This is a sponsored post from Digi-Key. Written by Nancy Ordman.
What technical skills do you need for 2020? How different is the 2020 list from previous years? Skills that are in high demand and short in supply will change at the pace of technological innovation as well as based on changes in the economy. Disruptions from new technologies, economic fluctuations, and political shifts can render many predictions useless.
However, soft skills are important in any job, regardless of technical requirements and position responsibilities. Whether the employee is entry-level or a C-suite executive, these are skills that transfer from job to job throughout a career.
Definitions of soft skills are nearly as thick on the ground as lists of the most important technical skills. Interpersonal skills, such as communication skills, conflict resolution, and teamwork, are commonly included across most definitions. Another way to define soft skills is to say what they are not. They are not quantifiable technical skills that can be taught through education and training.
Lists of soft skills come in varying lengths and levels of specificity. Overlap between categories is standard. Furthermore, some skills can be subsets of these broader categories. The following list is a distillation of several recent publications from knowledgeable human resources professionals across multiple industries.
Boiling down a definition of emotional intelligence, or EQ, is even less straightforward than defining soft skills. In a very general sense, emotionally intelligent individuals are conscious of their own emotional states and can both identify and manage them. They can also understand another person’s emotions and use that understanding to interact with them constructively and with sensitivity. Justin Bariso, writing for Inc.com, lists thirteen signs of high emotional intelligence. Many of these signs—like reflecting on one’s own feelings, controlling one’s thoughts, demonstrating empathy, and praising others—sound like qualities of emotional maturity that should be found in most adults.
Bear in mind that, unlike general intelligence tests, no validated psychological tests exist for EQ. Nevertheless, some employers use EQ tests and will use the results to inform hiring decisions.
Communication, the formal or informal transfer of information from source to receiver and back, is a two-way street. Recognizing this dichotomy is the first step to gaining a deeper understanding of the qualities of successful communication. One of the most important skills is learning to listen; to be the receiver and not the communicator. The concept of active listening (paying attention, asking questions, understanding what the speaker or writer is saying, etc.) has been touted for many years because it works. A corollary for the person doing the speaking or writing is to express themselves clearly and concisely thereby respecting the recipient’s time and intellect.
Communication happens through a lot of pathways. The Balance Careers lists ten, including a few attitudinal qualities that at first glance might not seem related to communication, such as confidence and friendliness. Take a few minutes to think about how effective a confident speaker can be compared to one that does not sound convinced that what they are saying has value.
Soft skills related to communications include persuasive ability, effective collaboration, and teamwork.
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Distilled to a basic description, critical thinking and its corollary, problem-solving, involve analyzing information objectively and making a judgment. This oversimplification leaves out the process of finding information, sorting out and organizing the relevant bits, and applying logical thinking to reach a conclusion based on the information.
In an organization, much of this process involves two or more people working on a project or decision. However, organizations particularly prize individuals who can make good decisions on their own, sometimes under pressure, without needing much input from colleagues.
Organizations, like individuals, adapt to their environments or they die. Examples litter the landscape, such as Sears and Toys R Us most recently. Adaptable people can recognize situations that demand change and help effect the necessary changes. They are also able to accept and work with changes over which they have no control. In the same vein, another useful skill is to be able help colleagues navigate through potentially ambiguous situations.
Adaptable people have optimistic world views, fueled by curiosity, open minds, and the willingness to embrace change. They are also able to accept the discomfort of moving into unknown territory. Even as an adaptable person can entertain change, they can also discern when to avoid change for change’s sake. Individuals’ innate predisposition to adaptability will vary, but these skills can be learned and with practice, people can become more comfortable with change.
Soft Skills Yield Strong Results
For individual employees, investing time and effort in developing soft skills will pay off in their present positions as well as prepare them for a future of organizational change. Employers will benefit through employee flexibility, creative approaches to problem-solving, and the ability to initiate and carry through with changes in a timely manner. The references below provide more detailed discussions of soft skills, including suggestions and sources for relevant training.
What Is Emotional Intelligence? Psychology Today.
(9 July 2018). What are soft job skills and why are they important? Career Builder.
Gaskell, Adi. (22 February 2019). What Are The Top 10 Soft Skills For The Future Of Work? Forbes.
Doyle, Alison. (24 August 2019). What Are Soft Skills? The Balance Careers.