Connect better, with more prospects, clients and employers. Assess yourself on these top 20 essential soft skills for business success. Explore this list of soft skills in the workplace, with practical examples & pro tips.
Soft Skills are the Make – or often the Break – of Careers!
What are soft skills in business?
Soft skills are the personal behaviors that enable us to interact effectively with others. In a business setting, it means being able to communicate, interact and work effectively with clients, vendors, teammates, even mentors, and advisors. Soft skills are important for business success because they help you to be more persuasive, deliver better results, listen better and share with confidence.
Great soft skills can help you in making deeper connections with more prospects and clients!
Even in the corporate milieu, large companies and mid-sized businesses alike focus on, and define soft skills as job prerequisites today. LinkedIn has been consistently adding fields (and sub-categories) on skills like communication and negotiation in Member profiles.
Lots of entrepreneurs work consistently on adding new and valuable skills like technology, social media to their repertoire.
The individual focus on developing soft skills remains marginal – plenty of entrepreneurs and professionals do not actively work on improving theirs.
Here are some examples of how soft skills matter even when you possess strong work or hard skills.
Diana Salzberg did a certification as a Social Media Strategist but her poorly written proposals and inconsistent email followups kept new business away. A simple effort to improve her written communication skills could have been the game-changer.
Lasheena Graham’s VA gig was doing well but she missed the people facing side of the work, so she started handling sales full-time to feed both her interests.
Kristen Kovack’s high demand cupcake business couldn’t expand because she wasn’t able to retain the right people on her team. While she paid well, her high-handed manner and poor delegation kept the employee churn high.
Do you have these essential Soft Skills for Business Success?
There are 3 important types of Soft Skills – how strong are yours?
Do you communicate well, work with others effectively and self regulate where needed?
Assess yourself on these 3 top categories – Communication, Personal & Interactive Skills, broken down into 20 key examples of soft skills below.
Explore this list of soft skills that are key in business and the workplace. See how you fare on the questions and if the answers are mostly a no, you’ll know which areas to focus on.
Communication skills – the words that count!
We all need to listen to learn. And learn to listen. Responding comes later. Are you a mindful listener? How focused is your attention during conversations? Do you observe cues like tone and body language? How much are you able to absorb or recall later?
Your ears will never get you into trouble.
Pro Tip: Can you recall important information shared with you, or do you have to recheck or be reminded
Can you keep it brief? Succinct? Do you use shorter, simple sentences to convey your message or verbose rhetoric? Do you use pauses meaningfully? Or even pause?
Pro Tip: Speak for no more than a minute at a stretch when talking with others. In work situations, practice key statements beforehand.
Do you possess the ability to articulate – your mission, premise or even an offer? Do you think through your words first? Choose the right ones? Think about the different facets of an argument? Ramble or roll?
My goal today is clear – convince you that Soft Skills come in many forms and each one counts!
Pro Tip: Take 10 seconds before you answer an important(s). Evaluate plans, ideas and goals by writing them down.
Everyone is writing emails today. Preparing presentations. Pitching, responding, or just asking. Can you balance content and form? Use breaks and white spaces, smartly? What about visuals & links?
Do your words make a purposeful impact?
Web & Social Media
Most experts and web articles will tell you the latest tips to managing your FB page or getting more out of Instagram. But is your content – words and visuals alike – truly crisp & inviting? In other words, click worthy!
Use tools like Grammarly to limit errors and write better. Here are more ways and tools to proofread your written content.
Pro Tip: Create email and presentation templates that you can adapt for different situations. Bookmark links to online content that inspires you or copy and save your links on a Google Doc.
Do you articulate well? Can you break down complex ideas into easy-to-understand sentences?
Are you one? Is your eloquence effective? Can you memorize your content and share information (seemingly) effortlessly? Manage pitch and fluency while speaking? Keep a pleasant expression and limit the hand gestures?
All it takes is practice. Lack of preparation shows and who’s to blame?
Pro Tip: Share ideas in shorter sentences without ‘heavy duty’ words. Record yourself speaking on video every few months to evaluate your delivery, expressions and gestures. Hang on to the older videos so you can see where you have improved.
Learn the top soft skills that clients and employers value!
Personal skills – You’re as good as your skills
It all starts with us. The more skilled we are managing ourselves, the better control we will have on our work outcomes.
If it’s not the wi-fi or an email snafu, traffic delays will mess things up. Something will always go wrong or off-rhythm. How do you respond? Do you lose your cool or deflect with humor? Think calmly and on your feet?
Pro Tip: Plan for extra time and do your homework if you get flustered quickly. Deep breaths always work. Have a good belly laugh (even though it may be hard) – goodbye, anxiety!
Everyone wants things done yesterday. Can you meet deadlines? Be productive within assigned time limits? Can you realistically estimate time to completion for jobs? Do you multi-task or work in time banks?
Pro Tip: Keep a time check on how much time things take by writing it down. Over time you will be a whiz at estimating timelines.
Use this free Planning TimeSheet to get everything done! (Instant download)
Can you express your ideas with ease? Do you appear sure or keep second guessing your self? Are you always questioning your abilities? How do you handle new situations – breeze through or shy away with reluctance? Or when needed, can you fake it (the confidence, that is). Do you focus on your strengths instead of harboring on your flaws?
Pro Tip: Try the recording tip above. Get feedback from others on whether you appear tentative or confident. or worse, aggressive.
Are you a pro at reading a room? Does the customer team look unhappy about your proposal? Is your sales pitch causing people to zone out and yet you remain oblivious? If you can indeed sense the vibe, are you able to course-correct a tough situation?
The most important thing – hearing what isn’t being said.
Pro Tip: Vary your presentation and pitch depending on the audience – group size, age, gender, time limit. In meetings, stop every so often to see how your audience is responding.
Do you work online, as a freelancer or virtual assistant? Learn about the top soft skills that get you hired and re-hired!
Interactive skills – Do Unto Others
You can’t control how others behave. But you can decide how you react, and this is one of the most essential soft skills we need.
How convincing are you, really – can you win people over to your point of view? Show clarity and salesmanship without hustling? Are you persuasive? Do you inspire trust and confidence in the eyes of your customers? Can you close deals or at least leave the door open for the next conversation?
Knowledge is power but enthusiasm pulls the switch.
Pro Tip: Research your customer carefully beforehand. Address their pain points and offer solutions rather than products.
Are you comfortable connecting with strangers and acquaintances? Interact with ease, be personable, even share quick pitches in a group or one-on-one setting? Do you know the networking best practices and no-no’s?
Also Read: Back to Work? Your Mommy Years Count!
Pro Tip: Start with smaller groups if you are new to this. Listen more than speak. Network online in Facebook and LinkedIn Groups.
Are you interacting with clients online?
Arriving at a compromise goes beyond contracts or pricing. It also involves deadlines, to-do’s, even finalizing info and content. Are you win-win focused? Can you plan and anticipate a conversation? Lose a negotiation with grace?
Pro Tip: Do your homework. Know what is your ‘will close deal’ price and what is your ‘walk away point’ beforehand.
Do you see yourself as a team player? Can you take orders? Collaborate when needed, work solo when not? Pick up the occasional slack without whining?
Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play together is another story.
Pro Tip: Applaud wins if you are not the leader. Mention failings one-on-one. Disagree with a smile or a joke.
Turning constructive criticism (link) into action is an art. Can you process suggestions into consensus-based outcomes? Go back to the drawing board with a ‘let’s do it better this time’ outlook?
Pro Tip: Always go with a ‘let’s make this better’ approach. If you disagree with the feedback, counter with logic rather than emotion.
Not everyone’s a CEO. But taking a plan to completion often needs someone to spearhead it. What kind of leadership soft skills do you bring? Knowledge-based or value-oriented? Functional strength or people-centric?
A manager says – go. A leader says – let’s go!
Very simply, can you get along with people? Being a channel between different stakeholders needs attention to detail, tact and a sense of humor. Can you put out the work-related fires with customers, vendors, employees? Motivate and inspire others to do their best? Be an enforcer with grace and style? Retain employees and inspire loyalty?
How effective are you interactions? Do your words and actions count? Do you get nods of agreement when you speak? Or even an ‘agree to disagree?’ When someone feels differently, do you take it personally? Can you remain objective while resolving their concerns?
10% of conflicts are due to a difference of opinion. 90% due to wrong tone of voice.
Today, everyone knows something. Mentorship is often a game of equals. Can you share insights at a peer level? Talk with and not down? Offer help without being asked? Are you gracious when thanked? And especially when you’re not?
We all have it – the question is, how deep and how strong is yours? When was the last time you learned a new skill, tip or hack? And which soft skill are you working on mastering right now? Do you see it as a drudge or embrace it with pleasure?
It doesn’t end here.
There are numerous more essential soft skills for business success, that can help a professional immensely. Organization skills, empathy, and a keen memory count big time too.
So what did you discover about yourself?
And importantly, how do you plan to leverage your strengths and overcome the improvement areas?
To succeed in business, we need to remember that Soft Skills are learnable and they evolve as we do.
When in doubt, think of the irrepressible Jack Sparrow.
The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.
Pooja Krishna is an Entrepreneur, Business Mentor and Mom. She has worked both in large corporates and managed startups over the last 20+ years.
She’s a co-founder at Maroon Oak, and is founded Win Thinks, where she writes, speaks and teaches about Digital Media, Brand Building and Future Ready Businesses. A day trader for over a decade, Pooja launched Trading Paces to educate amateur and pro stock traders. As a classroom mentor, Pooja loves teaching students across the U.S. about job skills and entrepreneurship. Read about her on Huffington Post and Forbes.
A trivia buff and yoga & hula hoop enthusiast, she’s discovering the pleasure of drawing Zentangle patterns for ‘creative mindfulness.’