The Importance of Soft Skills and How Keep Developing Them

16 Jan 2023

To be a true versatile employee means prioritizing skills that are present in any job: soft skills. The reality is that industries constantly change. This may be from new strategies of operation or simply innovations in skill. You could be the best at what you do, but evolving markets will always see that we are not complacent with our abilities. We always need to keep developing ourselves, including things like soft skills.

One should always be willing to learn. We will always need to grow, collaborate, and adapt in order to flourish. For this reason, hard – or operational – skills are not as sought after as it was before. 

Soft Skills over Hard Skills

A study conducted by Harvard Business Review reveals a significant redefinition of roles valued in organizations from 2000-2017. Operational expertise such as marketing, accounting, and sales are still highly relevant and sought after in today’s job market. However, companies are now also aware of the value that soft skills like proper time management hold. Ones that are adaptable and transferrable. Rohan Rajiv, Director of Product Management at LinkedIn, attributes the spotlight on “foundational soft skills” to the rise of remote and automated work. According to him, soft skills like communication and management were featured in 78% in jobs from June-August in 2022. 

That said, hard skills are neither useless now nor would they be in the future. In any job, you still need to either have or learn skills in the trade. However, soft skills can help you land that job. Hard skills give recruiters the initiative to meet with you, but what sells you as an employee are your soft skills. Let’s take a look at some good foundational soft skills and how to develop them to get you ready for any industry.

Strong Social Skills

No matter what industry you find yourself in, there will always be critical relationships to build. This is especially true in larger, multinational organizations that deal in mergers and acquisitions where communication is essential to productivity. There will not only be multiple groups in active collaboration, but departments disconnected from you geographically. Someone who communicates directly and effectively with empathy is invaluable to any industry. This is one of the soft skills that everyone should not stop developing.

Theory of Mind

Through well-honed communication skills you will be able to properly facilitate collaboration, easing coordination across employees, across departments. Key to this is developing a “theory of mind”, or the ability to infer the intentions or thoughts of others. Even though we develop a theory of mind as infants, we do need to keep getting better at it. There are three foundational skills that you need as you develop your own theory of mind:

Attention. This goes beyond keeping eye contact with whoever you are talking to. Here, you selectively direct your attention toward them and their behavior.

Developing your attention skill helps you understand the behavior of others.

Intentionality. This relates to our awareness of the motivations of others; how behavior is purposeful. The motivations of people stem from unique beliefs and goals, ones that are different from our own.

Imitation. Imitation is then the bridge between attention and intentionality. This is where we notice that the attention of others is somewhere. We know the intention, and we then imitate to direct our own focus there as well. 

Theory of mind is applicable to different industries. It can seem like a simple skill to focus on but its sought after for a reason. We all can communicate but it takes versatile worker to be able to do it well and in any situation.

Processing Information Better

The key to being versatile is admitting that you do not know everything. But that doesn’t mean you never will. To be a versatile worker means being ready and willing to adjust yourself to an unfamiliar industry. It can be difficult to keep up in a new environment. But good information processing makes it adaptable in any industry, and any department as long as you know how to process new information. Not only does this affect how you store memory, it also impacts the way in which memory affects decision-making. This is one of the soft skills people neglect, and therefore forget to continue developing.

The first step towards better information processing is knowing how we store information in the first place. Luckily, there are a lot of studies on this. But let’s focus on the prevailing theory of the Multi-Store Model of Memory.

Multi-Store Model of Memory

Here, memory and information are stored in three different stores called Sensory Memory, Short-term Memory, and Long-Term Memory. According to this theory, information will first enter sensory, then short-term, until it will remain with you indefinitely in the long-term stores. The only way to move through from sensory to long-term is through practice. In order for us to process information quickly, it is necessary to practice moving sensory information into long-term information quickly. 

Sensory. This one has the shortest duration in terms of storing memory, but it receives information from all five senses. What this means is that when seeing a sentence briefly, we retain that sentence for 1/2 second before it is lost. The best way to move past sensory memory is simply through focusing on where the sense is stored. If you are reading a sentence briefly, the best way to retain it (to move the memory toward short-term stores) is to reread it again and again. 

Short-Term. This has a duration of up to 30 seconds only. Short-term stores are retained by “maintenance rehearsal”, like repeating information mentally or audibly. However, repeating information rarely involves any connection to meaning. What you do is simply memorizing the word or the picture, that you will eventually forget. 

Keep personalized visual notes to keep information for the long term.

Long-Term. Information here is stored forever. It is retained through “elaborate rehearsal” where you give the information meaning. The best way to remember information is to relate and give it meaning in a way that you will personally understand; it is the deepest level of information-processing.

Soft Skills Need to be Developed

Most soft skills may be innate, or something we do every day like how to be productive or better time management. But they are still skills, nonetheless. We should always be developing our soft skills in order for us to truly become an all-around employee. There are different types of soft skills. Pick the ones you want to improve on and try your best. To be a versatile, after all, does not mean you are the best at everything. It just means you are always willing to learn.