Cultural Differences: What Soft Skills Are Important in Global Markets?

Though most employers agree that soft skills are important, it is generally unclear which specific skills they have in mind. While these skills may be hard to pinpoint, studies indicate that there is a general consensus on the most important soft skills—even across different cultural contexts.

When examining the most highly valued soft skills across the globe, there are patterns that emerge and certain similarities that exist across nations. Let’s explore a few:

United Kingdom

In 2015, a corporate study found that soft skills were worth 88 billion pounds annually to the United Kingdom. The study noted that 77% of employers deemed these skills just as important as hard skills to the success of their businesses, and 16% found them more important. The skills cited were:

  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Teamwork
  • Time and self-management
  • Decision-making and initiative-taking
  • Taking responsibility

The same year the study came out, a Telegraph article presented a case for soft skills, describing how a candidate with better soft skills was hired over another candidate with better hard skills. In both examples, interpersonal skills are identified as the defining factor for securing candidates a job, or saving employers money.

Nordic and Baltic Countries

The World Health Organization (WHO) wanted to ensure that their wide talent pool was well-equipped to successfully implement health equity. To that end, in 2016, it created a course for developing soft skills, and tested it first in their Nordic and Baltic regions. Designed specifically for WHO workers, the skills covered by the course included:

  • Agenda-setting
  • Stakeholder analysis
  • Negotiating with policy-makers

Its success, and the positive feedback from participants, mean it will be rolled out to the WHO’s employees in different regions as well. Though this course is specific to the WHO and its work, its subject matter would be beneficial to many organizations. Several participants stressed the importance of framing issues in the right way to ensure employees work for a common goal. This shows the value of communication for such a large organization, which has employees across different cultural backgrounds. Miscommunication, whether due to cultural or linguistic differences, could create widespread confusion and halt any progress.

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Hong Kong and China

According to research by the recruiting firm Hays, the four most sought-after soft skills in the Asian region are:

  • Interpersonal and communications skills
  • Team management and leadership skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Language skills

Hays elaborated that “in a global economy, where English has become, more or less, lingua franca for business, having a decent grasp of the language is now a must. Alternatively, for those whose first language is English, being able to speak a second or third language with any ability has become a prized asset amongst employers.”

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Once again, interpersonal communication is at the forefront of sought-after soft skills, with particular stress on language for regions that communicate in languages other than English. When a business uses different languages on a regular basis, it is crucial to make sure the employees communicate effectively in all operating languages so as not to block progress or lead to inefficiency.

Where Training Begins

In studies and research on soft skills around the globe, the major skills highlighted are most often related to communication. Ultimately, one of the most important skills—hard or soft—in the global workforce is the ability to work alongside different people for a common goal. Since many soft skills are intertwined with personality traits, it can be challenging to find the most optimal ways to improve them. One exception is language skills. Personalized language training for your team can help narrow that costly soft skills gap.

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