Soft skills, which have lasted for centuries, will continue to be essential in the new world of work. Instead of looking at what’s changing, maybe we need to look at what doesn’t change.
Soft skills are basically the skills that make us most human. They’re not technical skills that we can learn on the job. In fact, they’re far more complex and difficult to learn than hard or technical skills. I believe that’s what makes them infinitely more valuable.
According to Tynker, a website dedicated to teaching kids to code, 60 million kids have signed up worldwide. It’s great that we’re teaching kids hard skills, however, I’m worried we are neglecting the human side. What happened to letting kids be kids? Are we teaching them to be more like robots than people?
I recall as kids we used to play outside, sometimes in the heat and the cold. Occasionally we were bitten by something, burned, grazed or the one that hurt most -had our heart broken by that kid we had a crush on. We would build things, have petty fights, form alliances and talk about our crazy dreams. We learned about others. Our experiences taught us who we were too.
Our experiences might have been primitive as kids but funny enough, they’re similar as adults. We all have physical and emotional scars that accumulate over time. People still make irrational decisions based on emotion. None of us have let go of our primitive reptilian brain, which controls the most basic of our survival needs. People are people -and always will be.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder and CEO is famous for his long term approach to building his business. He once remarked that people so often ask the question, “What’s going to happen in the next 10 years?” But few ask the question, “What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?” It is this second question around which Bezos has built his company. In my opinion, soft skills have barely changed in the last 1,000 years. I’ll argue it’s unlikely those same skills will change in the next 100 years either.
“You can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.”Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder and CEO
So, for all the hype of how the world is changing, it’s probably not changing as much as we think. For example, I have explored the issue of poor focus previously but people have always had limited attention.
Shop signs were invented to attract customers, who might have been walking past. Newspaper headlines were designed to get readers’ limited attention. Limited attention spans have always been our thing but now they’re being exploited in high volume.
In this regard, our behaviour hasn’t changed. What’s changed is the overwhelming demands and incoming stimuli competing for our attention. Our environment has changed dramatically but not our underlying behaviour for how we deal with that.
Below are some of the soft skills that will help you in the new world of work and long into the future.
People have more distractions and less time to think now. We’re learning how to live in a world with constant stimuli. Even when we participate in traditionally passive activities like walking, jogging or watering the garden, we can take our music with us, listen to a podcast or radio. Very few people give themselves time to think, reflect and become self aware.
Self Awareness is so important because it’s not just our life experiences that matter but what we learn about ourselves upon reflection. Following some of my toughest life experiences, I have been able to reflect and learn so much about myself and what I am capable of.
“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.”Henry David Thoreau, American Author
We’re living through the information age and knowledge is available in abundance. Creativity and original thought is in much shorter supply than information but these things are essential to solve new problems and challenges.
The skills and discipline you require to work on specific tasks differ from those needed for creativity. There is a time for completing tasks, however, there is an equally important need for creativity. You can stand out in the new world of work if you know how to create and allow yourself space to be creative.
Interpersonal communication is a skill that I believe is in rapid decline. I believe many people are starting to understand the limits of social media, texting, 10 second videos and other new forms of ‘communication’. If you can learn to grasp interpersonal communication skills, you will have an advantage when it comes to reading facial expressions, body language, tonality, symbols and more.
So little of what’s being said is ever just words. Communication has so much more meaning than we can express in text and emojis. Communication skills will be an asset in the new world of work.
Empathy is about understanding someone else’s point of view and how they feel. In the new world of work, we have a melting pot of physical traits, nationalities, religions, cultures, classes, sexualities, political persuasions and viewpoints.
Understanding that different people, in different circumstances, have different motivations will be essential if you want to lead a team today and in the future.
Information overload sometimes halts our decisions because we have too many options to process sensibly. When you know how to seek, filter, organise and prioritise incoming information and make a decision, you will stand ahead of your competition.
First, you need to know which decisions are the most important ones to make, so you don’t suffer from decision fatigue before you get to the most important ones.
Then, you will ideally make the right decision -although that will depend on your options, the information you have at your disposal and the urgency of the decision. Still, if you have a process and the skills required to make sense of information in todays’ world, you will stand out.
We live and work in an over-communicated, over-stimulated and super-busy world. Effective multi-tasking is a myth, yet 9 out of 10 job ads seem to request someone who can work in a fast paced environment and is a ‘good multi-tasker’. There’s no such thing. Focus is a skill that’s becoming rare.
In future, as always, focus will be essential to finish tasks, complete projects and achieve goals. Anyone who possesses the skill to focus will be able to command their own time better and lead teams to do the same.
“Embrace your imperfections. We are not machines.”Lorin Morgan-Richards, Children’s Author
My list above is by no means exhaustive. I’m sure you can think of a few more soft skills, which will serve us well long into the future. In an age when many people fear a robot might take their job, there is only one way to stand out.
This is not a case of, “If you can’t beat them, join them”. We can’t stop robots from taking our jobs by becoming more robot like. The only way we can win in future is to develop soft skills and traits that make us human. These are the skills machines are trying to replace but they’re still a long way from that day.