Soft skills are far more important than most people realize. From empathy to grammar, this long list of attributes might not seem like a big deal, but a lack thereof could spell trouble for your future career trajectory. Professionals who lack soft skills struggle to find work—and when they do eventually land positions within their field, they may be frustrated by the slow pace with which they climb the career ladder.
The good news? Although innate to some extent, soft skills can be developed over time. Some come naturally while others must be practiced purposefully. Here are five valuable suggestions for taking soft skills to the next level.
1. Practice Public Speaking
Public speaking is one of the most common phobias, impacting a substantial portion of the nation’s adult population. In fact, experts from the National Institute of Mental Health report that this fear impacts 73 percent of individuals, making it more prominent than the fear of spiders, heights or even death. Despite this, few people actively attempt to address this limitation. By not confronting their fear and building their confidence, these individuals miss out on professional opportunities that could help them make significant strides to advance their careers.
Opportunities abound for gaining experience in the oft-avoided arena of public speaking. Not sure where to begin? Consider joining an organization such as Toastmasters. Other opportunities could include volunteering to take the lead in classroom presentations, making the announcements at church or even giving a toast at a wedding. Sometimes, it’s best to start small; the more you express yourself, the easier it will become over time.
2. Learn How to Actively Listen
Talent in public speaking alone will not cut it in today’s collaborative world. Listening is just as important, if not more so. Unfortunately, far too many employees enter the workforce with absolutely no idea of what it actually takes to listen and retain information.
This unfortunate reality is reflected in a study conducted by Morning Consult for Cengage, in which 74 percent of hiring managers surveyed cited listening as a top skill they valued. Meanwhile, 73 percent of respondents indicated that they struggle to find qualified candidates. Credentials may be important, but the top values identified in this survey suggest that the listening soft skill remains in short supply.
It’s never too late to learn how to listen. A variety of environments and opportunities exist for mastering this vital skill. From the workplace to college lecture halls and even everyday conversations with loved ones, you can make a conscious decision to engage in active listening—to truly listen and absorb what others have to say. Resist the urge to instantly cast judgment or mentally formulate your response. Instead, indicate your understanding by nodding or using other forms of affirmative body language. Ask questions to encourage speakers to share more.
3. Work on Problem Solving
Like it or not, conflicts will regularly come up in your personal and professional lives. How you assess and handle these problems will quickly determine your worth as an employee. When in doubt, opt for a proactive—not reactive—response. Take some time to breathe deep and realize that the problem currently on your plate actually represents an opportunity for growth. From there, identify the exact nature of the problem and highlight the steps necessary to arrive at a desirable resolution.
You can begin building this skill right away. Which problems currently cause you to worry? What can you do to resolve them in a responsible and low-stress manner? Start small; the confidence boost you enjoy after tackling a minor problem will help you take on greater concerns.
4. Master the Art of Collaboration
Teamwork is a critical soft skill even for positions where an employee often works alone. At some point, you’ll need to work effectively with a boss, client, patient, student, or some other individual who might not share your vision.
Success as part of a team will rely on a combination of the skills highlighted above. For example, quality team members can express themselves in both verbal and written form. However, teams cannot function unless their members know when to listen and how to be receptive to others’ needs. This balance of leadership and listening lies at the heart of effective collaboration.
Like any soft skill, teamwork can improve with practice. Enroll in classes that emphasize group projects. Dive in as an active participant while still encouraging other group members to play their part. Teamwork skills can also be developed at work or while participating in extracurricular activities. Don’t hesitate to ask other team members for feedback to determine how you can improve.
5. Develop Empathy
There’s no understating the role empathy plays in the modern workforce. It’s essential for maintaining not only workplace harmony, but also strong relationships with customers, clients and vendors.
Unfortunately, empathy can be, for some people, the most difficult soft skill to develop. While speech or writing classes can be relied on to build verbal and written skills, empathy is a far more nuanced matter. At the very least, implementing the Golden Rule by treating others as you would like to be treated is a good place to start.
No matter your stage in life, it’s never too late to build your soft skills. Your hard work could lead to stellar results in both your personal and professional endeavors.
For more information on how ACU Online can help you develop these soft skills and gain the academic credentials needed to pursue your career goals, contact us at 855-219-7300 or acu.edu/online.