I’ve been researching for a while different ways to represent and categorize soft skills. I feel a good framework would be helpful in many different applications: personal growth, group awareness, performance assessment, coaching, hiring evaluations, career growth, general learning initiatives, and more.
One model I found was co-created by a consortium funded by the EU Commission: eGovlab Stockholm University (Sweden), Eurecat (Spain), DMC Metrix (Ireland), Universidad de Alcalá (Spain), Everis (Spain), Fondazione Politecnico di Milano (Italy) and Trinity College Dublin (Ireland).
The consortium lists the following soft skills, in four categories — I’m reporting verbatim their own definition.
Self-image and vision of the world:
- Accountability — Perform one’s tasks in a self-disciplined, reliable and goal-oriented manner.
- Patience — Have patience by dealing with unexpected delays or other waiting periods without becoming annoyed or anxious.
- Self-control — Manage own feelings, needs and wants appropriately for the benefit of participants, clients or co-workers.
- Entrepreneurship — Act upon ideas and opportunities to transform them, over time, into cultural, financial or social value for others.
- Goal orientation — Demonstrate strong ambition to successfully complete tasks; define strategies and plans effective for achieving the pursued objectives.
- Motivation — Ability to do what needs to be done, without influence from other people or situations.
- Self-management — Develop one’s own ways of doing things, motivating oneself with little or no supervision.
- Resilience — A proactive and determined attitude to remain a thriving enterprise or activity despite the anticipated and unanticipated challenges.
- Initiative — Take initiative to come up with improvements.
- Tenacity — Stick to one’s tasks in spite of fatigue or frustration.
Context and performance:
- Customer focus — Take actions which support business activities by considering client needs and satisfaction.
- Diligence — Accomplish a task with concern for all the areas involved, no matter how small. Perform tasks conscientiously and effectively, taking into account all their aspects, no matter how detailed they are.
- Respect privacy — Be aware of high level provisions of GDPR; recognise the right to keep personal information private; respect, protect personal data.
- Personal development — Has the ability of using different channels of perception, learning styles, strategies and methods to acquire knowledge, skills and competences.
- Positive attitude — Display great effort driven by an interest or enjoyment in work itself, in the absence of external pressures.
- Reliability — Act within one’s work role to advance the goals and vision of the organisation.
- Efficiency — Achieve objectives using minimum amount of time, effort or cost.
- Respect the environment — Apply principles, policies and regulations aimed at environmental sustainability in the workplace.
- Adaptability — Alter one’s attitude or behaviour to accommodate modifications in the workplace.
Social interaction and method:
- Coaching — Guide or teach others by providing relevant knowledge and support. Offer suggestions about the best course of action.
- Networking — Keep track of the people in your personal professional network and stay up to date on their activities.
- Ethical behaviour — Carry out workplace activities according to accepted principles of right and wrong, including fairness, transparency and impartiality.
- Negotiation — Communicate with others with the intention of reaching a common understanding or to resolve a point of difference.
- Leadership — Guide and direct others towards a common goal, often in a group or team.
- Motivate others — Get to know what drives and stimulates individuals to achieve goals and personal growth.
- Communication — Engage with others, mainly face-to-face, in a wide range of situations, using strategies appropriate to context and purpose.
- Respect of diversity — Have an active role in promoting social justice and confronting discrimination in the workplace based on cultural identity.
- Teamwork — Work confidently within a group with each doing their part in the service of the whole.
Intuitive and lateral thinking:
- Conflict resolution — Practices concerning the resolution of conflicts or disputes in an organisation or institution.
- Creativity — Generate new ideas or combine existing ones to develop innovative, novel solutions.
- Organization — Plan the time sequence of our own events, programmes and activities, as well as the work of others.
- Decision making — Make a choice from several alternative possibilities.
- Manage quality — Realise possible improvements for processes to increase productivity, improve efficiency, increase quality and streamline procedures.
- Strategic thinking — Apply generation and effective application of business insights and possible opportunities.
- Problem-solving — Identify operating problems, decide what to do about it and report accordingly.
- Critical thinking — Use cognitive abilities to make decisions and to move logically from one idea to another.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find how they came up with this list, which isn’t ideal. However, it has quite an endorsement across a lot of reliable sources, so I think it’s a good one to keep as a reference.
Analyzing the list, while agreeing on the general aspects, I however got a bit skeptical on some of the items. Starting with their own definition of soft skills:
Soft Skills (also known as Non-Cognitive Skills) are “patterns of thought, feelings and behaviours” (Borghans et al., 2008) that are socially determined and can be developed throughout the lifetime to produce value. Soft Skills can comprise personality traits, motivations and attitudes
Some element in the list don’t seem to really fit even their own definition: “Entrepreneurship”? “Customer focus”? “Respect the environment”? “Efficiency”? These are all good, but they aren’t personality traits. I feel it’s possible to refine this list further to something shorter and a bit more actionable.
Others, like “Motivation”, seem very hard to be learned. Motivation is a complex, multi-faceted trait, and in my experience it’s not something that can be learned or refined. Plus, it’s also part on their own definition of soft skills, so it ends up being very circular
Regardless, compared to most of the soft skills advice usually found online, this list is quite exhaustive, and provides some good grounding for further reflections.
- Me, elsewhere: Let’s own the term soft skills.