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, you also need to develop soft skills.
Soft skills development is a worthy goal if you want to improve your overall effectiveness in life and business. Below, we’ll show you 10 ways to sharpen your soft skills. But first, let’s cover what soft skills are along with why you need them.
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.
Examples of Soft Skills
If you’re looking to improve soft skills at work, first you must understand what soft skills look like. 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.
Closely related to communication, interpersonal skills are all those intangibles you need to relate well to others, build relationships, and generate the necessary rapport to make inroads and win discussions.
If you’ve ever been in a discussion and emerged from it unsure how the other person convinced you to agree, you were dealing with someone with exceptional interpersonal skills. While some people are born with naturally strong interpersonal skills, everyone can learn strategies to improve in this area.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage your 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 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 your education thus far, you 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 you 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.
Why Do You Need Soft Skills?
You need soft skills just as much as hard ones if you want to succeed in business today. Your ability in mathematics, computer science, business, or medicine is an essential part of your skillset. Hard skills like these are certainly a requirement to land the job you want.
But landing your ideal job requires more than turning in a strong resume. You also must interview with a recruiter or hiring manager who will be evaluating your soft skills throughout the entire interview process.
If you’ve ever been in the hospital, you certainly wouldn’t want a nurse with poor soft skills. If you’re a working professional, you know how hard it can be to work with teammates or supervisors who lack these skills as well. So, if you want to be as successful as you can be in your 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.
If you’re interested in learning how to improve soft skills, the following 10 strategies will put you on the path to success.
1. Prioritize Which Skills to Develop
Every individual has a unique mixture of strengths and weaknesses. You 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 you consider to be areas of strength as well as areas where you would like to improve. Compare this list to the skills that are most needful for your particular career path.
2. 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 your own soft skill strengths and weaknesses. You should start by formulating your own list. But counseling with those who know you well will provide a solid outside perspective.
By asking others for feedback, you may reveal blind spots in your self-perception. If so, you’ll have gained valuable insight into areas you otherwise wouldn’t know to improve.
3. 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, you must step outside your comfort zone and get into a setting you might not naturally gravitate to. If you are more of an introvert, you might sign up for a group activity or put yourself in a social situation that isn’t entirely comfortable.
Of course, you’re not just doing this to be uncomfortable. You’re doing this to improve your soft skills by applying a little necessary pressure.
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 on how we presented ourselves or acted in the previous time slot. Where possible, schedule in some short periods of self-reflection throughout the day.
Think about the situations where you didn’t get the response you expected or where someone seemed to take you the wrong way. Think about what you said, how you said it, and even how you postured yourself as you said it.
You may come across some startling observations about your behavior in those moments, and these can help you improve your soft skills over time.
5. Find Online Courses
Improving soft skills is not all internal, of course. You can find all sorts of online courses and resources that will help you improve specific skills. These will range widely in quality, so we encourage you to stick with reputable sources such as established universities and their extension or continuing ed programs.
Post University offers a wide range of courses that touch on soft skills or help you improve them directly.
6. Actively Listen
Listening well is an integral part of many of the soft skills discussed earlier. When you listen, listen to understand, not merely to 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 you disagree with them entirely.
Active listening doesn’t necessarily mean you will agree with the other person. Instead, it means you will show you truly understand their perspective and can represent it well, even if you disagree.
7. Improve Writing 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 you are in the business world, you will be writing—a lot. Emails, meeting notes, chat messages, and a host of other types of content rely on your ability to type a message that is clear and easy to understand.
If you know this is an area of weakness, or if you receive feedback from others telling you so, seek out some of the many resources that will help you improve your writing skills.
Writing skills sit right on the bubble between hard and soft skills. You can easily find courses on business writing at just about any educational institution, including here at Post.
8. 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 your soft skills overall and especially in leadership.
If you’re on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder and your job is relatively solitary, you might not have many natural opportunities to grow your soft skills. This creates a hurdle for you, as any step into leadership will require that you have these skills.
One option is to find a way to take on a leadership role, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant that role may be. You 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 you don’t necessarily have to lead other employees. You could take on a leadership role in a community organization, at your place of worship, in an online community, or any other number of places.
Whatever the role, you’ll be faced with countless opportunities to exercise soft skills and grow your interpersonal skills.
9. Communicate Often
Think of communication like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger you get. But the converse is also true: If you’re rarely exercising your communication skills, they will atrophy. You’ll find yourself less comfortable and less ready to communicate well the next time you’re called on to do so.
If you don’t have many natural opportunities to exercise your communication muscle, think creatively about how you can add these opportunities to your daily routine.
10. 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) you get from peers and others about your communication.
Work to improve your ability to be discerning and to think carefully before reacting. These abilities can significantly improve your communication and decision-making over time.
Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly!