What are soft skills?

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CJ Walker, Firehead founderThis week we are focusing on how to improve your communication with teams and colleagues if you are now working from home, either some or all of the time. We’ll look at what soft skills are, the most useful ones for helping teams run more smoothly and what happens when remote working goes wrong.

And this Thursday 22 October, Firehead’s founder CJ Walker will be sharing her best communication tips for managers, team leaders and co-workers as a guest presenter on ‘Coffee & Content’ – Scott Abel’s popular Content Wrangler webinar. CJ has spent almost 30 years as an international remote worker in technical communications and digital communications, with a team distributed across the northern hemisphere and kids who like to jump in on the call. She says: “I’d like to think I have learnt a few things about how to do remote team communication well – and how to avoid some of the pitfalls.”

Register here to join the webinar: Soft skills in the virtual workplace.

What are soft skills?

It is an irony of the 21st century that we have more communication channels than ever before, and yet, we’re still having trouble communicating. Soft skills may not need to be prioritised in office settings, partly because they come naturally in face-to-face communication, but they are fundamental to successful distance working.

Soft skills involve those personal traits that enable people to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well in teams, and achieve their goals with their hard technical skills.

The Collins English Dictionary defines them as “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude.”

Because they are so subjective, soft skills are hardly assessed by most recruiters and employers. They aren’t well defined as criteria in the workplace because they are by their nature amorphous – although assessments such as if someone is “easy to work with” or a “good manager” are often based on these very criteria.

While seeking them out in a person may be hard, we can certainly spot soft skills by their absence.

When a colleague lacks soft skills, it affects everyone around them – resulting in anything from misunderstandings to outright avoidance. Someone who is highly technically competent, but lacks good communication skills can be read – rightly or wrongly – as incompetent in their work, or at the very least, dismissed as someone to avoid because they are “not a team player”.

When soft skills are missing in a team leader or manager, the results can be destructive for morale, motivation, cohesion and output, and leave subordinates feeling as if they can’t speak up or that their work isn’t valued. Problem-solving and decision-making may be affected, and the work may stall.

Soft skills are anything but soft when they hit the bottom line.

When soft skills are missing in the workplace, the potential for things to go wrong is real and well documented.

When the workplace is a virtual one, the effects are amplified thanks to additional issues: the lack of face-to-face cues, wrangling new technology, online team etiquette, motivation when working in isolation, concentration when working from home, and a multitude of other issues.

In tomorrow’s post I’ll outline the soft skills that I think are most valuable for virtual working.

This post is an extract from an article that was originally published in ISTC Communicator, Summer 2020. Reproduced with kind permission.

Image (CC): Alexandra Koch/Pixabay

Register for the webinar

webinar soft skills in the virtual workplace

Join CJ Walker this Thursday to improve your remote teamworking and digital communications. Firehead’s founder will be live on the Content Wrangler‘s  ‘Coffee & Content’ talking about the importance of soft skills and how they can be a huge help in remote teamwork during the Covid-19 era and beyond. The webinar will last 45 minutes. Details and sign-up info are below.

  • Event: Soft skills in the virtual workplace
  • Date/time: live online, Thursday 22 October, 4pm (UK) – or after on demand
  • Duration: 45 minutes
  • Sign-up and details here.


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