Soft skills are way more important, according to research

When we think of what skills lead us to success in our careers, we’re nearly always wrong. Most people would list technical abilities as those skills that are most responsible for success in a job. But new research shows that those skills are only responsible for 25% of our success. What skills account for the rest? It’s simple: Attitude.

From a great article on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.  This is one of my favorite blogs and full disclosure – I’m shamelessly stealing the results of this article. I do this to remind myself, and also to share these ideas with others. According to Barking Up the Wrong Tree, the ‘soft skills’ that are most important are optimism, social skills, and how you perceive stress.

Here’s how I think we can be better at each kind of skill:

  1. Optimism – keep a gratitude journal. This is a quick fix, that takes 5 minutes a day, that will make a measurable difference in your life. I use this myself – it literally takes 5 minutes at the start of my day. I say what I’m thankful for (3 things) and say how I can be of service to the people who come into my life. I’ve noticed a noticeable shift in how much I complain (much less) and how much love I express each day (it’s more). If you want something more involved, then go to therapy for a few years. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can do wonders for self-defeating thought patterns
  2. Social skills – when you talk to people, remember that they are part of the on-going human story – the inability of anyone to truly be heard and listened to. So pretend that there’s something really interesting about what they’re saying, and ask questions to find out what that interesting thing is. Listen to what they say and ask them questions about how they felt during various experiences they’re describing. More concretely, send a thank-you email each day to someone in your network. Don’t repeat a person for 21 days.
  3. How you perceive stress – Have anxiety? Go to therapy, seriously. Think of problems as fun challenges, shift your thinking around the feelings you experience. If you think of stage fright as excitement, you’ll do better on stage, there’s research behind this as well. The gratitude journal is a great help as well. I also find that keeping a separate work journal helps me parse challenges as they happen. I can process them in text, rant (in writing) if I need to, and keep my professional facade no matter what is going on.

If you think these are things you’ve got in the bag, consider how much time you spend learning new technical skills – then realize that those skills only predict 25% of the outcome. There’s a Pareto Analysis there, and it’s weighed in favor of a massive time investment in those so-called ‘soft skills.’

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