“Soft Skills” Are Crucial for Success in Business and STEM Jobs by Jennifer Janechek

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Not too long ago, The Washington Post published a report on the findings of a study Google conducted in 2013 on the most valuable traits in its top employees. Called Project Oxygen, this study examined all of Google’s hiring, firing, and promotion data since 1998. The result? Not what you might expect—and not what Google, founded on the idea that “only technologists can understand technology,” expected either: in terms of the eight most important qualities that determined the success of its employees, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) expertise was not first, second, or even third in importance—it was dead last. The top seven determinants of success were all what are traditionally called “soft skills”—communication and other people skills that require social and emotional intelligence. Here are the seven most important characteristics of the successful Google employee, according to Project Oxygen: 

  • being a good coach; 

  • avoiding micromanagement and instead empowering the team to find solutions; 

  • expressing interest in the success and personal well-being of one’s colleagues; 

  • being productive and results oriented; 

  • possessing effective communication skills—especially the ability to listen attentively; 

  • desiring to help employees grow and develop within the organization; 

  • and having a clear vision and strategy for one’s team. 

These qualities are crucial to success not only in STEM fields, but also in the corporate world. And yet despite their necessity for STEM and business jobs, these traits typically are cultivated by a liberal arts education, especially by humanities and communications-oriented disciplines. But even if you haven’t received a liberal arts degree or majored in, say, English, you can augment your social and emotional intelligence by reading personal development and business improvement books that provide lessons in the development of soft skills. 

David E. Nielson’s The 9 Dimensions of Conscious Success, for instance, teaches that conscious success is built on three pillars: purpose, self-awareness, and social awareness. Nielson explains that on top of these foundational qualities, six key differentiators increase your chances of success and fulfillment. These are authenticity, work ethic and personal responsibility, listening for results and connections, articulation for impact, humor, and gratitude. As is evident from this list, conscious success is not built on technological know-how; rather, it depends on character and interpersonal skills—those “soft skills” that distinguished the top Google employees from the less successful ones. 

Another recent work that provides instruction in interpersonal communication is Jim Stovall and Ray H. Hull’s The Art of Communication. An installment in Sound Wisdom’s “Your Competitive Edge” series, this work gives concrete advice on the following topics: how to consider your audience and adjust your communication style accordingly, what your non-verbal communication says about you, dressing for maximum success, active listening, conflict resolution, communication in meetings, and more. With clear instruction that’s accompanied by engaging narratives, The Art of Communication demystifies public speaking and interpersonal communication in an enjoyable and understandable manner. 

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As the experts at Google discovered, regardless of how tech savvy an employee is, if he or she lacks communication and other “people skills,” that employee is less likely to be successful within the organization. Luckily, works like Nielson’s and Stovall and Hull’s can help individuals develop these soft skills. Spending time educating yourself about self-presentation and interpersonal communication can make all the difference in setting yourself apart from your competition and developing relationships that will lead to your success in business and in life. Pick up one of these books today from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and other fine retailers!