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What are soft skills and why are they important?

Soft skills are also known as transferrable or professional skills – transferrable, meaning, no matter where you’ve worked or whatever your job description was, those skills can be useful if you decide to change your career. For instance, if you once worked as a teacher, and decide to go into journalism, you will always find soft skills very useful. Soft skills are different from hard skills because hard skills cannot be transferred to other professions. If for example, you were a doctor, you can’t transfer medical skills to electrical engineering. In summary, soft skills are personal attributes that enable a person interact effectively, successfully and harmoniously with other people, environments, and workplace. It is people skills.

The list of soft skills useful for life, career, business, and talent are as follows.

1. Good Communication skills: in my opinion, and from my experience, this is the number one soft skill required in every aspect of life, but unfortunately, this is where so many people fail. Communication isn’t just the ability to speak or write a language – it is the ability to persuade and get an expected response as feedback. That is why a lot of common sense, good attitude, concession and understanding is involved. Let me tell you; oratory may not be effective communication, no matter how grammatically sound it may be, if there isn’t a positive response from the listeners. If you send a message, and you are able to get what you want from the recipient of the message, you have effectively communicated.

2. Problem-solving skills: I have seen some so called leaders run helter-skelter over issues that may be considered easy to manage or handle because they lack problem-solving skills. For the fact a person is a manager does not mean he has the ability to solve problems – the cleaner may be the one that has the potential to deal with the issue at hand. For instance, there was a case of a dissatisfied MacDonald customer somewhere in London. The customer was so enraged, he was speaking on top of his voice. Rather than calm the situation, the manager responded with same measure, and the whole thing escalated, until one so called insignificant junior staff came out, spoke meekly to the customer, apologised, and the situation was brought under control. All the customer needed was an apology, but the manager just couldn’t solve the problem.

3. Flexibility: being flexible means the ability to adapt to changing situations and circumstances. If a new software is introduced in your organisation, how would you cope if you aren’t flexible with learning new skills? I was in the National Youth Service headquarter in Abuja, Nigeria, and I was shocked to see staff carrying heavy paper files on almost every floor I visited. Thinking aloud, I said, ‘Do organisations still use huge paper files like this when there are computers?’ Those on the elevator with me started laughing. It wasn’t like the offices weren’t computerised, but the staff have refused to adapt to changing circumstances. To succeed in your career and life, there is the need to be versatile.

4. Negotiation skills: in negotiations, you must learn to be flexible but not make unnecessary concessions. In negotiation, you must not be too soft or too rigid – it must be a win-win situation – if you win everything, there’s a tendency that you have lost something which you didn’t realise. If you’re negotiating your salary or contract for instance, you must not price yourself out of the market – you must get to the middle where everyone is a winner. So to negotiate, you must research to know what the competitive price is – by knowing the competitive price, you will end up a winner.

5. Conflict resolution: conflict resolution may be associated with problem-solving skills, but it isn’t, because problem solving may not be conflict inclined – it may just be a difficult task which you proffer a solution to. In conflict resolution, there’s actually a conflict that needs to be sorted. The ability to calm nerves and come up with a solution or solutions acceptable to all parties requires a special skill, and that skill is conflict resolution skills.

6. Persuasive skills: what makes communication skills excellent is the ability to persuade. Persuading a person involves, first, the ability to perceive the nature of the person, or intuitively understanding the need of that person or what positively triggers the person. To persuade a person, you must observe who the person is and the likes and dislikes of that person. A quick observation will help you persuade someone you’re meeting, even for the first time. There’s a lot that goes into persuasion, but I have only summarised it.

7. Interpersonal skills: interpersonal skill is person to person skill. Relating with certain people can be very challenging, especially for the fact that different people come from different backgrounds, and therefore, see things in different ways and from different perspectives. Besides that, two people from the same home hardly see things the same way, and because we see from different perspectives, there’s always a tendency for personality clash. To smoothen relationships, there is the need to understand that one colour may mean different things to different people, and also a need to respect other people’s opinions in spite of disagreeing with them. This basic understanding is what interpersonal skills entail.

8. Teamwork: when you put people together in a team, some people are laid-back in their contributions, while some may want to make all the contributions without letting other people make their inputs. None of these two personalities are team players – the one who does not make contributions and the one who wants to do everything without giving other members the chance to do theirs are basically on the same boat. Teamwork skills strike a balance – it helps you to put in or do your own share, while at the same time, allowing other members to put in or do their own share of the work.

9. Presentation skills: some people can’t stand before two people to make a presentation, let alone, more people, but everyone who is heading somewhere must kill the fear of speaking to people. There is hardly any profession or talent these days that you won’t stand before people to make a presentation. If you’re bidding for a contract, you must make a presentation. If you’re doing a handover, you must make a presentation. If you’re doing a briefing, you must make a presentation. If you’re selling yourself, like in an interview, you must make a presentation. You see, there’s nowhere to hide, so better get up and kill your fears.

10. Work ethics: in a work environment, I have noticed that people who do less are the first to run to the superiors to gossip about hardworking colleagues – they use that as cover up for their laziness and weaknesses. I must point out that you aren’t working for the manager – there are two people you’re working for – first, is the organisation, and second is yourself. If you think you’re working for the manager, you’ll only work when the manager is there, but when he isn’t, you slack – that is called eye service – unfortunately, that is what a lot of people do, and that is not work ethics skills. If you understand that, first, you’re working for the organisation, you’ll put in all your best for a company that helps you pay your bills, and secondly, if you realise that by working for your organisation, you’re inadvertently acquiring some skills and gaining some experiences that will make you a better person, your attitude to work will be more positive. When I work, I consider it as adding value to myself, so, I am not bothered about being praised by the manager. Somehow, I know that for putting in my utmost best, life will surely reward me. In work ethics, you must be regular, punctual and busy doing something purposeful.

11. Time management: this involves the ability to truly prioritise and apportion appropriate time to each task, and being disciplined with time. Do not spend two hours doing one hour job, because you were either deliberately killing the time or simply chatting when you should be working. When I say chatting, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t chat while working, but don’t let it take over the job. I have a slogan I use for my kids when they’re working and I notice that the chats have impeded the speed of the job – I say to them, ‘Work with your hands and talk with your mouth.’ I say that because, sometimes, some people talk with their mouths and hands, and that kills time.

12. Creativity: I love it when people come up with ingenious ideas even in the very little things. It could be the way you’re able to arrange a lot of stuffs in a small room to create more space. It could be the way you come up with an idea to stop a leaking pipe until the plumber comes. It doesn’t have to be one big creative talent, but everyone knows that if they tell you something is wrong somewhere, you’ll be able to come up with a creative idea that will at least, give a temporary solution to the pending issue. Employers need people with creative skills.

13. Organisational skills: organisation is the ability to plan, arrange, coordinate, structure, manage, regulate, or assemble. First, you must learn to organise yourself as a person before you can organise your environment, and then go ahead to organise other stuffs such as meetings, events, and so on. Putting things in order and maintaining the order require a disciplined and consistent pattern. Falling apart, and letting everything fall apart isn’t organisation. For instance, when some people make presentations, you see how disorganised they are, because they are not methodological when it comes to structuring their presentations. To some, it’s inefficiency in organising events – they don’t know what should come first and what should come last.

14. Ability to work under pressure with little or no supervision: in spite of being a team player, you must be able to work on your own if need be. You can’t always be supervised – you won’t even always be supervised. There are times you must work and walk alone, and take responsibility for all your decisions. If you need always to be supervised, you still have a long way to go, because you can’t always have a coach and won’t always have a coach. In a round of a boxing match, you’re in the ring taking all the hits, and there’s nothing anyone can do to help you except your corner decides to throw in the towel. Therefore, just like in boxing, you must determine to work under pressure with little or no supervision. And when there isn’t even someone on your corner, you must go alone, work alone, walk alone, and get results alone, if need be. You won’t only be assessed as a team player – you’re also assessed as having the power of independence .

15. Decision making skills: recently, I had an assignment to convince an ambassador of a nation to put his weight in letting the president of his country feature in one of our events. I am not the ultimate decision maker in the organisation hosting the event, but the boss said to me, ‘When you get there, make all the decisions, and show that you’re in the position to make the decisions.’ I actually did – and truly, I love making decisions, but some people don’t, because they’re scared of taking responsibilities if anything goes wrong. I am ready to face the consequences if it goes wrong, and to take the praise if I’m right, but one thing I can beat my chest and say is that I’m never afraid of being the frontman when it comes to decision making. Decision making requires boldness, information, assertiveness and willingness. Never be afraid of making decisions, even if it fails – learn from the failure and move on.

16. Humour: work environments, most often, are stressful. In personal lives and relationships, there are also so much stress, but having the skill for good humour brings everything under control and calms nerves. If you can make people laugh, you can create a healthier environment and better relationships. The task gets easily done when people laugh and are happy. I’m of the opinion that in obviously very stressful jobs or assignments, one of the skills that should be considered when hiring people is humour. You don’t need to be a stand up comedian to make people laugh or be happy – learn how to do it – start with making yourself happy, and then, your happiness can be transferred to other people.

17. Assertiveness: when you make a good decision, and you’re convinced it’s a good decision, you should be able to stand up for it, and stand your ground in spite of the pressures against it. The ability to defend your decisions and actions is assertiveness – it isn’t stubbornness. There is always a war against good decisions, but your insistence is what will push it through. You must be insistent, persistent, and sometimes, impudent.

18. Empathy: empathy isn’t the same as sympathy. In empathy, you put yourself in another person’s position and feel what the person feels before making a decision or taking action. With empathy, you don’t make decisions based on limited factors – you put all the cards on the table, weigh all the consequences, look at the pros and cons, before arriving at a conclusion. Ruthlessness isn’t a good leadership quality, although that is what some people do. In ruthlessness, people only follow by compulsion, but you haven’t got their hearts, and when you stumble, they’ll descend on you, but in empathy, you’ve got most of your team, in and out.

19. Resilience: in life, business, and all your endeavours, you won’t always win, and can’t always win. When some people fail, they lie where they failed and die where they failed – that makes them failures. The ability to bounce back, get on track again, or return to competitiveness after a fall, failure or a loss is called resilience . When you are beaten, and you decide to beat lowliness and loneliness, you are resilient. Remember, on your way back to your feet, those around will remind you how you failed, but never listen to them. Just be resilient!

20. Emotional intelligence: emotional intelligence is a balance between emotion and common sense – it is the point between being too rigid and being too soft. People without emotional intelligence don’t know where to draw the line – some are too rigid and some are too soft. The ones that are too rigid lose the loyalty of people, while the ones that are too tender are taken advantage of or cheated, so to say. Don’t let your wild emotion be the determining factor in making a decision, and also, do not allow your loosed emotion be the judge when making certain decisions or taking certain actions – apply common sense to your sensitivities. Do what is right even if it doesn’t appeal to your emotion. I remember when I was a teacher, and had an unpleasant issue with two of my students who were twin (male and female). As I marked their exam papers, I was careful not to allow my emotion determine their scores – I just followed firmly, my marking scheme, like I did for every other student. It was difficult – all my cells were revolting, but I knew I had to do what was right in that circumstance.

21. Self Motivation: you won’t always have someone to challenge you to become a better person. You won’t always have someone to praise you on how well you’re doing. You won’t even always have someone to say to you that you can do it, when you feel deflated or think it is impossible to achieve a certain goal. But you will always have yourself. The best motivation a man can get isn’t the one that comes from outside or from other people – it is the one that comes from him, his very self. There’s a point you must stop relying on others to be on fire – at this point, you must start relying on yourself. The point when you can say to yourself, I can, is the stage of independence. So, learn to fight your fight even if there isn’t a tag-team partner. Motivate yourself!

22. Leadership: the ability to efficiently be in front and effectively guide others to a pre-planned, preconceived, and premeditated destination, purpose or goal  where expected results are attained is leadership. In leadership, you must be quick to understand your team and their diversities, and you must also be quick to adapt. As you adapt, go for what gives you results, without necessarily damaging the morale of your team. There is a place of persuasion and a place of compulsion. The ability to flip-flop, and make use of what is needed at that point in time is quintessential. There isn’t one rigid style of leadership – it depends on what works for the team and the time it works – the factors involved determine the therapeutic style, and the fact is that everyone does not need to like it and please note that everyone does not need to hate it, but if there’s a balance and results, then go for it.

23. Intuitiveness: intuition makes use of the sub-conscious. It helps you to make decisions without fore-knowledge, especially when you are in a leadership position. I will explain intuition with the following illustration – sometimes, you just know that someone is tiptoeing behind you, without you seeing, hearing, touching or feeling the person – something just tells you there’s someone behind you. That thing that told you is your subconscious, and the method with which you were told is intuition.

We can’t always know everything, but by training ourselves to follow our subconscious will help us make very important decisions even if we do not have a fore-knowledge of it.

24. Self Consciousness: this is also known as self awareness. In self consciousness, you understand who you really are – you know your strengths and weaknesses – you’re not self deluded, like some people are – they never tell themselves the truth. Self consciousness makes you know where to develop and improve on, and where not to bother developing at all, since you know it’s just not your thing. No matter how much you train some people, they can never be public speakers because it’s just not their thing. In self awareness, you focus on your thing, grow it, and become far better.

25. Being Teachable: being teachable is close to flexibility or adaptation, but I have chosen to separate it in order to explain it more properly. Some people can adapt to changes in technology and styles of management, but cannot accept corrections over certain negative attitudes and habits. The more you explain things of common sense to them, the more they debate and argue with you. Being academically brilliant is great. Being technologically innovative is excellent, but being stupid on issues of common sense corrections will destroy you, in spite of your great talent. If no one can break you down, and put you on your knees sometimes, you have a problem that no man can solve.

26. Logical thinking: logic is the ability to reason, using strict valid principles. For instance, mathematics has its logic – science, philosophy and all other subjects have their logics. The ability to understand your desired logic and use it or its principles to interpret a problem is logical thinking. People who think logically are considered intelligent. It’s better to shut up if you don’t understand something than use illogical methodology to interpret a logical topic.

27. Changed Mindset: mindset is a modern day evolutionary word, mostly used in leadership and personal development training. Due to our environments, where we were born, where we live, our relationships, and our type of exposure, we are bound to think, make conclusions, and believe in certain ways. All of these experiences determine the way our minds function, and the way we think.  The way we think may not necessarily be wrong, but that doesn’t make it a universal truth – sometimes, there isn’t a universal truth – and for that, we must learn to tolerate other people’s line of thoughts even if we don’t agree. The ability to condone, tolerate, or create space for other people’s culture, logical thinking, perceptions, conclusions, and beliefs require a changed mindset. The knowledge that our different backgrounds create different mental pictures, and those pictures affect our lifestyles must be at the forefront of our minds when we encounter people. Unfortunately, only a few people see from this perspective . You must interpret people based on where they’re coming from, without making a hasty or generalised conclusion.

28. Inquisitiveness: one major skill I learnt from market research interviews is the ability to probe. In open ended interviews, you don’t accept only one response – you must ask the respondent, ‘Anything else?’ Usually, when you push, there’s always additional response coming out of the person. If you do not probe, you can’t get additional information, and sometimes, these additional information are the genuine responses the person had in mind. Being inquisitive is a soft skill required to help you know the mind of a person – if you accept a prompt response and conclude that that is the final answer, you may lose out a lot of information behind the facade.

29. Observation: sometimes, information isn’t obtained by probing but by observing. Sometimes, you must shut up, and watch with all your five senses without uttering a single word. And sometimes, you must observe without the knowledge of the subject. You get great information from observation. Behavioural patterns are neatly and correctly sketched during observations, especially if the talent isn’t aware.

30. Mentoring: back in my country, I helped many young people in my community with their academic works and career counselling. Many of them can trace their achievements today, to the mentoring they got from me, and that is one of the proudest things I have done in my life. Until I moved to the UK, I didn’t know it was called mentoring. Then, I didn’t give a damn what it was called – I just wanted those young people to succeed. I taught them every subject I could, including the ones I have never studied – I would pick up the books, read and understand them, and then, teach them in return – I would also motivate them – motivation has always been my thing. I did all these naturally without expecting anything in return – I just loved doing it. Don’t kill your propensity to mentor people, especially the young ones, if you have the ability to. Whoever you’re in the position to teach or coach a skill, do it with the whole of your heart. Never hoard knowledge – pass it on!

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Ken is a leadership Motivation, Strategy and Personal Development Writer, Blogger and Speaker. He writes for a number of magazines and blogs. He is also a mentor and published author of several books.

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