Jargon Buster: 'Soft skills'

Are teamwork and decision-making skills that important - or just another HR fad?

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
Imagine the scenario. A cocky graduate at final interview for his dream job. Having been duly impressed by his fantastic A-levels and an excellent degree, the interviewer lobs in a 'soft skills' hand grenade: 'So tell us about a time you successfully and effectively won an argument, without raising your voice.' The ill-starred graduate hasn't got a clue, and his chances go up in smoke.

It's plausible enough. According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), it is employability skills that recruiters are focusing on. These are the soft skills that are not tested by examinations but can make the difference between a successful career and a stalled one.

Soft skills include teamwork, negotiation, decision-making, problem-solving, communication skills, rapport, mediation and active listening. From the top of the tree to the bottom, soft skills make solid business sense.

In customer service, an employee might have great product knowledge, but without soft skills like empathy and negotiation, sales will be lost. And a finance director who can balance the books perfectly is less than ideal if he or she can't communicate ideas or build up a rapport with fellow executives at board meetings.

And when it comes to the hottest seat of all, leaders need soft skills aplenty if they are to inspire others. The best CEOs balance commercial imperatives with the less tangible needs of their employees to make the whole organisation more than the sum of its parts. Sometimes, soft skills can be the hardest of all.

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