Soft Skills are the Make – or often the Break – of Careers!
Simply put, these are personal attributes that enable us to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people, especially in a work context.
85% of career success is driven by soft skills, and only 15% is attributed to technical skills, says a Harvard Study.
The professional world recognizes the importance of soft skills.
Large companies and mid-sized businesses alike focus on soft skills as job prerequisites today. LinkedIn has been consistently adding fields (and sub-categories) on skills like communication and negotiation in Member profiles. Many companies and coaches offer training programs to enhance them.
The individual focus on developing soft skills remains marginal – plenty of entrepreneurs and professionals do not actively work on improving theirs.
Diana Salzberg did a certification as a Social Media Strategist but her poorly written proposals and inconsistent email followups kept new business away. A simple effort to improve her written communication skills could have been the game changer.
Lasheena Graham enjoyed tech and her small company was doing well but she missed the people facing side of the work, so she started handling sales full-time to feed both her interests.
Kristen Kovack’s high demand cupcake business couldn’t expand because she wasn’t able to retain the right people on her team. While she paid well, her high-handed manner and poor delegation kept the employee churn high.
How strong are your Soft Skills?
Do you communicate well, work with others effectively and self regulate where needed?
Assess yourself on these 3 key categories – Communication, Personal & Interactive Skills, broken down into 20 skillsets below.
See how you fare on the questions and if the answers are mostly a no, you’ll know which areas to focus on.
Communication skills – the words that count!
We all need to listen to learn. And learn to listen. Responding comes later. Are you a mindful listener? How focused is your attention during conversations? Do you observe cues like tone and body language? How much are you able to absorb or recall later?
Your ears will never get you into trouble.
Can you keep it brief? Succinct? Do you use shorter, simple sentences to convey your message or verbose rhetoric? Do you use pauses meaningfully? Or even pause?
Do you possess the ability to articulate – your mission, premise or even an offer? Do you think through your words first? Choose the right ones? Think about the different facets of an argument? Ramble or roll?
My goal today is clear – convince you that Soft Skills come in many forms and each one counts!
Everyone is writing emails today. Preparing presentations. Pitching, responding, questing. Can you balance content and form? Use breaks and white spaces, smartly? What about visuals & links?
Do your words make a purposeful impact?
Use tools like Grammarly to limit errors and write better.
Are you one? Is your eloquence effective? Can you memorize your content and share (seemingly) effortlessly? Manage pitch and fluency while speaking? Keep a pleasant expression and limit the hand gestures?
All it takes is practice. Lack of preparation shows and who’s to blame?
Web & Social Media
Most experts and web articles will tell you the latest tips to managing your FB page or getting more out of Instagram. But is your content – words and visuals alike – truly crisp & inviting? In other words, click worthy!
Personal skills – You’re as good as your skills
It all starts with us. The more skilled we are managing ourselves, the better control we will have on our work outcomes.
If it’s not the wi-fi or an email snafu, traffic delays will mess things up. Something will always go wrong or off-rhythm. How do you respond? Do you lose your cool or deflect with humor? Think calmly and on your feet?
Everyone wants things done yesterday. Can you meet deadlines? Be productive within assigned time limits? Can you realistically estimate time to completion for jobs? Do you multi-task or work in time banks?
How do you handle new situations – breeze through or with reluctance? Or when needed, can you fake it (the confidence, that is). Do you focus on your strengths instead of harboring on your flaws?
Are you a pro at reading a room? Does the customer team look unhappy about your proposal? Is your sales pitch causing people to zone out and yet you remain oblivious? If you can indeed sense the vibe, are you able to course-correct a tough situation?
The most important thing – hearing what isn’t being said.
Interactive skills – Do Unto Others
You can’t control how others behave. But you can decide how you react.
How convincing are you, really – can you win people over to your point of view? Show clarity and salesmanship without hustling? Are you persuasive? Do you inspire trust and confidence in the eyes of your customer? Can you close deals or at least leave the door open for the next conversation?
Knowledge is power but enthusiasm pulls the switch.
Are you comfortable connecting with strangers and acquaintances? Interact with ease, be personable, even share quick pitches in a group or one-on-one setting? Do you know the networking best practices and no-no’s.
Also Read Back to Work? Your Mommy Years Count!
Arriving at a compromise goes beyond contracts or pricing. It also involves deadlines, to-do’s, even finalizing info and content. Are you win-win focused? Can you plan and anticipate a conversation? Lose a negotiation with grace?
Do you see yourself as a team player? Can you take orders? Collaborate when needed, work solo when not? Pick up the occasional slack without whining?
Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play together is another story.
Turning constructive criticism (link) into action is an art. Can you process suggestions into consensus based outcomes? Go back to the drawing board with a ‘let’s do it better this time’ outlook?
Not everyone’s a CEO. But taking a plan to completion often needs someone to spearhead it. What kind of leadership skills do you bring? Knowledge based or value oriented? Functional strength or people centric?
A manager says – go. A leader says – let’s go!
Very simply – can you get along with people? Being a channel between different stakeholders needs attention to detail, tact and a sense of humor. Can you put out the work related fires with customers, vendors, employees? Motivate and inspire others to do their best? Be an enforcer with grace and style? Retain employees and inspire loyalty?
How effective are you interactions? Do your words and actions count? Do you get nods of agreement when you speak? Or even an ‘agree to disagree?’ When someone feels differently, do you take it personally? Can you remain objective while resolving their concerns?
10% of conflicts are due to a difference of opinion. 90% due to wrong tone of voice.
Today, everyone knows something. Mentorship is often a game of equals. Can you share insights at a peer level? Talk with and not down? Offer help without being asked? Are you gracious when thanked? And especially when you’re not?
We all have it – the question is, how deep and how strong is yours? When was the last time you learned a new skill, tip or hack? And which soft skill are you working on mastering right now? Do you see it as a drudge or embrace it with pleasure?
It doesn’t end here.
There are numerous more skills that can help a professional immensely. Organization skills, empathy and a keen memory count big time too.
So what did you discover about yourself?
And importantly, how do you plan to leverage your strengths and overcome the improvement areas?
To succeed, we need to remember that Soft Skills are learnable and they evolve as we do.
When in doubt, think of the irrepressible Jack Sparrow.
The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.
Pooja Krishna is an Entrepreneur, Consultant and Mom. She has worked both in large corporates and managed startups over the last 20+ years. A co-founder of Maroon Oak, she’s also founded Win Thinks, a small business consulting company, and Trading Paces, which educates amateur and pro stock traders.
A trivia buff and yoga & hula hoop enthusiast, Pooja loves spending time with her family playing board games and watching documentaries.
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