The Six Non-Technical Skills That Support Job Happiness

Foundational Soft Skills

As a child, you were probably often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow-up?” With that question echoing in your head for years or even decades, you decided on an answer and then set a path to learn the technical skills needed to secure a job in that field.

One often-overlooked fact in this skill acquisition process is that soft skills have a more significant impact on our job happiness and success.

Contributors to Career Happiness & Success

Research by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Career Center found that soft skills contribute 85% to job happiness and success, which means technical skills only represent 15%.

That seems rather high at first glance, given technical skills are required to get and keep a job.  But when you look closer, the reasons for these findings become clear.

Consider for a moment how work gets done today.  It is through extreme collaboration or uber-teamwork. We spend much of our day relying on and interacting with other human beings.  And when we aren’t, we are flexing our brains, learning new facts, or developing strategies to deliver on our responsibilities.

How we interact with others, process information, and present our ideas leads to respect, appreciation, and acknowledgment of our capabilities by our teammates. In other words, the strength of our soft skills demonstrates our holistic capabilities and, therefore, has a greater influence on our job productivity and career growth, success, and happiness.

Our colleagues trust that we are highly competent in our specific areas of expertise, whether that is finance, sales, customer service, engineering, marketing, law, human resources, the functional area skills we have masterfully developed.

The factors that determine how we perform or excel in our manager and teammates’ minds focus on how we think, behave, and collaborate. Often called soft skills, behavior skills, or human skills.

We have defined six foundational behavioral skills that will lead to greater happiness at work. These six skills help us better understand our co-workers’ behaviors and frees our thinking, both of which lead to successful problem-solving and the creation of innovative new solutions, ideas, or processes.

Six-Foundational Soft Skills

Given the breadth and variety of soft skills, it can be hard to know where to start.  But, when you think about how these skills interrelate, they align with the categories of a career success formula.

Career Success Formula & Soft Skills

We have identified 6-foundational soft skills that power job success.

Let’s take a closer look at each.

Critical thinking is a mindset about thinking.  It starts by being open-minded and objectively considering why we believe what we believe. Critical thinkers assume they might be wrong so to free their mind and explore new possibilities, which lead to innovative, creative ideas.  Critical thinking is not about thinking more; it is about thinking better by not accepting data or information at face value.

Problem-solving.  Problems are a gap between the desired outcome and an actual outcome.  Problem-solving capitalizes on the open-minded, critical thinking mindset to analyze the cause & effect of problems successfully.  The most common mistake when problem-solving is assuming the first source identified of the problem is the ultimate cause.  Deeper thinking is typically needed to determine the actual root cause of a problem.

Humility is often misunderstood.  Humility is a positive, honest opinion about oneself, so it is inner strength.  We all have strengths and weaknesses.  Humble individuals know their limits and accept their shortcomings without being defensive or having self-judgment.  And because of this self-openness, they know what they can do and where they need help. Humility powers an ability to change our minds, and more importantly, recognizing when we should.  It is a powerful skill successful individuals want to possess.

Empathy is the skill that helps us understand what makes others “tick.”  Empathy starts with an understanding of someone’s personality, cultural norms, and social affiliations that drive their opinions and beliefs.  It helps us to understand how someone is feeling, even if we disagree with why they feel a certain way.  And it can power our ability to feel what someone else is feeling. But the pinnacle element of empathy is recognizing what others need from us and then fulfilling that need.

Communication. You can have all the brainpower in the world, but you have to be able to transmit it.  And the transmission is communication. ~ Warren Buffet.  Effective communication is not just about talking. It integrates presenting data-supported opinions and ideas, active listening, and verbal and non-verbal behaviors. Effective communication requires time to prepare an effective approach, is more about listening than talking, and includes a setting aside of oneself to build others’ self-esteem.

Collaboration is how work gets done today, or better described as uber-teamwork.  No one is successful on their own in today’s knowledge work environment. Effective collaborators know how to influence others (thanks to strong empathy) and graciously ask for and accept help when needed (humility), which leads to individual and team success.

Given the personal nature of some of these skills, the best way to strengthen them starts with honest self-reflection. Honest self-reflection can be hard, but we benefit most when we push ourselves to analyze our desires and behaviors deeply. We can then compare our actions to others and ensure we are modeling behaviors that reflect our personal values. Not all development exercises require self-reflection. Some exercises are more fun, like playing strategic games to strengthen problem-solving or critical thinking. Or reading fiction or watching a movie to explore the diversity of cultures, opinions, and ideas.

One common element is, just like physical development, soft skills require time and commitment to see improvement.

Curious about your soft skills knowledge?  Take our quizzes.

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