The 7 soft skills that will matter the most in 2021

While it may feel impossible — trust us, we feel it, too — we are gearing up for another year. This means a new review season and the new challenge of figuring out your areas of weakness so you can improve.

Many professionals mistake only focusing on hard skills — i.e., technical proficiencies — and not giving enough attention to soft skills. As career expert Wendi Weiner explains, soft skills relate to your personality attributes and work style. So, this includes your ability to be a creative or analytical thinker, a problem-solver, and so on.

Whether you are hoping for a raise or a promotion, or you’re looking for a new job, being able to illustrate soft skill strengths will make a huge impact. “The best part about soft skills is that they are transferable across industry sectors and career levels. Most often, soft skills can be parlayed in a way that enables the job seeker to be a more strategic fit for the position based on their ability to adapt into different roles and needs of the company,” Weiner adds.

Here, the most desirable soft skills of 2021:

Adaptability and versatility

With COVID putting a wrench in companies’ typical operations, it’s become apparent that being versatile and adaptable to changing circumstances is a must, Weiner says.

If you are resistant to change or struggle to develop solutions, it can be tricky to move forward as a leader. And during the pandemic, where so much is still up in the air, Weiner says there are new ways of handling meetings, chatting with employees and/or clients, and providing guidance and feedback.

“With this also comes a need for being more accepting of others needs and learning how to work with those who may have childcare or other critical needs that require flexible work schedules,” she shares. 

Work ethic

There are those skills that can be taught — and those that are innate to a human. Work ethic falls under the latter, and it’s one of the most valuable characteristics in the professional world, regardless of industry.

As Scott Dettman, the CEO of Avenica says, those who have a strong personal drive are not only in high-demand, but they are integral to ensuring teams and companies are productive.

Particularly now, when most communication is virtual, being responsible for your actions and deadlines is more vital than ever. “Without the physical presence of a supervisor to provide guidance and to apply pressure to complete work, as well as a team or colleagues around to provide support and motivation, a work ethic matters,” he adds.

Innovation

When you’re faced with a challenge, do you find a way around it, a way to solve it, or a way to make it better? If you have the soft skill of ‘innovation’, you can look at a lemon and make it into a thriving bar, all through your imagination and creative thinking.

The pandemic has made this an attractive quality since so much work is completed remotely, Weiner shares. When you can be inspiring in your own progress, you encourage others to follow suit, ultimately resulting in a better working dynamic and team.

Active listening

Everyone has someone in their life that makes them feel heard. They make eye-contact, they lean-in to the conversation, they allow you to answer questions and ask thoughtful follow-ups, and overall, leave us feeling supported.

Excellent listening skills have always been a vital component of communication, but they are also a key to understanding the needs and wants of your colleagues, business partners or clients, Dettman says.

“Those who are proficient in active listening are often attentive, have high attention to detail and are excellent at connecting with others. They can take in information to understand expectations truly, build relationships and rapport with colleagues and clients and are better problem solvers,” he shares. “Strong listeners also know when information is missing and are therefore able to ask questions to fill in the gaps and create a complete picture.”

Communication

As many non-essential businesses continue to operate in a fully remote work environment, communication remains imperative — between colleagues, employees and their managers, and the corporation with its entire staff, says Amanda Augustine, the career expert for TopResume.

This lap around the sun has provided a learning curve for many, as they’ve had to determine the best strategies for conducting their business practices via video without sacrificing creativity, attention span, and so on.

Those who can thrive both in-person and online communication will succeed in 2021 and beyond. “When there’s no longer an office water cooler to gather around or in-person meetings regularly, professionals need to put in extra effort to connect with their colleagues, manager, and direct reports and ensure that everyone is remaining well-informed,” she adds.

Teamwork

For many businesses throughout 2020, it’s been an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to make it through each day, week and month. Likely, you have one colleague (and hopefully a few) who have made it more bearable for you.

That sense of belonging and appreciation is called teamwork, and it’s a soft skill that can’t be discounted, according to Kari DePhillips, the founder and CEO of The Content Factory. “Employers are careful about figuring out how to make sure they’re hiring employees who are going to play an active role in developing a teamwork culture. One that acknowledges and celebrated differences and diversity. One that can take feedback and put the project before ego,” she continues. “One of the themes of 2021 is healing the fractures we’re seeing in society that are certainly leaking into businesses everywhere, will be ‘unity’. And teamwork is a critical piece of that.”

Emotional intelligence

According to Karen Oakey, the director of human resources for Fracture, emotional intelligence (EQ) is a soft skill that’s grossly underrated.

However, it is directly connected to individual success in life, not just at the office. “Understanding how our personal selves impact our work selves through self-reflection will determine how to harness those facets of our personality while interacting in the workplace,” she continues. “EQ can determine how one receives direction, feedback, constructive criticism, and how they handle tough conversations.” 

As you have discovered throughout 2020, the ability to be empathetic and sympathetic appropriately in different situations may dictate how well you’ll do your job as it relates to playing well with others.