What no one has probably ever told you about soft skills

Oct 20, 2016

Just like a set of ninja warrior skills, soft skills are a set of abilities that make you fit for combat in the workplace – kind of.

We’ve all heard how important soft skills are when trying to find a job. Numerous surveys have shown that employers prize these just as much if not sometimes more than academic achievement, but what are soft skills, really?

What are soft skills? 

What most people don’t know is that soft skills are like ninja skills. No, really. Hear me out. Soft skills are wide and varied. For a start, some employers list six, others as many as a dizzying 86. How can one hope to keep tab of and develop so many skills?

The best way to view soft skills, then, is as a set of attributes that allow you to morph into whatever is needed at the time. The ability to demonstrate interest, passion or enthusiasm is a soft skill. It’s about being flexible and ready.

Your soft skills are transferrable skills that help you navigate your way around the daily challenges and problems that tend to crop up at work. The unhappy customer, the difficult team member, the uncooperative supplier and the over-demanding boss – though hopefully not all in a single day – are all part and parcel of the challenges of working life.

That’s why I think it is better to think about your soft skills as a set of ninja-like abilities that equip you to become proactive and reflexive as and however needed.

How do soft skills help you act like a ninja warrior at work?

Your soft skills are what make you flexible, resilient and decisive. They act like an inner radar to help you detect what needs to be done – how to react to or defend that blow. They will help you analyse situations, make good judgements and decisions, and then take appropriate action so you can get your work done.

It is far more likely for a person with medium level tech skills and high level soft skills to win the job over a person who is great technically but poor when it comes to displaying people skills, team skills, resilience and the like.

It’s a bit like common sense but for work. Your boss likes them because he doesn’t then need to micro manage you or worry about whether you are going to upset an important customer.

Soft skills help keep you in the ‘fight’

Even if your technical skills manage to dazzle the eyes of the interviewer so much so that he offers you the position, you won’t last long once you’re found wanting in soft skills. As psychologist Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., author of the bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence, has observed, your technical skills will get you the job but it’s your soft skills that keep you there. They are the skills that complement the technical knowledge you have and will help you do well in your career. If you’re unpleasant and clueless it doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do because whatever benefit you bring, your oblivious or aloof attitude is going to pose a risk. It could lead to a catalogue of problems with staff, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

What’s the best way to develop soft skills?

Many new graduates bemoan the fact that entry level roles ask for soft skills and other experience which they just don’t have. After all, one needs to start somewhere. The best way to develop your soft skills, or work skills as they are sometimes called, is at work but work isn’t the only place you can develop them. This is important to know if you are a graduate with little or no work experience. If you can identify the experiences that teach you how to work with and understand people, or the way life and business work, then you can probably unearth a worthy collection of soft skills from having travelled, gone to university, played a sport or even learning ballroom dancing. This, at least, will get you in the door to start developing your abilities as a soft skills ninja warrior.

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