Why Soft Skills Matter And The Top 3 You Need

This post originally appeared on Forbes


What’s the formula for building a company that can not only withstand the climates of change and uncertainty we’re living in, but transform and innovate? It used to be that the formula was to build a team that had the technical expertise and work experience to execute on “the plan.” Also known as building a team around hard skills: statistical analysis, SEO/SEM marketing, software development, data mining, network and information systems, and so on.

Now, a major coalition of businesses, policy experts, trade groups, and academics are demonstrating that soft skills—specifically interpersonal skills, the ability to manage and control your emotions, communication skills, leadership, adaptability, and problem solving—are critical. And they are bringing about a whole-scale reevaluation of their value. In fact, a new study from Boston College, Harvard University, and the University of Michigan found that soft skills training, like communication and problem-solving, boosts productivity and retention 12 percent and delivers a 250 percent return on investment based on higher productivity and retention.

Today, as companies increasingly need to become more dynamic, interconnected and flexible, soft skills are critical. According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report, executives now consider these skills important to fostering employee retention, improving leadership, and building a meaningful culture. In fact, 92 percent of Deloitte’s respondents rated soft skills as a critical priority. They noted that an HR leader’s mission has shifted from that of “chief talent executive” to “chief employee experience officer.”

The good news is that soft skills are learnable. In fact, resilience training experts, who specialize in teaching and training in the soft skills, would go further to say they are foundational to creating strong employees, teams, leaders and organizations. Here are the most critical soft skills to build resilience, and how to develop them in your team:

1. Problem Solving
The ability to get into “problem-solving mode” and stay in it for long periods of time—in other words, persist until a problem is solved instead of disengaging and giving up—is key to dealing with the inevitable challenges that come with any role more efficiently and effectively. It comes down to managing our “Explanatory Style.” Our Explanatory Style determines how we “explain” why things happen to us and whether we see difficulties as fixed, external, and unsolvable, or temporary and fluid. Research shows that many employees have less resilient Explanatory Styles: They become unfocused and cast broad, external blame when confronted with a challenge or change. I teach companies to help their people modify their Explanatory Style by viewing problems as fluid and short-term. Resilient workers can evolve and adapt to challenges without casting blame or catastrophizing.

2. Emotion Control
Getting control of our emotions is the single most important soft skill we can learn. In fact, there’s a high correlation between emotion regulation and our ability to manage our stress and stay productive under pressure. Anxiety (which is generally the fear of future threat), frustration (the feeling that you don’t have sufficient resources), and anger (the feeling that something or someone is violating your rights), are the most common emotions people bring to work. They can impair our ability to accurately assess and react to what is going on in adverse and stressful situations. The key is to develop awareness of our stress triggers—change in project scope, an unhappy client, and so on—and catch ourselves before spiraling into a habitual emotional reaction. In addition, I teach leaders and managers how to spot these emotions in their team and coach them to return to calm and focus. Getting a handle on emotion control can be a game changer.

3. Purpose
Feeling connected to a mission beyond ourselves and our own self-interest works as a wellspring to carry leaders and their teams through tough times, which invariably happen at work. Developing purpose can be taught and involves learning how to reframe our work in a larger context and focus on personal contribution to the overall mission of the organization. This involves developing a mindset in ourselves and our team that is habitually asking: What is the larger mission? Why do I come to work each day? What type of legacy might I leave? In a changing environment, an employee with an overarching attachment to an organization’s mission is more willing to stay focused and persevere—to see their role bigger than any one problem, challenge, or project they may be dealing with day to day.

We’re entering a new frontier in the workforce. By framing soft skills as a teachable discipline, we can position our companies to thrive in an atmosphere that runs on resilience just as much as technical know-how.