Strengthen your soft skills

Sep 01, 2017
Build trust, gain influence and get meaningful work done with these simple but effective ‘soft skills’ challenges.

In the collaborative workplace, soft skills play an increasingly important role – particularly if you’re looking to set yourself apart from your peers. But how do your improve your soft skills? And what are they anyway? Here are four prominent soft skills and some challenges to help you put them into action.

Communication

When we think about communication, the output often springs to mind – what we say and how we say it. But communication also involves eye contact, posture and active listening. Great leaders are, generally speaking, great listeners so challenge yourself to striking up a conversation with one colleague each day where you focus on what they have to say. Of course, communication works best as a two-way process so there will be an element of give and take, but focus on giving your colleague the opportunity to tell you about their weekend, work project or hobby. Doing so will position you as an approachable and affable colleague and potential leadership material.

Influence

You might think that influence comes with seniority but in truth, everyone has the ability to influence irrespective of their role or status. This elusive skill is the sole subject of one of the bestselling business books of all time – Influence by Robert Cialdini – but to get you started, try this simple challenge: refer to colleagues by name and offer a little praise. It might sound superfluous but as Dale Carnegie, another famous writer and lecturer, noted: “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language”. Add to this a compliment or two and you will greatly improve your chances of getting what you want – even from distant colleagues.

Time and priority management

The ability to identify what’s important and prioritise accordingly is an admirable trait, and one your superiors will cherish. In his book entitled Deep Work, Cal Newport defined this concept as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. If you don’t schedule time for deep work, however, it’s unlikely to happen as you get dragged from one meeting to the next. So leave your smartphone to one side and refuse to allow your inbox to dictate your day; but most importantly, schedule time in your calendar for deep work each week. If you don’t ring-fence time for value-add activity, the likelihood is that someone will fill the void for you.

Critical thinking

According to the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, critical thinking is “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualising, applying, analysing, synthesising, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action”. In simpler terms, it’s the process of making reasoned judgements that are logical and well-thought out. To improve your critical thinking skills, begin by asking yourself how a colleague or friend might approach an issue before making a decision. Too often, we approach challenges solely from our own point of view and spring into action in the firm belief that we are doing the right thing. By looking at issues through the eyes of another, however, you will be better placed to bypass your own biases and make more informed decisions.

Summary

You now have four simple tasks to help you hone your most valuable soft skills: chat to a colleague each day; refer to colleagues by name and add a compliment or two; book time in your calendar for deep work; and push yourself to look at things from the viewpoints of others. If you allow these challenges to develop into habits, you will reap benefits in many areas from productivity to professional relationships.