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8 underrated soft skills and their benefits

8 underrated soft skills and their benefits featured image

For over 100 years, employers have known that the strongest employees possess a variety of soft skills [1]. This is still true today, and employers are increasingly recognizing the need for these skills in their workforces. For instance, in TestGorilla’s 2023 State of Skills-Based Hiring research, 91% of responding employers told us that soft skills are more important now than they were five years ago. 

Most companies are familiar with classic soft skills, like time management and communication skills. However, as new technologies emerge, remote work becomes more popular, and workplace norms continue evolving, there’s a growing need to develop a less-recognized set of soft skills.

That’s why we’ve created this guide exploring the underrated soft skills that will impact your organization most. We’ll also discuss soft skills benefits, hiring for soft skills, and cultivating these skills in your existing teams.

Which soft skills are in demand?

The most in-demand soft skills are those that companies consider vital to organizational success, even as the workplace changes. 

ManpowerGroup’s 2022 Global Talent Shortage report, containing survey data from more than 40,000 employers across 40 countries and territories, found these as the top five soft skills:

  • Reliability and self-discipline

  • Resilience and adaptability

  • Reasoning and problem-solving

  • Creativity and originality

  • Critical thinking and analysis

A year after that, the World Economic Forum surveyed 803 companies from various industries for its 2023 Future of Jobs Report and found that businesses consider these soft skills to be “growing in importance most quickly”:

  • Curiosity and lifelong learning

  • Resilience, flexibility, and agility

  • Motivation and self-awareness

Soft skills benefits

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations have increased efforts to develop their workforce’s soft skills. This effort has had significant benefits – both for employers and employees. 

Specifically, a McKinsey & Company survey revealed that focusing on soft skill development helps in:

  • Realizing company strategy

  • Boosting employee performance

  • Increasing employee satisfaction

  • Enhancing employer reputation

But these perks are just the tip of the iceberg. When you have a workforce with strong soft skills, you and your business can enjoy:

1. Better communication and collaboration

Soft skills like effective communication and active listening reduce misunderstandings and promote teamwork. This leads to smoother workflows and improved productivity.

Similarly, employees with an awareness of cultural differences can strengthen team cohesion and communication.

2. Stronger leadership

Empathetic leaders make better decisions, motivate and inspire their teams, and contribute to a positive organizational culture. 

3. Increased employee morale, engagement, and retention

A workplace rich in soft skills is one where employees’ ideas and concerns are acknowledged and addressed. They feel understood and supported, which boosts morale, engagement, and job satisfaction. These all make for a more loyal workforce.

4. Improved customer relations 

Employees with strong interpersonal skills, active listening skills, and empathy can build positive relationships with clients and customers. This leads to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.

5. Enhanced adaptability, innovation, and resilience

Creativity, critical thinking, curiosity, and adaptability drive innovation, giving your company a competitive edge and enabling it to thrive in change.

Adaptability – as well as perseverance – also contributes to resilience in your workplace, which is key to keeping stress low and maintaining performance under pressure.

As HR expert Yashna Wahal explains, “The world is constantly changing. There’s uncertainty around economic recessions, global wars, and so many other factors that impact people’s jobs. You need to build a workforce that can stay calm through uncertainty, work well under pressure, and keep the momentum going.”

6. Efficient conflict management

Employees who respectfully navigate disagreements help build stronger work environments, reduce disruptions, and maintain positive team dynamics.

7. Better solutions

With soft skills like critical thinking and problem-solving, employees can resolve challenges effectively and find innovative solutions.

8. Increased profits

A study by MIT Sloan assistant economics professor Namrata Kala found that soft skills training at factories in Bangalore resulted in a 250% return on investment through higher productivity, faster task completion, and increased retention.

Interestingly, the study also showed these benefits extended to workers who didn’t receive training but worked alongside those who did.

Why should you care about underrated soft skills? 

If you want your employees and organization to thrive, all you have to do is focus on the most in-demand soft skills, right? 

Not so fast. 

Underrated soft skills also deserve your attention – and for important reasons.

The World Economic Forum’s 2023 Future of Jobs Report showed that 44% of companies believe workers’ skills will continue to be disrupted in the next five years as businesses adopt “frontier technologies” and “as workers adapt to automation and AI.”

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the focus will move to “human-centered” soft skills since these are the ones that AI can’t easily replicate. Expanding remote and global workforces will also push the need for these soft skills. 

As society and the working world evolve, HR professionals like you must stay ahead of the curve and identify soft skills that are just now becoming important – or even just emerging. This way, you can ensure your company doesn’t merely adapt to the future but succeeds in it. 

8 underrated soft skills you should look for 

So, which less-recognized soft skills should you focus on? Here are eight that we feel deserve some spotlight, along with their specific benefits.

1. Cross-platform communication

When we spoke with Yashna Wahal, she highlighted how business communication has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic. “Communicating, pitching, and negotiating virtually is a whole different ball game. One needs to be able to engage their audience without cues like their body language,” Wahal explained. 

She then added that today’s workers must have solid virtual communication abilities. This is even more crucial for remote employees, who might never speak to their colleagues in person.

Good virtual communication involves speaking and explaining oneself clearly and understanding cues in a digital context, and adapting communication processes based on different platforms. 

For example, in a Zoom meeting, effective communication might involve using the “raise hand” feature to signal one’s desire to contribute without interrupting the speaker. On Slack, effective communication might require concise messaging and timely responses, using direct messages for private conversations, or employing the appropriate channels for specific topics.

All this said, we believe the strongest employees go beyond mastering individual digital tools and instead perfect their cross-platform communication capabilities. This means workers can seamlessly switch between virtual platforms, knowing exactly when and how to use each for the best results. 

For example, a cross-platform communication skill would be knowing when to take a conversation to a different medium based on its context – e.g., from text to a video call for more complex discussions.

When employees strengthen this skill, they become better communicators and collaborators, which improves productivity and team performance.

2. Virtual inclusion

Inclusive organizations and individuals aim to build a sense of belonging for all, foster collaboration, and promote equity and respect within the workplace. 

With the rise of remote work, the ability to create an inclusive environment virtually is more crucial than ever – but many employers don’t know what this looks like

Dr. Raghu Krishnamoorthy’s research during and after the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that employees have differing views on what’s fair and respectful in virtual settings. For example, opinions differed about whether it was more inclusive to require video call participants to turn their cameras on or to simply request it.

Those who excel at virtual inclusivity understand these differing views and strive to find solutions that acknowledge all perspectives. They can create an online atmosphere where diverse voices are heard and valued – where collaboration transcends physical boundaries and every participant feels equally engaged and respected. 

One of the young men Dr. Krishnamoorthy interviewed, for example, detailed his experience where his manager confronted him for his lack of Zoom etiquette. The man is on the autism spectrum, and he explained to his manager that he wasn’t trying to be rude – he was just having trouble picking up on colleagues’ social cues through video. 

The manager apologized and implemented new Zoom meeting rules that would help the employee feel more included, like requiring participants to say “over” when they finished speaking. 

As this story above illustrates, virtual inclusion is especially important for supporting neurodiverse adults, but it can also help workers from different locations and cultural backgrounds.

3. The ability to say “no”

Many employees struggle to say “no” to requests – even ones they don’t have time for. This can lead these individuals to take on more tasks than they can handle and even lead them to burnout

Workers with certain personality types who want to be as helpful as possible are more prone to this than others. Moreover, flexible work hours can worsen this because the lack of clear work-life boundaries can result in these employees working incessantly, feeling the need to be constantly available and responsive.

Since many employers view eager-to-please employees positively – and in an age where flexible work is on the rise – this ability to say “no” is undervalued. Employees who can effectively say “no” can avoid overcommitment, maintain a healthy work-life balance, and ensure high-quality work. This skill involves understanding one’s own limits and priorities, effectively communicating, and knowing how to set boundaries. 

4. Humility 

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2023 Future of Jobs Report, self-awareness is quickly becoming a top-rated soft skill. Self-awareness means recognizing and understanding your emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and values. It involves introspection and a willingness to continuously learn and grow. 

There’s a key – but often overlooked – element of self-awareness we believe deserves more recognition: humility. This involves having a modest view of one’s own importance.

In our chat with HR professional and mentor Ricky Torres, he agreed that “humility proves itself a most underrated yet invaluable soft skill.” He then explained that “egos tend to stunt growth by squelching teachability and precluding necessary mentorship.”

Employees with humility recognize that they don't have all the answers and are willing to listen, learn, and grow. They actively seek and value feedback from colleagues – even direct reports – recognizing others’ strengths and contributions. They admit mistakes, show willingness to improve, and understand that personal growth is a lifelong journey.

5. Ethics (particularly AI ethics)

In 2023, the World Economic Forum introduced ethical skills into its Future of Jobs Report for the first time – proof these skills are underrated. 

This change reflects the fact that “68% of companies [believe] consumers becoming more vocal on social and environmental issues is likely or highly likely to drive transformation within their organization in the next five years.” In other words, organizations and workers will need ethical skills to meet these consumer demands. 

Ethical behavior involves maintaining a high standard of honesty, integrity, and fairness. It means being accountable for one's actions and promoting a culture of trust and transparency within a team or organization.

Ethics are especially important with the rise of AI. A recent study conducted by Fast Company, which surveyed 700 business leaders, revealed that integrity is the most valued employee skill in the age of AI. This highlights that it’s more vital than ever for employees to demonstrate ethical behavior.

“[Companies will] have to navigate the daily ins and outs of machine-mediated relationships with colleagues, clients, and customers, using technology effectively while preserving authenticity and trust,” Fast Company states. “We’ll help our organizations confront issues like privacy and algorithmic bias and grapple with how AI impacts people’s jobs and relationships.” 

Employers should value both AI competency and ethical behavior in their employees. They must recognize that, no matter what goal they’re aiming for, workers need to use technology in a way that aligns with societal values and ethical standards. For example, hiring professionals skilled in AI ethics should know how to keep AI’s gender biases out of hiring.

6. Cross-cultural empathy

Many organizations today value cross-cultural awareness. This skill helps employees understand different perspectives, which is important in everything from marketing a product to communicating across a business team.

Organizations are also increasingly valuing empathy, the ability to fully understand the feelings of others. Forbes lists it as one of the necessary soft skills of 2023. This skill can help avoid division amongst team members and align business decisions with customer perspectives.

There’s even proof that empathy is necessary for success. A recent study by the Center for Creative Leadership found that empathy is positively related to job performance. The study reviewed survey data on 6,731 leaders across 38 countries and specifically focused on leaders who displayed empathy toward their direct reports. It showed that empathetic leaders’ bosses were more likely to view them as better performers. 

We believe the combination of these two skills – cross-cultural empathy – deserves more attention, especially with workforces becoming increasingly diverse. 

While cross-cultural awareness represents a capacity to understand and adapt to cultural differences, cross-cultural empathy takes this a step further. It enables individuals to connect emotionally with others to understand their feelings and perspectives in the context of their cultural backgrounds. 

Team members with strong cross-cultural empathy are more likely to navigate international and multicultural environments with sensitivity and understanding.

7. Engaged listening

Employers already value active listening, which involves fully concentrating on what the speaker is saying rather than passively hearing their words. It’s about listening with all senses and giving full attention to the speaker – using non-verbal cues like nodding and eye contact and verbal affirmations like “I understand” or “Tell me more.”

But employees can go beyond active listening into engaged listening – a skill we at TestGorilla feel is hugely overlooked. 

This psychological concept involves connecting with the speaker on a deeper level. Engaged listeners engage with the speaker’s ideas and emotions. They ask clarifying questions that move the dialogue forward, offer insightful comments, and sometimes even mirror the speaker’s emotions. 

This soft skill contributes to effective communication while building rapport and fostering collaboration.

8. Emotional intelligence 

Emotional intelligence is the ability to acknowledge and manage one’s own emotions – and recognize others’ feelings. Individuals with high emotional intelligence can navigate social situations skillfully and build strong relationships.

We spoke to legal writer Kate Stacey about emotional intelligence, and she pointed out that it’s “especially relevant when recruiting for leadership positions.”

“Leaders with high emotional intelligence can recognize their own emotions and regulate them, adapting to the various situations they face,” Stacey explained. “They lead with empathy, inspiring and motivating teams to create a working environment where collaboration thrives.” 

We believe that emotional intelligence is more important now than ever in the age of AI. While AI can mimic emotional responses, it doesn’t have the genuine emotional understanding and empathy that characterizes human emotional intelligence.

Hiring for soft skills benefits your business

As Martin Gasparian, owner of Maison Law, explains, “Sometimes, I would meet a candidate who looked perfect on paper, but in real life, they just didn’t fit with the existing team dynamic. Understanding and seeking out soft skills helped me to hire the best person for the firm, as well as the job in question.” 

In other words, hiring for soft skills can help avoid mis-hires. This has a trickle-down effect on the rest of your organization. When you make the right hire, you help ensure good team cohesion, high productivity, and strong morale among your new employee and the rest of your workforce.

Avoiding mis-hires also keeps turnover low since you won’t need to part ways with poor-fit employees. This saves you time and money that you would have spent recruiting and training a replacement. 

How to hire for soft skills

Understanding candidates’ soft skills with traditional screening methods is nearly impossible. Resumes put hard skills front and center, overshadowing soft skills. They’re also subject to exaggeration and don’t give you the full picture of what each candidate has to offer.

To find the candidates with the soft skills you’re after, you need a better evaluation process.

Skills-based hiring is the solution. With this approach, you evaluate candidates based on skills and competencies rather than education and experience – typically using a talent assessment platform like TestGorilla. 

You still get a clear look at each candidate’s hard skills, such as technical knowledge or language proficiency. But you can also use soft skills tests – such as cognitive ability and communication tests – to gain a fuller understanding of your candidates. You can see whether they have the soft skills you need and how well they’ll enhance your culture. 

Cultivating soft skills in your existing team

Many soft skills can be tricky to teach, but it’s not impossible. So don’t despair if you believe your team members lack crucial soft skills. 

Instead, we recommend you do the following: 

  • Determine which soft skills your organization needs based on the tasks it performs. This is unique to each organization. For example, educational institutions will value patience for teacher-student interactions, while tech companies might value risk-taking for creative product development.  

  • Give your current team employee skills assessments to discover which soft skills are missing from your organization. Use a talent assessment platform, such as TestGorilla, that enables you to customize your assessments to suit your needs.

  • Provide your workers with training or personalized coaching to help them develop the skills they’re lacking. For example, you could organize cultural immersion experiences to teach cross-cultural empathy. These are interactive sessions where employees engage in simulated scenarios that mimic the customs, communication styles, and challenges people from different cultures face.  

Hire for soft skills with TestGorilla

When your workforce is full of people with soft skills, from the front desk to the top floor, everyone benefits. This is why it’s crucial to cultivate both highly recognized and underrated soft skills in your organization. 

As the world continues to change, the skills vital to organizational success will change, too – so continue to identify and seek out the most important skills. This way, you can strengthen the collective abilities of your organization, ensuring it remains agile, innovative, and successful no matter what happens in the future.

To truly tap into talent with excellent soft skills, try TestGorilla’s pre-employment tests. Sign up for free or book a demo today.


  1. Charles Riborg Mann, A Study of Engineering Education. (1918). https://www.nationalsoftskills.org/downloads/Mann-1918-Study_of_Engineering_Educ.pdf


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