Which Two Soft Skills Should You Improve?
Harnessing the power of communication and teamwork
When I was looking for my first ‘real’ job, I remember getting rejection after rejection, even for entry-level roles, because of my lack of experience. I also remember that when I did finally get hired somewhere, it was purely for a hard skill I possessed: speaking French. And the soft skills that did matter in this job, like phone etiquette, weren’t even considered or tested. I could have been the worst phone person ever and it didn’t matter, because I had the only thing that did: a hard skill.
I’ve now been in the workforce for a little under two decades. I’ve switched jobs fairly regularly and I can confirm that there’s absolutely been a shift when it comes to what hiring managers look at. Soft skills have become a priority. I guess hiring managers finally realized that having hard skills is great, but it’s a lot harder to teach someone how to talk to people than it is to teach them an aspect of the job.
There are tons of soft skills to improve, but among them, there are two that we believe are paramount to your future success.
Communication is, by far, the most important soft skill to learn – and if you were to only take one thing away from this article, it would be to learn how to communicate effectively and appropriately. This includes non-verbal communication.
It doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people, but if you practice, practice, and practice some more, there will come a point where you won’t think to yourself, “you know what sounds better than talking to this complete stranger? Stepping on a Lego” anymore. The old adage fake it ‘til you make it definitely applies here.
Here are a few areas of communication to improve:
You’ll obviously need to partake in small talk at some point, whether with clients or with a colleague while you’re awkwardly waiting for the rest of the team to join the meeting. Start practicing by engaging with the cashier next time you go to the grocery store instead of looking at your phone. Ask them how their day is going. If they comment on one of the items you bought, tell them how great it is, you recommend it, etc. If you’re meeting someone new, instead of asking what they do for a living, ask them what they do for fun or how they like spending their time. The more you do it, the more naturally it’ll come.
Listening is a vital part of communication and a great tool to utilize when learning how to converse with people. If it’s hard for you to talk, maybe you can just ask questions and listen. Turns out, people love talking about their hobbies. The key is to really listen, ask follow-up questions, nod, and if it’s appropriate, share a related anecdote or opinion. I’ll leave you with a quote from Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People (great resource, by the way): “To be interesting, be interested.”
Sometimes, your body language says everything someone needs to know. Picture a group conversation where everyone is participating – except for one person, kind of sulking in the background, arms crossed, clearly disinterested. Or the opposite, where someone over-exaggerates all their movements and acts obnoxiously. Now, find the middle ground and go with it!
You have to learn to read the room and respond accordingly. Make sure your non-verbal communication is appropriate – eye contact? Great. Staring? Not great. Smiling? Great. Grinning like the Cheshire cat all night? Not great.
If this doesn’t come intuitively to you, do you have a trusted friend or family member that can give you actionable feedback on your facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, and eye contact? If not, practice in front of the mirror. It might seem weird, but it’s really not – it can be eye-opening when you see yourself emote.
Try not to write in an overly unnatural way. Some people try to sound smart, which really just makes them sound like they’re trying too hard. Instead, write as if you’re talking to your reader in person. It’s much more personable and allows the reader to ‘hear’ your voice. I’ll easily recommend this writing style over something more rigid, unless you’re writing a super serious proposal or report.
When it comes to professional emails, there are a few basics: Use proper spelling and grammar. Use the right homonyms (their/there/they’re, and the ever-present your/you’re, for example). Don’t use short-form (no u for you). Don’t overuse punctuation (!!! – seriously, one will do). If someone sends you an email and multiple people are copied, reply all – don’t drop people from the conversation. Lastly, make sure you have a relevant subject, and make sure any attachments you need to send are, in fact, attached.
Unless your department is tiny or you’re a freelancer, chances are you’ll work with a team of individuals – and you therefore will need to learn how to collaborate, accept criticism, show empathy, and frankly, how to sell.
There needs to be room for collaboration on a team. Some people enjoy working alone and truly struggle with sharing their work. But I’ll tell you what, sharing your work and starting a discussion can be super helpful in finding things to improve upon. We collaborate because, frankly, we don’t know everything and having different perspectives is helpful and can make us even better at our craft.
It’s a kick in the shin when someone isn’t 100% in love with your creation. But, criticism is a part of life and it’s important to learn how to gracefully accept it and implement it in order to make your product better. Constructive criticism is necessary for growth. It pushes you outside of your comfort zone – and that’s where your best work comes from.
If you have a hard time accepting criticism, enlist trustworthy friends and family. Let them know you’re working on your soft skills and would like them to help you by providing honest, maybe even hard to hear feedback. It’s going to be hard at first, but eventually you’ll learn to accept criticism without it reflecting on who you are as a person – because that’s not the problem. You’re fine. Your work just needs a little push in the right direction.
We will all, at some point, get kicked in the teeth by life. Repeatedly. And when that time comes for someone on your team, it’s crucial to display empathy and compassion. When Sally comes back from maternity leave, it’s not the time to tell her that her output seems slower than usual. You cut her some slack, you ask if there’s anything she needs help with, and if she says no, you get back to work and mind your business for a bit. When Frank tells you his dog passed away, it’s definitely not the time to tell him to just get a new dog. You cut him some slack, you say you’re sorry for his loss, you ask if there’s anything you can do for him, and you get him a card.
There will always be reasons that people aren’t their best selves at work, and that’s fine. We’re all human, we all have issues, and we all need to treat each other with compassion and empathy. The time will come where it’s you that needs help, and you will be treated how you treated others.
When you’re working as part of a team, you need to have good selling and negotiation skills. Multiple people will have solutions to problems, and sometimes you’ll need to sell the team on why your solution is the right way to go. Pick up a couple books on selling and you’ll be able to extrapolate the relevant skills – but I’ll start you on the right track: relationship-building, persuasion, and research.
I can’t overstate the research bit. If you’re going to propose a solution and try to convince your team it’s the best way to go, be prepared to answer questions. Test your solution, know everything about it, and most importantly, try to break it. It’s a lot easier to get the team to go your way when you’ve clearly done the research.
Harnessing the power of communication and teamwork
It’s corny, but it’s true: if you’re able to communicate and work in a team effectively, you’re well on your way to getting a job, even if you lack some of the more technical or hard skills. You can teach someone Ruby on Rails or how to weld, but you can’t easily teach someone how to talk to people. If you take the time to invest in yourself and improve your soft skills, we believe you’ll have a much easier time in finding the right job.
Looking for business solutions?Explore System One