Last Updated on 3 months by The Mintly Team
Soft skills revolve around personal relationships, character, and attitude. By nurturing these skills, we can increase our work performance, build stronger relationships, and work toward earning a promotion. By developing our communication skills, strengthening our interpersonal relationships, and demonstrating our professional enthusiasm we can show our colleagues and supervisors that our soft skills are well-rounded.
Learning a trade or earning a degree is essential, but it’s not usually enough for sustained success. To succeed in the long term in the modern workplace, we also need to develop soft skills. Soft skills development is a worthy goal if we want to improve our overall effectiveness in life and business.
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are abilities and attributes that make a person effective in working with others. They often feel intangible and subjective. Soft skills aren’t always taught directly in the classroom, but they can be learned and improved upon over time. They may be better identified as transferable professional skills because they are needed in every industry at every level.
Here are five essential soft skills every professional needs.
Communication, while complex, is a vital part of succeeding in just about every avenue of life. It’s one thing to know what’s right or know what to do, but it’s another thing entirely to be able to clearly communicate that to the right people at the right time. Developing strong communication skills, both verbally and in writing, is an essential soft skill for the modern workplace. Many ways are there to develop our communication-
- Aim to be understood. Our goal, whether speaking or writing, should be to communicate clearly. Fancy or highfalutin language can oftentimes make the point we’re trying to make confusing or unclear. Some ideas to improve our clarity in communication include:
- Staying on topic. Focus on the point of your communication. This could be something as simple as determining whether our co-worker is free for lunch.
- Be specific when communicating. We may have difficulty getting to the point. To improve our clarity, use specific terms instead of general pronouns or indefinite periods of time.
- Make eye contact. Acknowledge that we are paying attention to someone by meeting their gaze eye to eye. Eye contact will make our conversation partner feel like we’re more engaged. If we have difficulty doing this, turn our bodies to face the person we’re speaking with.
- Monitor your body language. Show interest by sitting up and leaning forward slightly. Resist the urge to tap your fingers or foot, as this can indicate impatience. We can also connect with conversation partners by mimicking their postures.
- Practice speaking. This includes both public speaking and casual conversation. Even if we’re uncomfortable speaking in front of others, practice will make speaking come more easily and improve our ability. Be conscious of your pace and volume while practicing.
- Develop our writing skills. Much like speaking, the more we write, the easier it will become. We can also take courses to improve our writing. We can do writing exercises on our own. We can also frequently find affordable writing workshops offered at community centers, colleges, or online.
Writing and Listening Skills
Writing skills are an important aspect of communication skills in today’s connected world. While video conferencing and face-to-face meetings make up a significant part of many office settings, if we are in the business world, we will be writing—a lot. Emails, meeting notes, chat messages, and a host of other types of content rely on our ability to type a message that is clear and easy to understand.
- Practice active listening skills. Listening requires focus and self-discipline. We listen for many different reasons: to understand instructions, to empathize with another individual, or to judge whether a plan is good or not. We can show our conversation partner we’re paying attention by:
Listening well is an integral part of many of the soft skills discussed earlier. When we listen, listen to understand, not merely formulate a response. Active listening can take many forms, but at the core, the goal is to listen well enough to be able to restate the other person’s content in a way that they would agree with—even if we disagree with them entirely. Active listening doesn’t necessarily mean we will agree with the other person. Instead, it means they will show us truly understand their perspective and can represent it well, even if we disagree.
- Pay attention to the other person’s body language. Observe their posture, tone of voice, eye contact (or lack thereof), gestures, and facial expressions. This can offer clues for how we might best respond and can help us better understand our conversation partner’s frame of mind.
2. Strengthening Interpersonal Relationships
- Build relationships. Interpersonal skills are important in the workplace, especially since so many organizations are designed around teams and departments. Seek friendships with peers, supervisors, clients, and business partners.
- Be friendly with colleagues. Greet them when they get to work. Invite them to lunch or coffee. Talk for a few minutes in the break room as you are getting a drink. Participate in work events like softball clubs, staff lunches, and training days. These are great ways to strengthen your professional relationships.
- Manage conflict in a healthy way. Address issues with the individual(s) involved in a private manner. Approach the discussion in a non -judgmental but assertive manner. Ask questions and try to understand their side of the story. Work together to find a solution.
- Network with people inside and outside our organization. Ask people about their jobs and share a bit about what we can do. Note connections and ways we could potentially help each other. Exchange contact information and be sure to follow up with them.
3. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage our own emotions well as well as the ability to feel or perceive what those emotions are in the first place. A person who cannot maintain composure in the workplace or in a classroom discussion may have the low emotional intelligence or a low emotional quotient.
In contrast, someone who is able to identify when they are getting stressed or frustrated and take the necessary steps to combat or alleviate those feelings would be described as having high emotional intelligence.
Chances are, somewhere in our education thus far, we have had to endure a group project. While it’s easy to dislike group projects for a wide range of reasons, they do serve a valuable function in preparing students for the professional world.
The ability to work well with others in a group or team environment is another crucial soft skill in today’s business world. There are common pitfalls here, ranging from being too shy to participate to being too easily frustrated by the shortcomings of others. Improvements in emotional intelligence often result in improved teamwork ability, as well.
Have we ever known someone who seemed to freak out at the slightest change to plans? Even worse (especially in a business context) is the person who simply will not adapt to those changed plans and will continue forging ahead, unswervingly committed to what is now the wrong thing.
Both are examples of poor adaptability. In contrast, a person with high adaptability can easily roll with the punches, adjusting as necessary to whatever changing circumstances may occur.
At an advanced level, adaptability goes beyond just responding appropriately. Someone with advanced skills in this area can even foresee those changes as they come up and proactively map out what adjustments need to be made
How do Soft Skills Work?
Soft skills relate to how you work. Soft skills include interpersonal (people) skills, communication skills, listening skills, time management, problem-solving, leadership, and empathy, among others. They are among the top skills employers seek in the candidates they hire because soft skills are important for just about every job.
Hiring managers typically look for job candidates with soft skills because they make someone more successful in the workplace. Someone can be excellent with technical, job-specific skills, but if they can’t manage their time or work within a team, they may not be successful in the workplace.
Soft skills are also important to the success of most employers. After all, nearly every job requires employees to engage with others in some way.
Another reason hiring managers and employers look for applicants with soft skills is that soft skills are transferable skills that can be used regardless of the person’s job. This makes job candidates with soft skills very adaptable and flexible employees.
Why Do We Need Soft Skills?
We need soft skills just as much as hard ones if we want to succeed in business today. Our ability in mathematics, computer science, business, or medicine is an essential part of our skill set. Hard skills like these are certainly a requirement to land the job we want.
But landing our ideal job requires more than turning in a strong resume. We also must interview with a recruiter or hiring manager who will be evaluating our soft skills throughout the entire interview process.
If we’ve ever been in the hospital, we certainly wouldn’t want a nurse with poor soft skills. If we’re working professionals, we know how hard it can be to work with teammates or supervisors who lack these skills as well. So, if we want to be as successful as we can be in our chosen career field, soft skills are an absolute necessity.
How to Improve Soft Skills?
All of us have room to grow in terms of soft skills. We all eventually encounter situations showing a need for more soft skills—as long as we’re in tune enough to notice. Questions about how to improve soft skills or how to develop soft skills are a natural next step.
The following 10 strategies will put us on the path to success to improve our soft skills-
Prioritize Which Skills to Develop
Every individual has a unique mixture of strengths and weaknesses. We are naturally stronger in some soft skill areas than in others, so the very first step in learning how to develop soft skills is to prioritize them.
Take some time to analyze what we consider to be areas of strength as well as areas where we would like to improve. Compare this list to the skills that are most needed for our particular career path.
Ask for Feedback
We are not always our own best judges, so at this point, it’s a great idea to ask trusted friends or mentors for feedback about our own soft skills strengths, and weaknesses. We should start by formulating our own list. But counseling with those who know we well will provide a solid outside perspective.
By asking others for feedback, we may reveal blind spots in our self-perception. If so, we’ll have gained valuable insight into areas, otherwise wouldn’t know to improve.
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Most of us tend to exhibit stronger soft skills when we are comfortable. For example, we are more perceptive (not to mention confident) around close friends than we are in an uncomfortable business setting.
So, to work on interpersonal skills effectively, we must step outside our comfort zone and get into a setting we might not naturally gravitated to. If we are more of an introvert, we might sign up for a group activity or put ourselves in a social situation that isn’t entirely comfortable.
Self-reflection is a beneficial practice for just about everyone, but it takes intentionality in today’s fast-paced world.
Far too often, we move from one task or meeting to the next without much, if any, thought about how we presented ourselves or acted in the previous time slot. Where possible, some short periods of self-reflection should be scheduled throughout the day.
Think about the situations where we didn’t get the response we expected or where someone seemed to take us the wrong way. Think about what we said, how we said it, and even how we postured ourselves as we said it.
We may come across some startling observations about our behavior in those moments, and these can help us improve our soft skills over time.
Find Online Courses
Improving soft skills is not all internal, of course. We can find all sorts of online courses and resources that will help us improve specific skills. These will range widely in quality, so they encourage us to stick with reputable sources such as established universities and their extension or continuing ad programs.
Take on a Leadership Role
Experience is a great teacher. Stepping into a leadership position—even a small one—is a great way to grow our soft skills overall and especially in leadership.
If we’re on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder and our job is relatively solitary, we might not have many natural opportunities to grow our soft skills. This creates a hurdle for us, as any step into leadership will require those skills. The option is to find a way to take on a leadership role, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant that role may be. We might be in a position to ask to lead a small committee or working group in the workplace. But it doesn’t have to be at work, and we don’t necessarily have to lead other employees. We could take on a leadership role in a community organization, at our place of worship, in an online community, or in other places.
Whatever the role, we’ll be faced with countless opportunities to exercise soft skills and grow our interpersonal skills.
Practice leading. Leadership can be defined as our ability to influence other people, oftentimes with regard to making decisions. As such, leadership skills can be used by any employee at any level in an organization.
Work on Critical-Thinking Skills
Critical thinking in and of itself is a soft skill, but it is a core ability at the center of most of them. Thinking reflectively for the purpose of self-improvement is critical thinking. So is wading through whatever feedback (direct or not) we get from peers and others about our communication.
Work to improve our ability to be discerning and to think carefully before reacting. These abilities can significantly improve our communication and decision-making over time.
Demonstrating Enthusiasm and Ingenuity
- Take initiative. Show responsibility and enthusiasm for the job by striving to go the extra mile. Finish the work without having to be reminded by our supervisor. When we have spare time, offer to help colleagues.
- Do tasks without being asked by someone else. Be aware of our surroundings. When you see something that needs to be done, do it. Even small things, like emptying a full garbage can or cleaning the break room when we’ve got some spare time on our hands can earn us points with our colleagues and supervisors.
- Seek more challenging work. Strive to develop our technical skills. Learn more about our organization. Ask co-workers about their departments. The class should be taken, a pertinent blog should be read or a magazine should be subscribed to in our field of work.
- Improve your problem-solving skills. When approaching any problem, it’s important to be focused on the solution. We should keep an open mind so that even unlikely solutions aren’t written off. Open language should be used like “what if” or “imagine if” to encourage our brain in finding creative solutions. Games that challenge problem-solving can help here too. Some we might try include: Chess, Video and computer games, Card games (like Uno and Hearts), and Scrabble
- Boost your creativity. We might be surprised at the activities that can build our creativity. Walking, for example, will improve our creativity during the walk and for a short time afterward. Collaborate with colleagues to generate ideas. Find inspiration in other places, like museums or industries other than our own.
How To Get Soft Skills?
Unlike hard skills that are learned, soft skills are similar to emotions or insights that allow people to “read” others. These are much harder to learn, at least in a traditional classroom. They are also much harder to measure and evaluate.
Job Training Programs
Some job training programs cover soft skills. They may discuss soft skills so job seekers know what they are and the importance of highlighting them on their resumes. There are also free online courses that can help you improve your soft skills.
If you’ve been working for a while, chances are you’ve already developed some soft skills. For example, if you’ve worked in retail, you’ve worked in a team environment. If you’ve helped unhappy customers find a resolution, you’ve used conflict resolution and problem-solving skills.
Education and Volunteering
If you’re new to work, think of other activities you’ve done, either through school or on a volunteer basis. Chances are you’ve had to communicate, adapt to changes, and solve problems.
You can also reflect on the soft skills you need to develop. For example, instead of just discussing problems with your manager, suggest solutions to those problems. If you see a colleague struggling, offer to pitch in. If there’s a process that could improve your workplace, suggest it.
How To Highlight Your Soft Skills?
When you’re applying for a new job, highlight your soft skills, as well as your job-specific ones. First, make a list of the soft skills you have that are relevant to the job you want. Compare your list of soft skills with the job listing.
Include some of these soft skills in your resume. You can add them to a skills section.
You can also mention these soft skills in your cover letter. Pick one or two soft skills you have that appear to be the most important for the job you’d like. In your cover letter, provide evidence that shows you have those particular skills.
Finally, you can highlight these soft skills in your interviews. You can demonstrate your soft skills during the interview by being friendly and approachable. If you pay close attention while the interviewer is talking, you will show your listening skills.
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