There’s no doubt that successful people possess hard skills, or the skills you learn through formal education, certification programs, and on-the-job training. But where trained professionals can stand out is in their soft skills, such as the ability to communicate, be empathetic, think creatively, work with their teams, manage their time, and solve problems in a pinch.

In order to be really successful, no matter the career, most people need a certain level of expertise in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, adaptability, and leadership.

These soft skills aren’t so soft after all.

Soft skills are hard to learn. There are few dedicated tracks in formal education systems specifically teaching soft skills, yet they’re the skills hiring managers look for in candidates, according to the latest LinkedIn research. In that same report, 92 percent of talent professionals said soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills when they hire.

Soft skills require continuous improvement. You shouldn’t expect to climb the corporate ladder by communicating with future managers the same way you learned to communicate with your initial manager at the first job you ever got. And if you’re still working with your team the same way after several years, you probably haven’t helped your team advance in any way.

Soft skills are transferable. No matter where you work or what situation you’re in, effective communication, time management, and problem-solving skills will help you get stuff done. As a hiring manager, would you rather hire someone who knows Python like the back of their hand but can’t seem to communicate with other team members, or someone who is an effective, transparent communicator and tells you that they don’t know Python but are willing to learn it? I would say nine times out of ten, the communicator sees more success throughout their career.

Soft skills will distinguish man from machine. As artificial intelligence research continues to gain attention, it’s clear that empathetic AI is somewhere in the very distant future (or possibly never). Humans have emotions, and we make decisions based on our emotions and on how our decisions might affect the well-being of other humans. We can certainly train AI to make certain empathetic decisions, but void of human input, AI will never organically show compassion.

Soft skills are the focal point of agile. As software professionals, our highest priority is to satisfy the customer. How do we satisfy the customer with JavaScript without communicating with them about what they want? We need to collaborate with the customers and our colleagues in order to create high-quality products. Being able to adapt to changing requirements, think critically, and solve problems is essential to giving your customer a competitive advantage. In fact, most of the Agile Manifesto’s principles are centered around soft skills.

Soft skills are hard to learn, require practice, and are crucial for professional success, so we should stop referring to interpersonal skills as soft. They’re not soft. They’re hard, human skills—skills we need at this job, and the next, and the one after that.

Originally published on TechWell Insights.

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