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Empathy and Experience: 3 Ways To Build Increasingly Important Soft Skills

Mark Cuban, the billionaire tech entrepreneur, said in 2018 that, “a liberal arts degree in philosophy will be worth more than a traditional programming degree.”


That might sound surprising to some people. It’s true of more than just the programming sector too. As the workplace becomes increasingly automated, the requirement that employees excel when it comes to traditional hard skills – computation, accounting, finance – reduces significantly.

Another important factor involves the changing way in which the workforce operates. As it becomes less common for employees to work for single company or even on a singular career path throughout their working lives, the ability to adapt and be effective across differing working practices and in different working environments.

The most valuable employees will be those that demonstrate mastery of ‘soft’ skills, such as critical thinking, communication, and teamwork. A 2019 LinkedIn survey showed that the most desirable soft skills in today’s market are creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and time management.

It’s therefore vital, for prospective employees to be able to demonstrate that they have a strong set of soft skills in order to survive in the modern workplace.

How to Build Your Soft Skills at Work

Soft skills fall into the wider category of ‘tacit knowledge’, meaning that they are not easily transferred or codified.  That’s not to say that soft skills can’t be developed. Here are three simple things you can do to improve:

  1. Watch what other people are doing: Do you work alongside someone who you look up to? Who is well liked and puts everyone at ease? Maybe you have a manager that you look up to and respect. It’s worth paying close attention to how this person behaves and interacts in a workplace setting. You may find behaviours that you’re able to emulate in your own career. Start to take note of best practices in colleague interactions and build these behaviours into your own working practices.
  2. Do something creative in your free time: Creativity and critical thinking are important skills that are also likely to resist automation. The philosophy degree Mark Cuban spoke about? Creativity and critical thinking. You may not have a particularly creative role at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop these skills. Take up a hobby that involves making something, or solving problems, and shape those creative muscles. Pick up an instrument, paint, write or volunteer. Even getting more exercise can improve creativity.
  3. Listen: This is the most important advice we can offer. Learn to listen more. If you’re having trouble relating to others in your workplace, you might not be hearing what they’re saying. If there are areas you can improve, there’s a good chance someone has mentioned this to you – but they won’t have come straight out and said it, that would be rude! More likely, they’ll have made some oblique reference, or offered constructive feedback. It’s easy to ignore this kind of criticism, because it might not even sound like criticism. But if you want to improve, you need be open and actively hearing this.

What soft skills are the most important in your workplace? Are you doing anything to improve your own tacit knowledge? Let us know in the comments.