When you think of applying for a job or going for a promotion, it’s common to only think of how your hard skills, like coding, proficiency in a foreign language, or a proven track record for business forecasting, measure up. Hard skills are the requirements to perform your job well, after all.
But, soft skills, even as they are more difficult to define and evaluate, are equally important for workplace effectiveness. Soft skills are your interpersonal abilities like communication and presentation skills, listening abilities, empathy, and creativity.
While earning your MBA, many of the classes at the best business schools incorporate lessons on improving your soft skills. In fact, honing soft skills is a reason, in of itself, many professionals go back to B-school.
In this article, you’ll discover what soft skills you’ll sharpen as a part-time or full-time MBA student, and why they are important in the modern workplace.
Why it’s important: The economy is continuously evolving thanks to new technology like artificial intelligence and autonomous devices. As these innovative technologies are doing tasks previously carried out by humans, creativity--an innately human skill-- is more important than ever. That’s because we need human creativity and ingenuity, to create new technology and disrupt the market, to fuel the machines. And, as it is now, machine learning cannot easily replace creativity.
How you’ll experience it in an MBA program: Design thinking is a topic woven throughout many courses in top MBA programs, if not a course topic all on its own. Design thinking is the idea of thinking about humans before business for better fiscal results. It’s a philosophy that’s evolved from the start-up world where businesses identify a customer’s pain point, come up with ideas to solve their issue, then quickly prototype a solution before bringing it to market. This workflow requires thinking both critically and creatively, across many business sectors, and has become a core conversation in the MBA curriculum and in modern business.
2. Cross-cultural competency
Why it’s important: Understanding how people from different cultures communicate, solve business problems, and perceive the world is essential in the evolving economy where businesses commonly expand globally. Respecting and working within these differences is key to opening up opportunities inside the global economy, and is an incredible business advantage.
How an MBA program sharpens the skill: Top MBA programs focus on the diversity of their student body. And, as students come from varied educational, professional, and cultural backgrounds, classroom discussions reveal their unique perspectives to understanding global business topics ranging from supply chains to trading alliances, to borderless digital communities. Cross-cultural competence means you’re able to think deeply, and strategically about new trends and issues.
Why it’s important: Negotiation techniques are used throughout your life in many ways, from your salary and home price to projects at work. Effective negotiation skills allow you to forge stronger relationships, avoid conflicts, and come to agreements that work in the long term, as opposed to short-sided victories. For most people, negotiation is not a natural-born talent, but it is a skill learned from practice, feedback, and discipline.
How an MBA program sharpens the skill: Especially in executive MBA programs, negotiations are woven into many of the courses and co-curricular activities. Through classroom discussions and hands-on learning, you’ll gain skills to interpret the behaviors of those you negotiate with, have the skills to anticipate other negotiation styles you’re up against, learn about conflict resolution, and pinpoint diverse perspectives that can help decrease the number of misunderstandings. Each of these experiences helps you arrive at agreements that are a win-win for all parties involved in the negotiation.
Why it’s important: From presenting and pitching ideas, to holding meetings, to speaking your mind on a day-to-day basis, communication is one of the most important tools we have as humans, yet many people are ineffective when it comes to articulating their ideas. For that reason, even some of the most intelligent people feel a lack of confidence when it comes to contributing to important conversations, which can hinder them professionally and personally.
How an MBA program sharpens the skill: Throughout your MBA program, you’ll experience a variety of verbal communication approaches like public speaking, teaching, training, and peer motivation. You’ll also experience non-verbal components of communication like critical thinking, body language, and cross-cultural competence. Combining these skills provides you the ability to effectively communicate, become aware of how others receive your message, and give you the ability to make snap, but sound judgment decisions so you can confidently contribute to any conversation.
Why it’s important: In a 2018 Jobs and Salary Trends Report by Top MBA, research reiterated that employers want employees with strengthened soft skills. The report drilled down further to identify the specific soft skills they often see lacking in candidates, and leadership skills were prominently highlighted. Leadership touches on nearly every aspect of organizational success, from initiating action and providing guidance to building morale and creating a strong work environment. Strong leaders make businesses more successful.
How an MBA program sharpens the skill: Project collaboration, problem-solving, integrity, and teamwork are just a few of the skills you’ll learn during a full-time or part-time MBA program that can refine your leadership abilities. Additionally, courses like leadership communication and leading people are common topics squarely dedicated to improving leadership capabilities in MBA students.
Want to learn more about how an MBA in the Bay Area, from one of the best business schools, can improve your professional trajectory? Learn More about the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley today.