The Unspoken Power of Soft-SkillsFeatured

Soft skills are essential to solving large-scale human problems. Why are they so hard to value?

My sensitivity is a superpower. It’s the thing that others repeatedly praise about me; I’ve built an entire career on it as a People + Culture leader. However, it’s also the thing that others repeatedly condemn and ask me to change about myself.

What I’ve learned is that soft skills are valued when they provide ease to others, but not valued when they’re asking someone to do something hard. My sensitivity means asking people, especially leaders, to consider the impact of their words and the inclusivity of their philosophies + processes.

To build reverence for the skill, I need to frame it, be precise with it, and value it myself.

There’s no shortage of articles written about the value of soft skills at work. Yet, they seem to go underappreciated. Why? It’s hard to understand the impacts of soft skills.

We may rationally know that a kind individual provides a better customer experience, but when we look at customer satisfaction scores the full story gets lost. For women, the burden of proof grows, because societal norms already expect women to possess soft skills. A woman that’s patient, compassionate, and communicative is an expectation, not a value to reward. Yet, companies cannot function without these skills because of their impact on humanity and safety at work.

Here’s how to make sure your softness is valued and rewarded at work.

Storytelling – tying softness back to tangible business impact

At work, how people feel𑁋employees, partners, customers𑁋impacts perception and the company's future. But feelings are squishy, especially to leaders that are driven by numbers and measurable business impact.

So, tell them a data story.

Data falls short without human context. Storytelling weaves in human behavior and ethical considerations. It’s holistic thinking. Unfortunately, people don’t like or doubt what they can’t evaluate. So connect the dots for them between data and feelings.

Example: My open-mindedness and approachability created a safe space for individuals to bring new ideas. This resulted in my team experimenting on x, y, and z. Here are the results of those ideas, what’s next, and how my team feels about them.

Specificity – be precise with your language when describing your skills

The more a word is used the more it loses its meaning. What does it mean to be a good communicator? When articulating your value, be precise with your words and define what good means.

Example: Here are the results of my marketing campaigns. What’s resonating with prospects is when our content is simple and accurate. I came up with this style of content by using relationships with engineering and customer success to understand both perspectives.

Companies seek efficiencies and cost savings. But, humanity can’t be automated away, it’s an art. Being specific about your skills builds a reverence for and understanding of them.

Self-awareness – offer up why you do the things you do

Build a reverence for your soft skills; they were earned. Over the years, I’ve heard people dismiss individual accomplishments as things anyone could have done. But not anyone did them; that individual did. So, look back. What has been your life story𑁋the values, lessons, and experiences gained and how do those tie to your accomplishments?

Take stock of what you offer.

The unique path you’ve taken created a web of skills and knowledge that is not duplicatable. The way someone thinks is their greatest differentiator. Are you someone that offers original thought? Do you ask meaningful questions to discover information? Do you understand the roots of the problems you’re trying to solve? When you break apart the way you think for others, it highlights the complexities of not only your role but how you approach it.

Example: I feel comfortable being a learner, which means others feel comfortable giving me feedback. When developing the new website design, I had a lot of input. I considered all the feedback, integrated what made sense for the brand and followed up with everyone to show gratitude for their contributions and how certain ideas, while not directly implemented, led to other decisions. By managing expectations and including voices along the way, the launch had team buy-in and support all the way to the executive level.

Soft skills bring humanity into work, and tying those efforts to data and stories allows those individuals to be valued, rewarded, and heard.

Let’s practice! Share your favorite soft skill and why you love it in the comments. 👇

LucyN's profile thumbnail
Love this @courtneybranson! So often these skills are undervalued and I love the examples you've provided to help clarify how valuable they really are.
kathyschwartz's profile thumbnail
Bravo! Examples are so helpful. The more women that try using examples and other techniques to raise awareness, the more valued these skills will become.
sakshishukla's profile thumbnail
@courtneybranson brilliant insights ⚡ You're making me think very hard about my soft skills. "I feel I am incredibly assertive (and people always ask me to tone it down a bit). Here goes: My assertiveness helps me get clarity on expectations and goals. When I speak assertively, I empower my team to deliver their best. I feel comfortable being assertive because it has helped me be taken seriously and I am heard. I am able to create my own space. It helps me push ahead with my ideas which have led to taking newer approaches to marketing, that delight the audience. It helps me be a better experimenter." How did I do?
annmarienunziata's profile thumbnail
Thanks for sharing, @courtneybranson! Bookmarking this for when review season rolls around - both for myself and to better encourage my team on sharing their strengths!
cpch's profile thumbnail
I bookmarked this as well! I often receive this same feedback regarding concern over my ability to be "hard" or have tough conversations because I am able to manage those difficult moments by leaning on my soft skills. These techniques for putting into words the value these skills can have are so helpful! Thank you for sharing. I'll definitely be putting these to good use in my next performance review and/or interview.