Have you ever stopped to consider that working on your own soft skills can help you work better with other people?
As common as it is to feel to stressed at work –at your worst times you can feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world (and then some) on your shoulders — it helps to re-balance your perspective by stepping out from under the cloud of doom over your head, and looking at the whole context of the situations that are pulling you down.
- Do you feel that there are people at work are gunning for you?
- Are you having problems communicating clearly with your partners and co-workers?
- What about your customers? What are the common threads in the kind of feedback you’re getting from them?
The cult of the self.
Let’s be honest, what with the on-going trend of personal marketing and personal branding, it’s very easy to be lead onto the fast-lane of self-promotion, where you show the right image and display the right credentials and so on, but step back from the frantic construction effort and think. Personal branding, presenting the right image– this is all right and good in an online market where image accounts for a lot, but in interpersonal relationships –in dealing with people — how are you up close and personal?
- Your website’s ‘About’ page can be your launchpad to show your credentials.
- Your blog can show off your writing and photography skills.
- You can have your online gallery to show your body of work to a truly world-wide audience.
- You can post your degrees, your bio, your very own tag-line… you can show off your awards and certificates to assure your market and your clients that you know what you’re talking about.
These things, though, showcase your technical skills (for example, degrees and certifications, papers published, etc.) Technical skills in and of themselves are definitely desirable when you’re looking for someone to do a demanding job.
But if you find it hard to communicate clearly and responsively with customers, or establish clear and reasonable terms and boundaries for a good working relationship, your weaknesses in ‘soft skills’ (people skills) might drag down the benefits your excellence in hard skills (technical know-how and experience.)
- You’re a damn good artist, but you can’t make a decent living off your skills and training because you find the process of marketing and promoting your artwork confusing, and sometimes you feel like advertising your presence means selling out your art.
- You’re confused because you’ve set your rates at what you believe to be a really affordable price and yet no one’s hiring you.
- There’s a few questions you intend to ask about the contract, but when the client doesn’t address the issues, you ignore the tight feeling in your stomach and keep going.
No one works in a vacuum. You can have co-workers, employees, shareholders, board-members, clients, suppliers, technical support and customers. Yes, there are automated systems available for many things — online banking, for example– but sometimes these systems don’t always fulfill all your needs or requirements. Soft skills are what you need to deal with real, live people. That’s why they’re also called people skills.
You’ve probably witnessed issues caused by lack of people skills in your own life:
- A conversation devolves into an arguments when two communication styles clash and something — a certain tone, a particular gesture– sets one or both parties off.
- A brilliant friend clashes with higher ups at work due to being overly blunt in dealing with others.
- A hard worker gets overlooked for promotions because he prefers to be unobtrusive.
- You can do the work blindfolded but the higher ups overlook you in favor of your more visible colleagues.
When you’re not practiced or even cognizant of soft-skills, miscommunication is the result, and there have probably been enough times in your life to prove just how inconvenient that it, to say the least. Good soft skills acts like air the tires, or oil in the gears — it makes the journey to your goals more comfortable and easier. On everyone involved.
Dealing with people means being able to interact, get along with, balance and manage them while protecting your boundaries without offending others, as much as possible. Remember that saying, “It isn’t always what you know but who you know”? Soft skills is part of that. People recommend and hire people they believe in and can trust to carry out what’s expected of them, and personal recommendations can carry a lot of weight over plain resumes.
Part of being a consummate professional is cultivating the soft skills and the hard skills you need to succeed, and what affects soft skills the most is mind-set. Training and certifications, you can get. Soft skills, you have to practice, and sometimes, getting things wrong while learning can be enough to sour you on the process, but you have to keep going. No one else is going to do it for you, or can.
- Everyone you show them to rave about your artworks, but you feel awkward trying to promote yourself as a working artist.
- You’re a whiz at capturing light and shadow as a photographer, but sometimes clients complain that you’re not listening to their ideas.
- You’re very fast at spotting the areas where things can go wrong, but in pointing them out, you’re often accused of being a drag on the brainstorming team.
Soft skills are what helps you work easily in social situations. Or at least easi-er. They help your interactions be more effective, and you can adapt to different working styles and work with all sorts of personalities and temperaments without feeling overwhelmed or subverted yourself. Good soft skills make teamwork better, and good teamwork makes the work easier. Who doesn’t want that?
Let’s put it another way. If you’re looking to hire someone, you want a candidate who knows what he’s talking about, and can get along well with your people. If you’re looking to be hired, you want to show that you’re a good fit for the job and the company culture. Hard skills get you in, soft skills help you stay. Having high levels of both make you rise above the competition. Get it?
For team players and lone freelancers alike, cultivating the skills you need to polish and prove your value can show other people that you’re someone great to work with, that they would want you to be on their team.
Technical skills can be quantified — certifications, qualifying tests, products that work as they should, etc. Soft skills, on the other hand, are more along the lines of habituation and comfort zones — you have to break a good bit out of both if you truly want to see a change in how you interact with people.
- Start by identifying the communication ares in which you believe you need improvement. Ask friends you trust to tell you where they think you need the most help. Nobody’ s perfect, and everyone has areas they can work on.
- Look up ways to develop in each problem area.
- Draw up a plan in which you get to practice in these core areas until the new behavior becomes normal for you, and you become habituated to it. Execute the plan.
People with well-rounded soft skills are just easier to be around. They generally encourage healthy, stable relationships with the people they work with, regardless if they’re clients, co-workers or higher-ups. If you want to stand out from the crowd and show your market that you’re simply the better choice, letting them see that you’re a good guy to join their team is the way to go.
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