She replied that “the hard skills are the technical expertise you need to get the job done. The soft skills are really everything else — competencies that go from self-awareness to one’s attitude to managing one’s career to handling critics, not taking things personally, taking risks, getting along with people and many, many more.”
Basically, soft skills are those that enable you to put your technical skills productively to work.
Can you resolve a conflict with a co-worker about a work plan or about cubicle distractions? Can you sell the value of your approach to your boss and teammates? Can you write an email that gets the results you need? Can you challenge someone’s idea in a productive rather than destructive way?
Then celebrate and thank your soft skills. And as you mentally make note of everyone you work with whose lack of soft skills makes them unpleasant–or even unbearable–to work with, the pivotal role of soft skills in the workplace becomes very visible. Without the soft skills to support the technical abilities of a staff, projects simply don’t get very far. Even the US Department of Labor sees soft skills as “the competitive edge.”
This is a hugely important lesson that most of us have learned the hard way as we struggle to work with those who make everyone around them miserable. But having learned this lesson, make it work for you: make sure your hiring processes are designed to measure soft skills as well as hard skills.
There are some terrific web resources to help you do this. The Soft Skills blog offers questions divided by skill area to ask about. And if you’ve ever heard of or used behavioral-based interviewing, the focus is on soft skills. Here’s one good explanation and resource. And here’s another.
Meanwhile, don’t pass up any opportunities to improve your own soft skills. They’ll be key to moving into the next job you desire, and in the interim your co-workers will thank you for it.