Why Soft Skills Are Important at Work

As a child, you were probably 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 get a job in that field.

But one critical fact seemed to be missing from this skills acquisition process. The fact that soft skills have a more significant impact on our job happiness and success.

Research by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Career Center (no slouches themselves, so we respect their findings) found that soft skills, or as we more aptly like to call them career success skills, contribute 85% to job happiness and success, which means technical skills and our natural intelligence represent 15%.

Career Success Skills

Contributions to Career Success

That seems unbelievably high at first glance, given technical skills are required to get a job.  But when you look closer, the reasons for these findings become apparent, especially in today’s knowledge economy.

Consider for a moment how work gets done today.  It is through extreme collaboration. We spend a lot of our day relying on and interacting with other human beings to get our jobs done.  And when we aren’t, we are flexing our knowledge work muscle, our brains, learning new facts, analyzing data, problem-solving, or developing new, innovative strategies that not only help us meet our job responsibilities but can propel our company or organization to greater success.

So, what exactly are these soft, career success skills? They are skills that center on awareness, deep awareness of ourselves, and greater awareness of our colleagues’.  How we process information, what influences our opinions, work styles, preferred communication approaches, conflict opinions, and more, leading to productive working relationships and career empowerment.

Working effectively and achieving our personal, team, and company goals require uber-teamwork. But humans are unique with unique thoughts and ideas and different influences on our thoughts and ideas. The views, opinions, and approaches to work by individuals in a company can be as varied as the number of employees. To effectively collaborate, we need to be keenly aware of our characteristics and behaviors and those of our co-workers.

We have classified these essential skills into 3- categories: strategic thinking, collaborative behaviors, and positive mindsets.

How we process information, interact with others, 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 complete capabilities, including our technical knowledge and natural intelligence, which is probably why our astute researchers determined that they have the most significant 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, finance, sales, customer service, engineering, marketing, law, human resources, the functional area skills we have masterfully developed. But interestingly, most knowledge workers seem to expend a lot of energy attempting to prove their intelligence when they should be spending energy gathering data and expanding their knowledge, knowledge of themselves, others, information to help solve problems, and create new ways of addressing customer needs.

And best of all, this deep knowledge reduces unnecessary stress and anxiety at work.

Why are these skills important?

Strategic Thinking: The instant answer and fragmented attention world we live in today can cause us to rush our thinking, making snap assumptions or decisions versus taking a moment to understand a topic or consider the long-term domino effect of different actions. This automatic thinking can lead to poor decision-making. It can also cause us to tune out of conversations quickly, leading us to miss information. And without strategic thinking, our egos can take over our thoughts and actions, creating barriers to collaborating effectively with others and getting our jobs done.

Collaborative Behaviors: We don’t always appear to others the way we intend. We might smirk unknowingly or grimace when processing information. This smirk or grimace can be interpreted as disagreeing, disrespectful, untrusting, etc. Or our approach to work may be interpreted as not caring when in reality, we hate conflict and attempt to avoid it at all costs. Understanding how to best interact with different work styles is critical to getting work done and eliminating unnecessary frustration, misunderstanding, and conflict.

Positive Mindsets: Negative emotions or mindsets, such as pessimism, anxiety, or fear, can paralyze us, only seeing the challenges of implementing new ideas, fear of making mistakes, or being wrong. Negative mindsets can cloud our thinking, block our abilities to see the possibilities, and stall progress. When we approach work with an optimistic, confident mindset, we eliminate these barriers to achieving our goals.

With a focus on these actionable, cognitive skills, individuals:

  • Understand how they think and process information.
  • Understand how they behave at work and, even more importantly, how their teammates interpret their behaviors, and
  • Build positive mindsets to overcome adversity, which is inevitable at work.

The skills that lead to career success are:

These skills are much more involved than their names suggest. For example, active listening is very hard. We hear about 225 words per minute, but we can process over 500. Our minds naturally fill in this 275-word gap, causing us to focus on our own thoughts versus what others are saying. And many people are surprised to see this skill classified in strategic thinking. But active listening is about understanding, which requires us to process information, which is thinking.

Self-awareness and awareness of our co-workers’ provide clarity that:

  • Eliminates frustration due to a lack of understanding of what is to be accomplished,
  • Informs us how to best interact with our co-workers, and
  • Reveals why our co-workers react in a certain way,
  • And more.

Individuals with well-developed soft (career success) skills navigate today’s human-interaction-powered knowledge economy to experience higher job satisfaction, lower stress and anxiety, and achieve their definition of career success.