Developing Your Soft Skills

Growing up, my dad always said to me, “Regan, a great employee is someone who can recognize a problem, fix it, and move on”. I don’t think I’ll ever stop repeating that small sentence in my head for as long as I live (seriously, he said it that much). Now, it’s important to note that my dad [is/was] a now-retired computer software engineer and I am professional a employee development. It doesn’t take a whole lot of convincing to realize that our brains work very differently. When my dad makes that statement, in his mind a “problem” is defined as something data-driven; Something tangible and measurable. As someone who puts emotional intelligence and empathy first, my mind is a little different. When I hear that statement I immediately think more about the soft skills that are needed. Of course, those of you reading this are all different types of people, and that made me wonder… does everyone believe in the significance of these soft skills as much as I do?


In the past, a lot of business success was credited to the development of employee hard skills. These skills are technical, and can be thought of as any skill that can produce a statistic. They could be data analysis skills, project management skills, design, any computer technology skills, and so on. Within more recent years, soft skills have made their appearance more than ever before. Managers have come to realize these soft skills are needed in order to reach an organizational goal as efficiently and effectively as possible. Soft skills include time management, leadership, conflict resolution, and so many more. These soft skills are more difficult to learn and measure, so it’s up to you to
develop them for yourself.


Below I have included a short list of key tips to further develop your soft skills. No matter your industry, no matter your job title, the growth and development of these soft skills will help push your to the next level. Take a look!

 

1. Determine Your Strongest Competency Area(s)

As an employee (and human person) we all have strengths and weaknesses. My boss preaches to the team constantly the idea that anyone can grow when you focus on developing the strengths you already have. This thought is the ammunition for my first tip to you. Understand and define what exactly are your strengths. What are your strongest core competencies? For me, when I reflect on this, my strongest core competencies are communication, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution. I know these competencies are my strength because I naturally gravitate toward the work projects that focus on them. While these projects are still a challenge for me, I feel more confident working within those three realms. With that confidence comes a lot of good; I am more creative, I am able to implement things quickly, and I’m excited to do the work itself.


To determine your strongest competencies, reflect on what parts of work make you the most satisfied. Ask yourself:

  •  What part of your day do you feel the most excited to get to?
  •  What part of the day do you feel like you produced the most work?
  •  What part of the day do you feel the most productive?

 

2. Determine Your Weakest Competency Area(s)

On the flip side, it’s equally important to determine your weakest competency areas. I am someone who thrive on feedback. I am constantly reflecting on myself, my work, my days and weeks, and enjoy asking for feedback from my coworkers. Using that self-reflection to focus on what areas are my weakest is beyond helpful! I like to keep detailed, retrospective notes on projects and by doing so, it’s easy to see where I struggle. Now, not everyone naturally thrives on criticism like I do. Actually, I could probably guess that most don’t. In that case, lead with your emotion and ask yourself questions opposite to those you asked when finding your strongest competencies.


Things like:

  • Within my projects, what makes me feel the most vulnerable?
  • During my day, what makes me want to run away and hide?
  • What do I feel least confident accomplishing during my week?


By understanding your weakest competency areas, you can better focus your energy on developing the competencies most important to you. Before doing your research and gathering information from your company or outside sources, understand what you want to be learning. What is that you want to develop? Your strengths and weaknesses can help determine that.


3. Ask for Feedback

Whether or not you enjoy constructive feedback, it’s important you seek it occasionally! It’s not always easy to hear constructive criticism, especially when it comes to your soft skills. This type of feedback has the potential to feel more personal. My advice to you is to find someone in the company who you can trust. It might be your direct supervisor, a manager, even a c-suite executive – really anyone who ranks above you! Whoever it may be, ask this employee to give you another perspective on the skills you are trying to improve. He/She will be able to share insights which you may have never considered otherwise. This feedback can come in a quarterly or annual review, in a one-on-one meeting, or even at a casual business lunch. Develop that relationship so both of you feel comfortable expressing true details and thoughts that will ultimately better your targeted soft skills.


4. Join an Online Community in Your Field

It’s a good idea to find resources outside of your organization for professional development. It’s the outside resources that open your eyes to new areas of improvement. Maybe there is a soft skill that has never been on your radar before. Find a local networking group or an online community page to become a member of. Even if you only go to one event, or read one article, you may be exposed to all sorts of new skills and development techniques.


I am a member of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), and attend regular webinars, as well as read countless articles weekly. If you are in the Talent Development community and have not checked them out, I urge you to do so! Otherwise, find a space that works for you and your profession!


5. YouTube, Streaming Services, and Podcasts

Between YouTube, streaming services, and podcasts, you have learning at your fingertips. Use these tools to your advantage! Set aside some time and put on Brene Brown’s Netflix special and learn about vulnerability. Or maybe listen to The Goal Digger Podcast with Jenna Kutcher to learn how to professionally set yourself apart. You could even YouTube popular TED talks to learn how professional communicators or critical thinkers went from square 1 to where they are now. The possibilities are endless and always available to you. Take advantage of this accessible learning and dedicate yourself to progress!


6. Practice Your Strengths

Practice your strengths. Just because Luka Doncic is an amazing NBA basketball player today, doesn’t mean that he skips practice (Go Mavs!). He works every day to improve his strengths so his team has a better chance of winning games to come. You should never feel that you have done enough. Continue to practice your own strengths, get creative in how you’re using these soft skills, and don’t lose sight of why these skills are so important. One way you can practice your soft skills is to set one goal for yourself at the beginning of each month. For example, I set a goal to emulate adaptability to my team this month. Normally, August is when the Talent Development team at allsynx determines all projects for the next year. This can be very overwhelming to team members, so and I felt that by practicing my strength in adaptability,

those around me would sense that.


Determine a goal based on what you know is relevant for the month you’re in. This will help drive your motivation to reach that goal and develop your soft skill.


7. Don’t Shut Down

When developing your soft skills, there are circumstances when feedback can be taxing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: soft skills are much more personal than hard skills. If you work in sales and you don’t hit your quota, your feedback is to hit that quota next month. On the flip side, if you work in sales and someone tells you your sales pitch is bad, it’s easy to take immediate defense. While it is easy to take offense, I challenge you not to put up those walls! Instead, ask questions to understand why you may receive certain feedback. The more open to information you are, the more your soft skills will develop.


8. Remember Why It’s Important

When developing your soft skills, it’s easy to stray away from the reasons why they’re important. This can lead to a lack of motivation and stunts in your professional growth. Soft skills are so near and dear to my heart because they are the skills that will set you apart from the next person. Generally speaking, there are 1000’s of people who have the same hard skills as you have. They can produce the same numbers, within the same time frame, just as efficiently as you can. It’s the soft skills that make you different and special in the eyes of an organization. Grow those skills, continue to develop them, and stay on track because they are what ultimately makes you, you.

Learning more now for tomorrow.

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