Soft skills: personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.
That’s an interesting definition, don’t you think? To be both effective and harmonious when dealing with other people definitely takes a lot of skill. While technical skills can be taught, quantified, and measured, soft — or people — skills are far more elusive, subjective, and intangible.
The hard skills you list on your resume may get you the interview, but it’s your soft skills that will make you a success. You can always progress technically, but soft skills are more important for being a great employee, teammate, and leader. Business Insider reports that 57% of the business leaders surveyed said they believe soft skills are more important than hard skills.
One reason soft skills are so prized is that they help facilitate human connections. “Soft skills are key to building relationships, gaining visibility, and creating more opportunities for advancement,” Kathy Robinson, founder of Boston career-coaching firm TurningPoint, told Monster.com.
If you aspire to land and keep your dream job, try a few of the following tips to sharpen your soft skills.
1) Be a clear verbal communicator
Interpersonal communication is the key to building strong relationships. How you speak, both in person and on the phone, sets the tone for how others perceive you. Strong communication skills help you bond and collaborate with coworkers, inspire trust and loyalty in clients, and extract clear expectations from your manager so you can deliver high-quality work.
One way to improve your speaking skills is to volunteer to give group presentations at work. You can also join Toastmasters International, a worldwide, non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. Even if speaking in front of a group is the stuff of which your worst nightmares are made, it’s a skill you can learn and improve upon with a bit of practice.
2) Be an active listener
There’s a big difference between hearing someone talking and listening to what they’re saying. Genuine, active, and engaged listening improves relationships, solves problems, and makes teams more productive.
Many mistakes are made and misunderstandings occur because people don’t take the time to fully comprehend the entire message or instructions they were given. Allow the speaker to finish before responding or judging what they’ve said. Make eye contact and be aware of your body language and theirs. Stay open and receptive. Repeat back what they’ve shared with you in your own words to confirm understanding and clarify any confusion.
3) Improve your writing skills
Whether you’re dashing off an email to a client or preparing a year-end report for your boss, strong written communication skills are vital to your success.
To improve your writing skills:
- Always proofread what you have written
- Use the built-in spellcheck and grammar functions found in many word processing and productivity software applications
- Ask a coworker to proofread important documents
- Review grammar rules online at sites like Daily Writing Tips and learn one new word each day by having Merriam-Webster’s word of the day sent to your inbox
4) Keep it light
Most people really appreciate someone who can make them laugh in a natural and spontaneous way. Laughing helps take the stress out of a busy workday by releasing endorphins, which make us feel good about ourselves and others. A shared laugh brings people closer together in a moment of lighthearted bonding.
You don’t have to learn a bunch of corny jokes, unless you truly enjoy sharing work-appropriate banter in that way. But do try to make at least one person laugh every day. It will also make you look more intelligent. Psychology Today reports, “Women view men who make them laugh as more intelligent than those who don’t. Researchers speculate that constructing humor takes a high degree of intellectual prowess, especially when producing sophisticated humor such as satire, double entendre, and malaprops.”
5) Keep it courteous
While you’re keeping it light and funny, don’t toss business etiquette out of the window. It’s always important to be respectful to everyone in your work environment, display good manners, and act courteously and graciously.
Say “please,” “thank you,” and “my apologies” often. People notice this, even if only on a subliminal basis. It makes you far more approachable, trustable, and likable.
6) Put team first
The ability to collaborate and cooperate with others is a huge predictor of your success. That’s why employers are so often looking for team players. A friendly, supportive, and helpful office culture is key to attracting and retaining top talent. And the results are better when a group works synergistically and harmoniously.
Some ways to improve this skill include:
- Split up work evenly
- Lend a hand when a coworker is in need
- Keep an open mind
- Never make assumptions
- Always praise others in public
- Make everyone feel important and valued
If being a member of a workplace team is challenging for you, a good way to become more comfortable is by participating in group sporting events and other communal social activities.
7) Increase your EQ
A command of emotional intelligence is a proven differentiator in the competitive climb up the corporate ladder, according to Laura Wilcox, director of management programs at Harvard Extension School. Emotionally intelligent leaders inspire others, boost productivity, “and spur higher levels of employee engagement that comes from a strong company morale.”
This is because people are much more inclined to go the extra mile when asked by an empathetic person they respect and admire. “Managers with low emotional intelligence will have much less to draw on,” Wilcox notes.
In fact, evidence suggests that high emotional intelligence is a stronger predictor of success than technical skills. “Emotional intelligence—the ability to, say, understand your effect on others and manage yourself accordingly—accounts for nearly 90 percent of what moves people up the ladder when IQ and technical skills are roughly similar.”
Preston Ni, M.S.B.A., in a piece for Psychology Today, writes: “According to Talent Smart, 90% of high performers at the workplace possess high EQ, while 80% of low performers have low EQ … Unlike IQ, which does not change significantly over a lifetime, our EQ can evolve and increase with our desire to learn and grow.”
Ni offers six areas you can focus on to improve your EQ:
- Learn how to reduce negative emotions
- Learn how to stay cool and manage stress
- Be assertive and express difficult emotions when necessary
- Stay proactive, not reactive, in the face of a difficult person
- Learn how to bounce back from adversity
- Express intimate emotions in close, personal relationships
With these tips for sharpening your soft skills in mind, now’s a good opportunity to tackle other career-defining skills — the kind you get from a liberal arts degree from an accredited school like Post University.