A crowd of employees laughing and talking in casual suits around a table, using their soft skills to work together.
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How to improve these three essential soft skills

26 Mar 2019

Soft skills aren’t as mysterious as you may assume them to be. They’re skills like any other and, like a muscle, can be trained. Still confused? Check out our tips below.

When you think of the skills gap in technology, your mind probably immediately jumps to the technical skills the industry is crying out for. Anyone hoping to improve their prospects in STEM will instinctively be drawn to engineering, computer science, cybersecurity, AI and more.

Yet there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Or, in this case, more than one way to future-proof your career trajectory and make yourself more attractive to employers. You can also work on ‘soft skills’.

Soft skills are touted by future-of-work theorists as essential to navigating the modern workplace, yet many may not necessarily know what they are or why they’re important.

Soft skills are skills that aren’t graded by accredited qualifications or any well-delineated method of assessment. You can’t get a certificate in empathy. There aren’t really levels of expertise in communication. What makes someone empathetic and a good communicator can be pretty ineffable.

How you go about developing these kinds of skills can seem even more nebulous. So, we’ve broken down some of the the most important soft skills you need to thrive in the workplace and why you need them, and some great tips as to how to improve them to boot.

Want empathy? Participate in life

Last year, we heard from Monica Parker about why empathy is so important professionally and otherwise. When you have empathy, you will work better in teams. You will produce better work. It may even have favourable effects on your bottom line. Though you may be sold on the idea that becoming more empathetic will be good for you, you may still be a little confused about what empathy really is and how it can be developed.

Much of Parker’s sage advice revolved around participating more in life. Put your phone away. Ask more questions. Talk to more strangers. Indulge your curiosity about the wider world. All of these things will help you better understand your environment and, in turn, your peers.

As the organisation of the future becomes flatter, team camaraderie will be so much more valuable. Company culture is now more than ever the glue that holds enterprises together because in the absence of hierarchy, it is the main social infrastructure.

If you’re someone who is attuned to the needs of your colleagues, you’re invaluable to an organisation. If you are empathetic, you will work well with your peers and will radiate collaborative energy that keen managers will recognise as contagious. This all starts with opening yourself up to the world around you.

Stoke your creativity by changing up your free time

Creativity is often seen as more of a personality trait than a skill. Certain people are ‘creative types’, while others aren’t. You often think of your artistic or musical friend as being a person with innate creativity, and you may think that only people who are naturally skilled at creative mediums can be creative.

Yet creativity is just, at its essence, an ability to approach things in a unique way. It’s about thinking outside of prescribed norms and is applicable to all manner of careers, not just creative ones.

Taking up a creative hobby such as art, music or dance is an obvious way to improve this skill. It could also be fun, enriching and provide you with a whole new social circle. However, if you’re allergic to these kinds of pursuits, they’re not the only option for you.

Did you know that a 2013 study found that exercise improves creativity? Hitting the gym, going for a cycle or even a brisk walk could help you iron out inventive ways to approach professional problems. Your body is sure to thank you for the cardiovascular and muscular benefits to boot.

If you’re time-poor or don’t want to add any new commitments to your schedule, you could try something that can be as quick as 10 minutes a day: meditating. There’s early written evidence to suggest that humans have been meditating for thousands of years. The practice has surged in popularity in corporate and professional settings of late because of its purported benefits, creativity being one of them.

Be a better communicator by listening

Our Careers editor Jenny Darmody wrote an excellent piece early last year about ways to improve your communication skills. One of the most interesting takeaways relies on a simple and sage adage: communication is a two-way street, and you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

Just because you’re having a conversation doesn’t mean you’re absorbing what is being said. Ask yourself whether you’re truly listening or if you’re just waiting for your turn to speak. That’s a recipe for misunderstandings, so try to become a more active listener. The first step is doing an honest inventory of how much you need to work on your listening skills.

Don’t be afraid to ask people questions to clarify what they’re saying so you ensure you’re getting the right message. Your finely tuned empathy skills, as mentioned above, will help you become a better listener.

Once you’re hearing people properly, you’ll understand them better. Once you better understand them, the best way to communicate will become more clear. It’s hard to assign one-size-fits-all rules to something as complex as communication, but this is a good place to start.

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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