8 essential soft skills and why they must be learned


Knowing what soft skills are and then how to use them may seem obvious to you. 


Tools and techniques such as GROW, SMART, Kaizen, Six Sigma, Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.

But are they obvious to your young employees who have only recently joined the world of work?


In my recent post on the transformation and contribution of talented young employees I discussed the transformation into competent and confident employees I observed in those that had just graduated from the GradStart programme. 


There are 8 essential areas of soft skills that are
so important to learn about.


1.  Self-awareness
2.  Self or personal management
3.  Team working
4.  Communications
5.  Problem solving
6.  Change management
7.  Interpersonal behaviour
8.  Leadership and Management


In this article, the follow-on from my article on essential business skills, I explore some of these essential soft skills they learned that helped to transform them.



1.  Self-awareness


A young employee had a difficult working relationship with a colleague. There was a communication breakdown which resulted in tense and terse dialogue. As a result they did not work effectively together.


Before young people can understand and really appreciate how important soft skills will be throughout their professional career and personal life, they must first start developing an awareness of themselves; their personality traits or style; and how this will impact their relationship with others.  Likewise, the better they understand their own behaviour then the better than can analyse their colleagues’ personality traits and develop strategies for working effectively with them.


This is often referred to as Emotional Intelligence (EI).


So, how is the relationship with the colleague today?


Once the young employee applied the personality profiling tools to their colleague, they could then understand where their communicating styles mismatched. The young employee made a conscious decision to modify their own communicating style to align with their colleague and their relationship started to improve to the point where they are now working effectively together.


In Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People this is Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.


This will make a substantial difference to the development of a young employee’s career.



2.  Team working


Every day young employees interact with other people – colleagues, supervisors, managers, directors, partners and clients.


Knowing how to engage (self-awareness), communicate (use of written and verbal language) and work with others effectively will make a crucial difference to their ability to constructively contribute to the team effort.


In addition to the young people appreciating different personality types and using their emotional intelligence, it was also necessary for them to learn about team roles and team dynamics.  Supporting roles include leaders, managers, analysers, negotiators and doers amongst others, while dynamics covers how they interact.


Once the young people understand these team roles and dynamics, it enabled them to take a step back and spend time observing team behaviour within their organisations. 



  • It helped them to find their supporting role and ‘voice’ within the team.
  • It helped them to confidently challenge assumptions and assertively question decisions.
  • It helped them to make a better and more meaningful contribution to the team effort.



3.  Problem solving


Being able to analyse a situation, formulate and consider options; and assess the merits and risks for each of them, are all critical skills young employees will have to apply throughout their life and career.


There were three things that stood out for me with our approach to educating the young people in problem-solving techniques and skills:


  1. That they had to look backwards to understand why the problem had arisen in the first place.
  2. The importance of understanding the people (i.e. personalities and politics) involved in an issue becoming a critical problem.
  3. The importance of understanding the people (i.e. team-working) involved in coming up with possible solutions.


This required the young people to use their emotional intelligence skills, as well as test their moral compass in the interests of their company’s future.


Making decisions and taking risks are an important part of developing a young person’s leadership toolkit for the future.  This will help them to understand what is appropriate to use that will increase the probability of a successful outcome and protect the reputation of their company, particularly in this age of social media a company’s reputation can be damaged in the blink of an eye.


Developing confidence and learning to trust their problem-solving abilities are paramount in building a successful career.




4.  Leadership and Management


As young employees establish themselves in their career, they need to develop good management and leadership skills as they are promoted into increasingly senior positions within their company.


We found that identifying, examining and debating the qualities and attributes of role models in leadership provided really useful insights for them to utilise in developing their own management and leadership style and behaviours.


Most participants had no exposure to project management concepts, tools and techniques, so teaching them how to set objectives and goals, to lead others, to lead projects and tasks; and to plan, estimate and conduct critical path analysis (CPA) was of significant benefit to them.



One of our young participants wrote:


“The opportunity to examine different scenarios, and attitudes, offer perfect examples of good and bad management, which have provided the building blocks and guidelines to managerial aspirations.”


I couldn't have put it better myself!