Soft Skills: How to Work on Bettering Them
What are Soft Skills?
We all know what hard skills are: learned abilities acquired and enhanced through practice, repetition, and education. You can be proficient in Microsoft Office, C++, Adobe Photoshop, interpret financial statements or an EKG scan. Hard skills can be learned in schools, from books, or through internships. The levels of proficiency can be then identified, and there is a direct path for achieving them.
But what about soft skills? Soft skills are non-technical skills that relate to how you work. They include how you interact with colleagues, how you solve problems, and how you manage your work. Soft skills are the difference between an adequate candidate and an ideal candidate during a recruitment process; it shows the potential to become a leader.
The top 5 important soft skills are:
Communication – the ability to effectively deliver information, understand the different points of view from other people, and explain the rationale for the choices they make. Types of communication – verbal, nonverbal (body and facial language), written, visual, and active listening.
Teamwork – the ability to understand and appreciate the value of working together with others to accomplish the goals and tasks. Good team players are perceptive, as well as receptive to the needs and responsibilities of others.
Interpersonal Skills – the way to act towards people. In other words: your “people skills”. Empathy, friendliness, respectfulness, inclination towards helping others, and maintaining (not just building) relationships.
Problem-Solving - the ability to determine why an issue is happening and how to resolve that issue.
Time Management - the ability to organize and plan how to divide your time between specific activities. It helps you work smarter, not harder, even during difficult situations.
These soft skills are vital anywhere you go – school, work, home, etc.
Fun fact, the National Association of Colleges and Employees (NACE) conducted a study and asked employers to score the top three skills they seek in candidates:
Written Communication Skills (82%)
Problem Solving Skills (80.9%)
Ability to Work in a Team (78.7%)
How can you better them?
So you’ve learned what soft skills are, but how do you better them? Here are some tips that I tell my mentees and students that help them enhance their soft skills:
Open yourself to change and failure. The first step you need to take is having an open mind to change and growth. Open yourself to new experiences, mindsets, perspectives, and people. Being open to new things will allow you to get out of your comfort zone and explore various situations which will help you learn and grow. Without that open mindset, it will be difficult to push yourself to better your skills. It is also okay to fail. You do not learn to ride a bike or walk on the first try (people who have though: shush!). Failing is part of the process; you just have to pick yourself back up and try again. And again. And yet again.
Pay attention to your actions and reactions. Take some time to analyze how you act in certain situations and write them down. Do you shy away from speaking up in a group setting in fear of saying something embarrassing? Do you have a tough time communicating your thoughts or formulating the proper words? Write it all down, along with the situation you were in. Then figure out ways you can better act or react in that situation and push yourself to do so. The next time your group meets, just go for it and say your idea or have someone say it on your behalf. Have a thesaurus or Google by you and look up synonyms and similar phrases to what you are trying to say (best for written communication), or use examples. If you are struggling, ask a friend or family member to help you identify your true strengths and weaknesses.
Put yourself in situations where these skills are needed. Join a club at school or an affinity group at work and push yourself to interact with new people there. These environments are safe and non detrimental places to practice your teambuilding, communication, and interpersonal skills. It’s okay if you fail, there is nothing to lose :) You can also use this opportunity to observe how others are handling themselves and see what techniques they use to enhance their skills.
Take these online assessments and review the tips and advice they provide. There is a plethora of resources on the web to help you practice and improve – Bizz Library Soft Skills Assessment, CareerOneStop Skills Matcher, and Interpersonal Skills Self-Assessment.
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