. I understand that this article can be overwhelming for someone hearing about soft skills for the first time.
I recommend picking only one soft skill and focusing on improving it in your day-to-day work this week.