Soft skills the path to success

by 17 Jul 2012

Have you had a fresh perspective on an issue in a meeting, but didn’t feel comfortable bringing it up? Have you thought of a different approach to streamline multiple work processes, but your suggestion wasn’t heard?

Traditionally, these approaches have been considered ‘soft skills’ that sit uncomfortably in the fast-paced, hard-nosed corporate sphere. But now, in an increasingly complex business environment, we need new approaches to find better solutions to problems. One of the ways we can do this is by tapping into and nurturing a softer quality of mind in the workplace.

Chaos requires creativity

You may have noticed: we are living in an increasingly chaotic world. Faced with an increasing rate of change and surrounded by constant flux, we are hyper-connected, required to master multiple operating systems and processes, and expected to become more efficient.

In order to succeed, the old rules and ways of interacting with colleagues and clients are becoming less and less relevant. Instead, we need to innovate, to be creative in our approach and to use our intuition, otherwise known as developing soft skills.

By definition, the hard skills we see as key business attributes are the specific, teachable abilities that can be measured. Hard skills require a certain level of intellect, an ability to analyse and explain things clearly, as well as qualifying a person to do their job.

Examples of hard skills can be as basic as our ability to type and do equations, but includes our ability to use computer software and find solutions to problems. It also encompasses formal qualifications in any given industry, such as accounting, marketing or project management.

On the other hand, we need well-developed soft skills to create balance between the two. This is because simply analysing the situation will no longer achieve the best results, so we need to innovate, be creative, think differently and use intuition more at work!

In fact, as early as  the mid-80’s, authors such as Peters and Waterman (In Search of Excellence) suggested that modern leaders’ over-dependence on analytic thought and quantitative analysis was a principal cause for the loss of worldwide pre-eminence, as reflected in stagnating productivity, obsolete machinery, and inferior but more expensive products.

Examples of softer qualities of mind include our attitudes towards others, our willingness to try new things in different ways, observation and intuition, and our ability to reflect and understand an issue before providing an answer.

Soft skills are not taught as part of our education and are not easily measured. To date, our ability to develop this attribute has been reliant on an individual’s personality. With daily practice and by being conscious about your thoughts and actions, you too can develop softer qualities of mind in the workplace.

Five soft skills for the workplace 


  1. Focus on yourself
    1. What is it? This is about being more perceptive to how you think and act towards others.  
    2. When to use it. As much as possible. By being aware of your actions and reactions, you’ll become more sensitive to your environment and will understand how well you interact with others.
    3. How to develop it. Integrated 360 Degree Feedback tools such as those offered by The Leadership Circle ( has a world-first approach that shows how others perceive you and where to make changes to your own interpersonal and leadership style. You can develop this ability yourself, by reflecting on each day, how your actions and thoughts have been received by colleagues as well as impacted upon others, and different approaches you could make to affect the outcome.


  1. Active listening
    1. What is it? This is when we focus on actively hearing the message being communicated and understanding the question, rather than providing a fast answer.
    2. When to use it. In meetings, on the phone or whenever talking to business contacts you can practice active listening to increase the effectiveness of your conversations at work.
    3. How to develop it. Be sure to ask questions to clarify what is being said. You may also want to paraphrase to show you understand the other person, such as, “So, you’re saying that in order for this project to get to the next stage, you need me to find new ways of communicating with our stakeholders before the end of the week.” Practice this technique at the end of a meeting, by getting everyone to agree on the decisions taken and actions required.


  1.  Observe
    1. What is it? To see the big picture, you need to observe others as well as be able to synthesize a number of ideas into a single concept.
    2. When to use it. Show genuine interest in your colleagues in the lift each morning and evening. Another good opportunity is to observe during meetings, when individual personalities are on display and people can clash due to differing perspectives and poor communication.
    3. How to develop it. Be aware of how others feel around you by monitoring your body language as well as how people relate to your own actions, thoughts and ideas. Try to understand your colleagues as individuals who are making sense of their world – and how their treatment makes you feel as well as how you may impact on their experience. If you wish, you can talk to a colleague to try and understand their perspective better.


  1. Be flexible
    1. What is it? This is our ability to be see multiple points of view rather than being fixated on a particular process, and being willing to try new things in different ways.
    2. When to use it. Try using this skill in a tense situation and you will be surprised with the results. In your performance appraisal, for instance, your manager might be pleased to find that you can suggest new approaches responding to their feedback. And if you have reached an impasse with a client, a non-traditional but creative attitude can help clear the obstruction.
    3. How to develop it. Keep in mind that everyone has a helpful viewpoint – there are no right or wrong answers. Remember that you, too, are a work-in-progress, and while you are trying to make sense of your own behaviours and those of others you are by no means the authority on every topic – we learn constantly from those around us.


  1. Be original
    1. What is it? This is when you can use your imagination to find non-conformist solutions to problems, see outside the box, and can synthesize mulitple ideas into a single concept.
    2. When to use it. The opportunities are endless! You may find systems improvements in your day-to-day tasks, encourage fresh perspectives during a brainstorm session, or want to communicate your ideas around enhancing the culture of your organisation. 
    3. How to develop it. Try and find new ways to approach a topic. Ask curious questions at a meeting or draw a mindmap of ideas you’ve identified during a brainstorm session. Often, by slowing down to think new possibilities will become apparent. Once you can see these opportunities, your next challenge is to bring them to life for your colleagues by talking about them with clarity and vision.


A more conscious you

Whether you choose to actively practice one or all of these softer qualities of mind, it’s about becoming more conscious of your thoughts and actions in the workplace and remembering that everyone has a helpful viewpoint to try and understand.

Just a few changes to your interpersonal style and you can chart corresponding changes in your colleagues.  Innovative and creativity will help build better working relationships with your managers, peers, clients and business partners, and add value too.

If you want to succeed in an increasingly complex business world, these steps towards developing your soft skills will help provide a good balance to your hard skills, putting you on the path towards more evolved leadership.


About the author

Sandra Banister is the director of The Leadership Circle Asia Pacific. The Leadership Circle is a leadership assessment company that believes that business leadership will set the agenda for the planet’s future. Clients are in Government, Finance, Technology, Legal, Energy, Manufacturing, Healthcare, Media, Consulting and Not-for-Profit sectors, and include the largest apparel, hotel and fast food chains in the world. For more information, please visit  



  • by Lynn Jenkin 17/07/2012 5:10:46 PM

    Great article. Cuts right to the heart of the matter and backs it up with practical advice.

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