Developing soft skills in the workplace: The whys and the hows
Instructional Design

Developing soft skills in the workplace: The whys and the hows

Our world is not the same place anymore. Not all people work next to each other anymore, and businesses respond by developing soft skills in the workplace that will keep them relevant.

The best part is, it’s working! It’s been commonly accepted that employees with high emotional intelligence, for example, are better performers and that organizations that foster soft skills like collaboration are outperforming those that don’t.

So, you’ll just make sure that all new hires are already soft skill superheroes, right? Maybe not.

In fact, a recent study by LinkedIn found that almost 60% of hiring managers in the U.S. struggle to find candidates with soft skills. The good news is that developing soft skills in the workplace is possible, and we’re going to tell you how.

How to develop soft skills in the workplace

Developing soft skills is a (sometimes uncomfortable) process because employees must first engage in a little self-reflection before they know which soft skills training they need. This can be tough but also rewarding.

Let’s explore how to develop soft skills at work in 6 simple steps:

1. Develop a learning mindset
2. Encourage self-reflection
3. Expand knowledge and understanding
4. Leverage powerful LMS software
5. Provide opportunities for practice
6. Offer feedback, often

1. Develop a learning mindset

Developing soft skills like resilience, emotional intelligence, and agility is a great way to make your workforce change-ready.

As Sandra Kelly, UK Director at industry-led skills expert, People 1st International, says:

“Resilience, agility, and cultural intelligence have become increasingly important as survival skills in business. Rather than soft skills – these should be deemed essential skills. They are what set you apart and how you manage yourself, and others, in an ever-changing workplace. The awareness of these skills has risen with the emergence of a more emotionally aware and intuitive workforce with a higher level of compassion and care for others. As a result, the mind-set of management is changing, and more value is being placed on these skills.”

But first, how can you prepare employees for the very personal change that comes with learning soft skills?

After all, you can’t force employees to be self-aware. And you certainly can’t force them to engage in training. What you can do, though, is to explain the importance of soft skills in the workplace.

Help employees understand that soft skills will improve their performance and that soft skills can be learned. Give them simple examples of soft skills in the workplace, like active listening, and ask them to consider how these skills impact their employee experience.

This will open their minds and allow them to accept soft skills training.

2. Encourage self-reflection

You won’t know how to improve or develop soft skills in the workplace until you know which soft skills need improvement.

So, before you start assigning courses to employees (or before your start developing soft skills in the workplace, in general), it’s essential to figure out which soft skills development training each employee needs most.

Encourage employees to reflect on the soft skills they’re already good at and to be honest with themselves about the skills that could use some work. Often, a combination of self-assessment and 360-degree feedback is the best way to identify your employees’ soft skills gaps.

3. Expand knowledge and understanding

Sometimes, all it takes is a little guidance to get employees to realize that they aren’t as sociable, communicative, or positive as they could be. Seminars and training programs offered at local events or conventions can prove great when teaching employees what soft skills development is and why it matters.

Or, if your employees are tech-savvy, new or experienced remote workers, or frequently on the move, going with online training sounds like a perfect plan. Trade the boardroom for a learning management system (LMS) that makes the development of soft skills fun and engaging (more on that next). Keep in mind that with a free LMS, you can switch to online training without breaking the bank.

4. Leverage powerful LMS software

There’s no reason to visit a physical location (especially now that it’s more or less impossible) when your employees can learn from anywhere. With the help of a robust learning management system (LMS), soft skills training courses can be accessible, engaging, and fun no matter where your learners are or what device they’re using.

eLearning has proven to be one of the most effective options for developing soft skills in the workplace and has helped numerous companies train busy or dispersed teams.
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5. Provide opportunities for practice

Practice! This is how to develop soft skills in employees. After all, it would be pointless to develop employees’ collaboration skills and then isolate their work responsibilities.
Instead, give them the opportunity to take their newly acquired soft skills for a test drive.

Outdoor retreats provide a fun and risk-free environment to practice soft skills like teamwork, collaboration, and communication. Opt-in assignments give employees the chance to practice problem-solving and creative thinking skills.

If you train online, you can leverage your LMS features, like simulations and branching scenarios, to give employees life-like settings without the usual risks.

6. Offer feedback, often

Once your employees are on track towards developing their soft skills in the workplace, the best way for you to help them as a leader or manager is by offering periodic feedback.

Soft skills development is an incredibly slow process because it requires a change of personality and habit, rather than a change of knowledge.

So, gently guide your employees down the right path and don’t punish them when they veer away every now and then. After some time, they should be well on their way towards possessing a set of powerful soft skills.

If you’re not sure how to identify soft skills in practice, don’t panic. We’ll be looking at that next.

Developing soft skills in the workplace easily and fast

What are soft skills in the workplace?

You’ve probably heard of soft skills before.

The question is, do you know how to identify them, both in others and yourself?

Soft skills are about how you think, act, and work rather than what you know and on-the-job, technical skills. And there are many soft skills to choose from but here are some of those that we think are quite important for the workplace.

1. Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

This is all about understanding emotions: yours and others’.

While an employee with low EQ might openly criticize a colleague in a meeting, a high-EQ employee would wait until after the meeting to provide criticism in private and avoid embarrassing their colleague.

And yes, this kind of behavior can be taught.

2. Collaboration

High-performance teams are often characterized by collaboration and teamwork.

This is why employees must learn to accept others’ perspectives, listen to feedback, delegate work, and respect the different ways people work.

3. Leadership

Leadership (just like confidence) is apparent in everything you do and say — your appearance, your behavior, even the work you submit and the simple ways in which you hold yourself.

However, it can be easy to confuse leadership for arrogance, but the line is very clear: leadership is the ability to recognize one’s own abilities and flaws; arrogance is when you exaggerate your abilities and deny your flaws.

You can train your team and managers to identify the differences between these two.

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4. Adaptability

Anyone who follows the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage is definitely going to struggle in any modern workplace.

Adaptability is being able to say “yes” when a colleague asks you to use new software or a teammate asks you to complete a task because they’ve got a lot on their plate. Adaptability is all about taking on new challenges.

5. Listening

Developing soft skills in the workplace relies entirely on this.

Listening might sound simple, but it’s tough in practice. You’ve met someone who interrupts you mid-sentence. How about that person who waits for you to finish speaking just so that they can start telling her own story? Without true listening, other skills like collaboration and adaptability are impossible to achieve.

If you’re wondering how any of these skills make a difference in the workplace, keep reading!

Why developing soft skills in the workplace is important

Developing soft skills at work is critical for so many reasons. On the whole, research has found that employees with soft skills training are 12% more productive than those without them.

This translates into a whopping 256% ROI for companies!

If that doesn’t convince you, then maybe the findings from Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report will. Over 90% of respondents rated soft skills as critical for fostering employee retention, improving leadership, and building a meaningful culture.

But developing soft skills in the workplace also helps companies to avoid costs, not just make money. Because when soft skills are lacking, employees become prone to conflict, suffer from low self-confidence, feel unheard and misunderstood, and ultimately, become unhappy.

Do you know what the consequences of unhappy employees are? Increased absenteeism, poor performance, bad customer service, low quality work, and eventually (drumroll, please), decreased profit.

Next steps

Developing soft skills in the workplace isn’t an easy task, so is it necessary? Definitely.

A workforce rich in soft skills is like a brand new car engine working at maximum efficiency. And remember, like any car engine, soft skills can gradually diminish over time if left unattended. With ongoing corporate training, you can leverage soft skills for workplace success.

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