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How to Develop Interpersonal and Soft Skills: Guidelines and Resources

Sections of This Topic Include

What Are Soft Skills?

Why Are They So Important?

How to Develop Soft Skills

Extensive Resources to Develop Soft Skills


What Are Soft Skills?

Some Definitions

You could read any 10 articles about the most important skills to have in your life and work, and you will probably find mention of "soft skills" in most of them. Other phrases you would find are "human skills" or "people skills", which are other phrase referring to essentially the same type of skills. But what are soft skills? Wikipedia gives one of the most comprehensive definitions:

Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes, career attributes, social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients, among others, that enable people to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills.

Investopedia adds:

In the workplace, soft skills are considered to be a complement to hard skills, which refer to a person's knowledge and occupational skills. ... Soft skills have more to do with who people are, rather than what they know. ... Hard skills can be learned and perfected over time, but soft skills are more difficult to acquire and change.

Categories of Soft Skills

Marisa Morby suggests two categories, including internal and external soft skills. Internals are about how you relate to yourself and include, for example, self-confidence, self-awareness, accepting criticism, critical thinking, resilience and a growth mindset.

Examples of externals includes skills in collaboration, communications, interpersonal, managing conflict, adaptability, networking, influencing and negotiating.


Why Are They So Important?

Trust the Research

There is good reason for the frequent mention of soft skills, especially in the workplace. It is more than just a fad -- plenty of research backs up their importance. For example, the National Soft Skills Association cites research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center. It found that 85% of job success comes from having well-developed soft and people skills. The other 15% of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge (hard skills).

The American Management Association writes "Research conducted with Fortune 500 CEOs by the Stanford Research Institute International and the Carnegie Melon Foundation, found that 75% of long-term job success depends on people skills, while only 25% on technical knowledge."

Google did an internal study about the traits of the most innovative and productive groups in the company. They found that the best teams were interdisciplinary and included employees who had strong soft skills.

What Are the Benefits of Soft Skills in Life and Work?

It improves a person's ability to:

  • Better manage themselves by being more self-aware and accepting of themselves.
  • Be more resilient and adaptable, especially in complex and challenging situations.
  • Effectively work with others by having the self-confidence to give and receive useful feedback and coaching with others.
  • Really understand others by actively listening to them and empathizing with them.
  • Deal with interpersonal and group conflicts by fully understanding and accepting of other points of view.
  • Solve complex problems by having more effective critical thinking and collaborative skills.
  • Be a more effective leader by having more self-confidence and influence.
  • Advance in career development by having more effective networking.

How to Develop Soft Skills

First, remember that new learning is new knowledge, skills and abilities. New knowledge is information that is useful to you somehow. New skills are being able to effectively apply that new knowledge. New abilities are the capacity to effectively apply those skills in a variety of situations. So, to develop soft skills, you need to practice applying guidelines and materials about soft skills, ideally with the guidance of someone who has strong skills in teaching soft skills.

Consider the tips in the following useful articles:

Skills to Pay the BillsMastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success
Sharpening Soft Skills With Situational Learning
Top 5 Soft Skills Training Materials for High School Students
How to Identify and Develop Soft Skills
9 Ways to Enhance Your Soft Skills

Also consider forming a study group in which members can practice their soft skills with each other.


Extensive Resources to Build Your Soft Skills

In the following, we will use Marisa Morby's two categories of soft skills. The skills listed in each category do not necessarily match those in her article.

Internal Soft Skills

Adaptability
Assertiveness
Attitude
Critical Thinking
Growth Mindset
Motivating Yourself
Problem Solving
Self-Awareness
Self-Confidence
Stress Management
Work-Life Balance

External Soft Skills

Communications
Conflict management
Diversity and Inclusion
Emotional Intelligence
Empathy
Influence
Interpersonal
Negotiating
Networking
Office Politics
Teamwork
Trust Building

Also consider
Communications (Interpersonal)
Communications (Organizational)
Communications (Writing)

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