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  • Johnny Knatt

Soft Skills in the Workplace


Since 1959, the U.S. Army has been investing a considerable amount of resources into technology-based development of training procedures.

PG Whitmore, Ph. D., cited the definition "Soft skills are important job-related skills that involve little or no interaction with machines and whose application on the job is quite generalized."

Many industries today give prominence to soft skills of their employees. It is through a 1972 US Army training manual identified formal usage of the term "soft skills" began.


Soft skills are a cluster of productive personality traits that characterize one's relationships in a person’s social environment. A definition based on review literature explains soft skills as an umbrella term for skills under three key functional elements: people skills, social skills, and personal career attribute. Soft skills complement hard skills also known as technical skills, for productive workplace performance and everyday life competencies (Arkansas Department of Education, 2007). A study conducted by Harvard University noted that 80% of achievements in career are determined by soft skills and only 20% by hard skills. Experts say soft skills training should begin for a person when they are students, to perform efficiently in their academic environment as well as in their future workplace. A public interest study conducted by McDonald’s in UK predicted over half a million people will be held back from job sectors by 2020 due to lack of soft skills.

A person's soft skill is an important part of their individual contribution to the success of an organization. Organizations which deal with customers face-to-face are generally more successful if they promote activities for staffs to develop these skills. Training or rewarding for personal habits or traits such as dependability and conscientiousness can yield significant return on investment for an organization. For this reason, soft skills are increasingly sought out by employers in addition to standard qualifications. Studies by Stanford Research Institute and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation among Fortune 500 CEOs established that 75% of long term job success resulted from soft skills and only 25% from technical skills (Sinha, 2008). Hence, soft skills are as important as cognitive/technical skills (John, 2009; Zehr, 1998).

Soft skills for the workplace

Following is a "top ten" list of soft skills compiled from executive listings.

1. Communication – oral speaking capability, written, presenting, listening.

2. Courtesy – manners, etiquette, business etiquette, gracious, says please and thank you, respectful.

3. Flexibility – adaptability, willing to change, lifelong learner, accepts new things, adjusts, teachable.

4. Integrity – honest, ethical, high morals, has personal values, does what’s right.

5. Interpersonal skills – nice, personable, sense of humor, friendly, nurturing, empathetic, has self-control, patient, sociability, warmth, social skills.

6. Positive attitude – optimistic, enthusiastic, encouraging, happy, confident.

7. Professionalism – businesslike, well dressed, appearance, poised.

8. Responsibility – accountable, reliable, gets the job done, resourceful, self-disciplined, wants to do well, conscientious, common sense.

9. Teamwork – cooperative, gets along with others, agreeable, supportive, helpful, collaborative.

10. Work ethic – hard working, willing to work, loyal, initiative, self-motivated, on time, good attendance.

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