Soft Skills For Dummies
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Today’s employers want more from their employees than technical knowledge and expertise. They’re looking for people who are willing to work as team players, have strong communication and problem-solving skills, and demonstrate good character, good work ethic, leadership, and a positive workplace attitude.

Soft skills (also called life skills) help you create a powerful, positive, and productive life outside of work. In fact, professional success starts with personal success, and a strong set of soft skills can go a long way to making both happen.

Defining soft skills

If hard skills are what you do, soft skills are how you do what you do. Soft skills are the personal character traits, qualities, and habits that make you uniquely you.

Your work ethic, attitude, and way of interacting with other people are a few examples of soft skills. They’re the personal and interpersonal skills you bring with you to work and apply to your life every day.

The following are considered the ten essential soft skills:

  • Attitude
  • Character
  • Diversity and cultural awareness
  • Communication
  • Appearance and etiquette
  • Time management
  • Teamwork
  • Work ethic
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Leadership

Making soft skills a habit

People speculate that forming a new habit can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days. There’s no one-size-fits-all amount of time, which is why this time frame is so broad, but the average is 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.

However, if you start working on your soft skills today, you’ll see the payoff sooner rather than later.

As you get more and more in touch with the person and employee you want to be, you find that work and life offer you daily opportunities to learn and grow personally and professionally.

The following are ten habits you can work on to make soft skills work for you.


Having a positive thinking habit can help you overcome challenging situations. Instead of worrying about the aspects of a situation you can’t control, turn your energy to what you can control and do your best to affect those elements of the situation.

People who see things from the positive side tend to get positive results out of most of their endeavors. You can begin by taking charge of your thoughts, using positive language, showing gratitude, and surrounding yourself with other positive thinkers.


You develop your character everyday by the choices you make in everything you do. When faced with the daily decisions of life, develop the habit of choosing the path of integrity, honesty, responsibility, forgiveness, and empathy.

Diversity and cultural awareness

Make a habit of stepping out of your comfort zone and into settings that challenge you to learn about others and what makes them unique. The goal isn’t to make you uncomfortable. It’s to enhance your respect for others and give you opportunities to discover new ways to do and say things.


Active listening can take many forms, but at its core, the goal is to listen well enough to be able to restate the other person’s content in a way that they’d agree with. Whether you disagree with that message doesn’t matter. The important factor is that you’ve absorbed it and understand it. Learning to actively listen takes lots of practice.

Make a plan to start at least one conversation each day by asking a question and then practice actively listening to the answer you receive.

Appearance and etiquette

Four seconds is all someone takes to look at you and your actions and make an instant first impression of who you are as a person. Your appearance (clean clothes, combed hair) certainly contributes to a first impression, but acting the part (displaying good manners) is important, too.

Using etiquette that makes a positive impression doesn’t take much effort. Start today by saying please and thank you, and be the best version of yourself.

Time management

No one will argue with the statement that today’s world is busy. However, being busy isn’t an excuse for having poor time management. People who are the most successful in their career and life roles create a habit of being punctual.

Whether you’re headed to your job or meeting a friend for coffee, make a point of being on time. The more you’re aware of your time, the better you can manage your life.


To be part of a successful team, you have to be a good team player, regardless of whether you’re in your workplace, your household, or a community organization.

Being a good team player means listening, sharing ideas, trying other teammates’ ideas, congratulating others’ success, and lending a hand when needed. When you do these things, you’re on your way to being a team player that contributes to the team’s overall success.

Work ethic

All soft skills rolled together contribute to a good work ethic, but you also have to add the element of ownership. Taking ownership in your work means being accountable for your daily responsibilities — caring about them and how your work affects others’ responsibilities and the overall business goal.

People who take ownership of their contributions see the bigger picture and also achieve more rewarding outcomes.

Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking is the ability to make personal judgments that are logical and well thought out. It’s a way of thinking that involves cultivating a genuinely curious attitude. It requires that you have your own point of view instead of simply mimicing the people around you.

Every day, you have the opportunity to use the process of critical thinking to make decisions, solve problems, and communicate effectively.


Experience is a great teacher. Stepping into a leadership position — even a small one — is a great way to grow your soft skills overall and your leadership skills in particular.

You may be in a position to ask to lead a small committee or team at work, but work isn’t the only place to find leadership opportunities. And you don’t necessarily have to lead other employees.

You can take on a leadership role in a community organization, at your place of worship, in an online community, or any number of other places. You can even take a leadership role in your family by offering to organize family functions and activities.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Cindi Reiman is the President and Founder of the American Hospitality Academy (AHA), a company that has been providing leadership training and internships since 1986. AHA created Soft Skills AHA, which provides curriculums and professional development programs focusing on career readiness and the essential employability traits needed to be successful both in the workplace, and in life.

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