Why you must go hard on cultivating soft skills for success at workRekha Balakrishnan
You may excel at your core competency, but having soft skills will help you go a long way in having a well-rounded career. Read on to know more.
You have all the requisite qualifications and more in place and yet when you should be acing that job interview, you don’t. Or you may be the most technically-proficient person in the organisation but are also the most unpopular and your career is going nowhere. So why does it go wrong? It is often your soft skills, or the lack of it, that is the culprit here.
Soft skills include effective communication, sound listening skills, proper etiquette, successful coping mechanisms, good language skills, among a host of others. And in today’s world, these are just as important as your technical brilliance and industry knowledge.
We all want influence, impact and career growth in our professional lives. But you don’t get very far without a positive mindset. You can’t be ignorant, insensitive or unprofessional simply because you are good at your job. Poor soft skills devalue you; if you are perceived as difficult and unfriendly, then your technical skills will not help as no one is ready to work with you. Companies work best when people work together smoothly as a team.
Soft skills play a vital role in your professional success; they let you take advantage of challenges and opportunities that come your way and provide the must-have foundation as your chart your career growth. They help you create opportunities for yourself within the organisation, to bring value to the organisation and to your clients.
Even in a job interview, if your technical competencies are similar to those of other candidates, it’s your soft skills that set you apart. In a competitive environment, perception often is everything. They not only up your chances of landing the job, but also help your personal growth. They empower you by allowing you to build flexibility into your future career plans. That’s because most soft skills are transferable skills needed in nearly all aspects of life, and not just in your career alone.
The most common traits virtually every employer looks for are positive work ethics, good attitude, and the desire to learn. While some people have innate social skills, most of us learn these skills through practice. A positive mindset is a behavioural skill that cannot be taught but can be cultivated. It is shown in the response and spontaneous reaction of an individual to a situation, good or bad, and whether s/he looks at things in the right perspective.
Employees equipped with hard skills are easy to find. The reality is that often organisations are ready to hire workers who present a high level of soft skills and then train them for the specific job, than hire someone who is technically perfect but clearly lacks soft skills.
Some soft skills that earn brownie points:
1. Maintain a good personal appearance. If you need defuzzing, a colour touch-up, a haircut, get it done. Never land up in clothes that you lounge in even if you have a desk job that does not entail meeting people. Deodorise (BO is simply not on!), ensure that your perfume is not overpowering, your makeup is not loud and inappropriate, your clothes are not revealing, you catch the drift….
2. Use a well-modulated voice when speaking to people. While you need to talk clearly, your tone must be neutral. A condescending, aggressive or loud tone of voice is a complete no-no. The same goes for your personal chemistry - never overstep the boundaries with colleagues. Never stare inappropriately, openly or discreetly.
3. Never make political, sexist or religious comments that may hurt the sentiments of others. Risqué jokes in a group are a complete no-no as is commenting on someone’s personal appearance.
4. Accept differences between people, resolve conflicts quickly and effectively, co-operate and nurture relationships, share and have concern for others. These are often more valuable than any degree tag you carry.
5. Make wise use of office resources. Recycle and reuse where you can. Not only will you be doing your bit for the environment but you also show that you care for company expenses. Keep long-distance calls short, communicate on chat or through email unless it’s very urgent, make notepads of old printed papers, turn off the light/computer/monitor/laptop/AC when you leave your room… there are many ways to do this.
6. Having compassion, empathising and being a proactive listener earns respect, irrespective of your position.
7. Solving problems proactively, creating win-win situations, seeking solutions instead of assigning blame, taking ownership for your actions and the consequences, leading from the front without calling it quits at critical moments are soft skills that go a long way.
8. Reciprocate to communication - verbal or written. You have nothing to say? A simple ‘thank you’ works well…
9. Make sure your personal energy gives out positive vibes. No, we’re not saying that you should be excessively happy all the time or chant stuff and light incense at your desk, but keeping it simple and not instigating or creating tension or causing trouble is enough. Temper tantrums? Simply banish the thought…
10. Always display a positive work ethic. Be passionate about what you do.
11. Always be courteous and polite no matter what the provocation. And never make provocative statements yourself.
12. Acknowledge peers, subordinates and superiors on entering the office. Smile at the security personnel, the cafeteria worker or the cleaner, you lose nothing.
13. Be willing to be accountable for mistakes you make, never leave a job half done, and always show your willingness to learn.
14. Keep yourself updated about what’s going on in the world. Ignorance is not always bliss.
15. Avoid speaking badly about others and that includes promoting nasty gossip.
16. Communicate unhappy feelings/problems without letting the dam of emotions burst. The loo is a good place to have a private cry but the conference room isn’t.
17. Sometimes silence truly is golden. Curb the impulse to pass a remark or comment when it is not required. Trying to be one up doesn’t get you anywhere. Don’t speak only to have your voice heard all the time.
These are mere suggestions, for soft skills cannot be taught in classrooms or learnt by rote; they must be acquired and experienced spontaneously, in the moment. But the soft skills you gain will equip you to excel in your professional life and in your personal life. And just like life, it is a continuous learning process.