5 Ways to Enhance Your Soft Skills

Feb 25, 2020

I got my first after-college job because I literally stepped up to the plate. It was my senior year at Georgetown University and I was leading a national Cuban-American youth conference on campus to promote democracy in Cuba. Several speakers and experts in the matter were in attendance, and the day was going smoothly… until lunchtime. The buffet-style lunch was taking forever and people were hungry and getting impatient. I noticed this and went behind the buffet table, grabbed plates, and started serving everyone in order to speed up the line. They all thanked me and rushed back to their tables to gobble up what ended up being a delicious lunch. Crisis averted!

At the end of the conference, one of the speakers approached me and specifically noted that, aside from organizing and leading the event, he was most impressed by how I had handled the situation at lunch. I was elated with his praise because this particular speaker was the head of an organization I was interested in working for after college. He said that more than knowledge, it is proactivity and problem-solving skills that make a leader. And due to my strong soft skills, this person hired me a year later and became my boss for the next couple of years, and a mentor and friend for life. He still hires for “skills you can’t teach,” as do most companies and industry leaders.

Soft skills are now more desirable than ever. Today, there is a huge market demand for soft skills to complement the increase in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) experts. And, according to a 2018 study by LinkedIn, 57 percent of leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills. But, what are soft skills and how can we use them effectively at work?

 

Soft skills are Human Skills

 

Soft skills are, by definition, “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” In other words, soft skills are “human skills” like focus, empathy, motivation, creativity, communication, teamwork, etc. They are those intangible qualities that can improve work performance regardless of the job.  And, since they are so important nowadays, we must learn to utilize them in the workplace to our advantage.

 

Here are 5 things you can do to develop your soft skills and leverage them at work:

 

1. Increase your self-awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to identify and understand your feelings, motives, and desires, as well as to recognize the impact you have on others and your surroundings. Being aware of yourself gives you control and clears your mind. It allows you to receive constructive feedback, understand the impact you have as a leader, mediate conflict, and recognize when to offer help and when to ask for it.

A self-aware person is a mature person. But developing self-awareness is not easy. A good place to start is by asking for feedback from colleagues and mentors at work and reflecting on your attitudes toward daily occurrences at the office. Ask yourself hard questions: How does the day-to-day make you feel and why?

 

2. Develop a growth mindset 

A growth mindset is the belief that our abilities can be developed and improved with dedication and hard work. Basically, once you are absolutely sure you can achieve your objectives, every step between now and then is simply your journey. With a growth mindset, you are more likely to take on risk, and understand failures and setbacks as learning opportunities.

To develop a growth mindset, be realistic and patient with yourself. When struggling with a task, remember that you have not mastered it “yet.” In the workplace, be vocal about the way you understand obstacles and objectives and be supportive of your colleagues who are in their own journeys. This mindset will allow you to stand out as a positive leader, a hard worker, and a team player.

 

3. Communicate expectations and goals

Whether you are the boss or an employee, meet with your team and communicate often. Share your business goals and your plans to achieve them. Ask your boss and colleagues for feedback and ask specific questions about how to allocate your time, which projects to prioritize, and who to ask for help when needed.

Make yourself available to give and receive constructive feedback and create an open-line of communication at all times. Never forget that communication begins with active listening, so make sure you are paying attention before you speak up. If you are “easy to talk to,” you will be invaluable at work and more likely to be on track for a promotion.

 

4. Be a leader

I am sure you have heard that in order to be promoted you should already be working at the next level. This is true, and the most important skills that will set you apart are your leadership skills. But, how do you step into a leadership role when you are nobody’s boss or, if you are, how do you maximize your skills?

Show up and make sure everyone knows you add value! Recognition is so important for you career, so don’t wait until you have a leadership role or title to be a leader. Increase your visibility and leadership presence by being more intentional about your interactions at work. Get yourself known by speaking up and sharing your ideas, volunteering for projects, and helping your colleagues whenever possible.

 

5. Hire a leadership coach

If you feel a sense of disconnect at work or don’t know where to begin, it is time to hire a leadership coach. As a certified coach, I strategize with my clients to achieve clear plans for their career goals that leverage their soft skills to give them a competitive advantage in their industry.

A coach can not only help you develop your innate gifts, but can also show you your blind spots, hold you accountable for your progress, help you strategize, uncover your self-imposed barriers, enable you to challenge yourself, and guide you to be the best version of yourself. You should consider investing in a leadership coach if you need help with the next step of your career, so that you don’t have to go to work every day to “put in the hours,” but instead, make every hour you work count toward your goals and dreams.

 

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