Soft Skills: What Are They and Why Do We Need Them?
How do you develop your soft skills even if you’re convinced that communication just isn’t your cup of tea? To find the answer, we spoke to ITMO University’s Soft Skills lecturers and Konstantin Khomchenko, an ITMO graduate and founder of the Chili Marketing agency.
What are soft skills? If it’s about knowing how to talk to people, I can do that well enough already.
While a large part of the soft skills set indeed deals with communication, there are also some that deal with organizing your working process or being efficient. Most of us have a general understanding of how to talk to colleagues and plan our day, but these “everyday” skills might not be enough in a complex situation. What do you do about a disagreeable project partner? How do you mend a rocky relationship with parents or peers? How do you deliver a presentation despite stage fright? Soft skills are the solution to these sorts of issues. You can reach success much quicker by learning about the communication process and the logic of human relationships than through trial-and-error.
Why do I need soft skills? If I become a proper scientist or engineer, I’ll be able to get a job without them.
Knowing your profession is very important, but it’s far from all. If you can’t manage relationships within your team, every issue will turn into a lengthy argument and neither you nor your colleagues will enjoy any of it. Sometimes it’s important not only to have the right facts, but to present them correctly, too. Today, many companies work in cloud offices, meaning employees stay at home; all this makes self-discipline and knowing how to work in a team and manage your time ever more important. The bigger an organization, the higher the need for these qualities – and not just among specialists, but among managers, too. Besides, remember that good specialists aren’t that rare. HR managers sometimes go through hundreds of CVs and conduct dozens of interviews. It’s important to know how to present yourself and stand out not only thanks to your diploma, but also your ability to communicate.
What if I’m starting my own company? I’ll be my own boss, after all.
It’s simple: whoever runs the company holds twice the amount of responsibility. They are the person who must direct others, inspire them, and be able to tell who needs motivation and who needs a vacation. Without that, your company just won’t grow. It’s equally as important to know how to talk to customers, partners, and suppliers and to negotiate with them. Oftentimes, the ability to come to an agreement is the key to running a good business. Besires, even if you don’t think that soft skills are crucial to running a company, they definitely wouldn’t hurt. After all, one of the first things you’ll need to do is understand the needs of others – and that’s a soft skill, too.
What if I just wasn’t born to be sociable and charismatic?
That is exactly the issue that soft skills are supposed to resolve. There is no genetic predisposition towards being a better or worse talker. A lot of it is influenced by the environment in which we grow up and the way we’re raised. Developing your soft skills will help expand your comfort zone, answer some important life questions, and realize that any skill can be honed as long as you’re motivated.
Alright, you’ve convinced me. How do I develop my soft skills?
The science at the core of Soft Skills as a discipline is psychology. Just like any other science, it has its principles, laws, and theoretical models. By understanding them, we learn about the different elements that make up the communication process – and how to achieve the right result by changing a particular element. We all know how to talk, think, and (more or less) control our behavior; that is enough to start developing your communication skills. Just like with any new activity, it’s best to start with theory and then move on to exercise. To get the feedback needed to put you on the right path, consider joining a course where you’ll be able to have your questions answered by a lecturer.
How can I learn about soft skills at ITMO University?
Students at ITMO study soft skills for a year and a half during their Bachelor’s studies and in the first year of their Master’s studies. To teach these courses, the university has invited “field-tested” specialists who work as HR and efficiency managers at major companies. These business coaches and specialists share their practical experience through workshops, group games, mock negotiations, and other interactive forms of education. You can hone your soft skills in small groups, as a team, or during consultations. You can do it in person, via distance learning means, or in a blended format. And even fully remotely via an online course!
What are some good ways to boost soft skills on my own?
You can read some books on the skill you’re looking to develop; watch videos; do exercises; keep a self-observation diary; or ask people you know for feedback on your communication skills. It’s very important to practice your soft skills regularly. For example, if you want to get rid of stage fright, you need to consider every force majeure citation you’re afraid of (an awkward question, a technical difficulty, a forgotten line, etc.) and devise a specific plan of action; that way, you cut down the number of variables and reduce stress. You can also work with fear on a physical level – for instance, by doing some simple physical exercise before your talk. And, of course, if you wish to learn more useful tips about communication skills, come to a Soft Skills class; you can do that even if you’re not enrolled in the course. Still got questions? Write to email@example.com or visit room 3103 at ITMO’s Lomonosova St. 9 campus.