Well-rounded, highly-developed soft skills can be invaluable to business success but what are soft skills and why are they important? While soft skills can at times be more difficult to develop than hard skills—more quantifiable attributes such as web design, accounting, or editing experience—they are arguably equally important in running a successful business. Understanding what soft skills are will help you identify your soft skills or the soft skills you need to develop in the future.
What are Soft Skills?
Soft skills, often called people skills or emotional intelligence, are defined as the ability to interact amicably with others. Soft skills are personal attributes that can affect relationships, communication, and interaction with others. Soft skills can include, or relate to, the following:
- Customer service
- Conflict resolution
- Communication effectiveness
- Working under pressure
Why are Soft Skills important?
Soft skills are an essential part of finding, attracting, and retaining clients. Highly-developed presentation skills, networking abilities, and etiquette awareness can help you win new clients and gain more work from existing clients. Honing your abilities to resolve conflicts, solve problems, and provide excellent customer service can lead to stronger relationships with colleagues, vendors, and other professional contacts. Ultimately, strong soft skills can help you gain confidence—an invaluable trait in the business world.
On the other hand, a lack of soft skills can limit your potential, or even be the downfall of your business. By developing strong leadership, teamwork, and communication abilities, you can run projects more smoothly, deliver results that please everyone, and even positively influence your personal life by improving how you interact with others.
Do you need to improve your Soft Skills?
Soft skills aren’t generally “all or none.” Many people are adequate or even exemplary with some skills yet struggle with others. For instance, you may have excellent communication and teamwork abilities but struggle with time management or crack under pressure. It’s not uncommon to either underestimate the importance of soft skills or overestimate your own proficiency. Here are a few common scenarios that may be improved with stronger soft skills:
- You have a low client retention rate compared to others in your field
- You are frequently late for meetings or struggle to meet deadlines
- You fail to grow your professional network, or avoid networking opportunities altogether
- You manage to land meetings with prospective clients, but rarely proceed to the next stage or close deals
How to develop your Soft Skills
A great first step in personal development is to recognize and acknowledge the areas in which you need to improve. This can take place through personal reflection and introspection, an evaluation of your business’s performance deficiencies, or through feedback from trusted colleagues or friends. You may find that daily journaling regarding your professional interactions and their outcomes is helpful self-evaluation.
After you’ve gained an awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, create a plan of action for improvement that aligns with and supports your business plan. Because soft skills encompass a relatively large category, there are a number of ways to develop or enhance these skills:
- Consider working with a mentor who can provide feedback and model appropriate skills.
- If your focus is on improving communication, courses in subjects like public speaking or joining a group such as Toastmasters can be helpful.
- Get a coach who can help you develop high priority skills quickly.
- Although it may seem deceptively simple, don’t underestimate the effect of positivity and optimism. After all, the majority of soft skills are bolstered by confidence and enthusiasm and undermined by anxiety, insecurity, and negativity. Changing your mindset so you are able to see the positive in situations can have a significant impact on how you interact with others.
Soft skills can influence your ability to give a great presentation and communicate your speaking points effectively. To learn how to improve your presentation style, read How to Give a Great Business Presentation.
Find independent consulting jobs with top companies through MBO’s marketplace