CAREER DEVELOPMENT / AUG. 01, 2016
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Get the Job You Want by Improving Your Soft Skills

Soft skills are a relatively broad category of abilities that are not only crucial to get a job and to keep it also. So how can you boost these skills?

Soft skills on the surface might seem a little abstract. According to Investopedia soft skills are applicable interpersonal skills in and out of the workplace. Some sociologists also use the term Emotional Intelligence Quotient interchangeably with Soft Skills. The ambiguity of the term isn’t the only problem surrounding soft skills; it also lies in the fact that they technically cannot be taught or learned like hard skills. Although previously employers put an extraordinary emphasis on hard skills compared to soft skills, there has been a shift in many industries recently and now most hiring managers look for a balance of both.

The reason for this shift is that, although hard skills are valuable, soft skills are what determine how a person fits -or doesn't- into an organisation. More and more employers have started looking beyond academic credentials and experience, for intangible abilities like the aforementioned emotional intelligence, learnability and flexibility/adaptability. The shift is becoming more obvious as interview questions are veering towards assessing personality traits alongside the more obvious questions that gauge industry knowledge and experience.

Communication

You will usually find communication at the top of most articles regarding soft skills and emotional intelligence. That is because communication is critical to have a high emotional intelligence and arguably facilitates almost all other soft skills. Unfortunately, communication also happens to be an infinitely nuanced practice involving both verbal and non-verbal cues and an elaborate system of social/cultural rules. I know that when I put it in that context it can seem extraordinarily daunting, but it’s not. You don’t have to have the rhetoric skills of a Harvard lecturer or be able to write like a bestselling author, simply listening more and speaking less, can make you a more effective communicator.

Of course, that is just a single step in right direction. You also need to truly focus on what is being said. Often referred to as the “brush-off” and a huge complaint many employees have of their managers, it’s when you receive a generic answer such as: “We’ll look into it.” “Your opinion is valued” when you have a valid complaint or grievance. That brings us to the first way you can boost your soft skills; by emulating effective communicators’ and avoiding ineffective communicators’ mistakes. This is also one of the easiest skills to boost, as all you have to do is look at what you are doing wrong, adjust your behaviour and try again until you have it right. Amazing speakers such as Winston Churchill or Steve Jobs weren’t always exceptionally gifted speakers, but they developed their skill set over time. They honed the skill, modifying certain linguistic tools to convey their meaning better and they practised like they would never speak after their next speech.

Emotion

Emotion is a huge part of having a high emotional intelligence, but the problem with emotions is if they go unchecked they can actually lower your emotional intelligence. This fact is especially true in a conflict situation. If you use negative emotions such as anger and frustration or try to bully the person you are speaking with until they yield to your opinion or point of view, then you most definitely are not exhibiting a high emotional intelligence.

On the other hand, if you control your emotion and respond to the person’s request or even accusation, then you will be able to at least defuse the situation. Approaching anything through the filter of negative emotions will most probably result in a negative outcome. Controlling emotions and dealing with interpersonal matters rationally will help you come to the most appropriate and beneficial result.

Emotions Pt. 2

The emotions that will increase or boost your emotional intelligence are empathy and sympathy. If someone feels like you understand them, this will facilitate effective communication. Not only will this make the person you are talking to more receptive to what you are saying, but it will also allow you to understand their perspective, making communication more effective, by minimising the time it takes to come to a consensus on the subject.

There are many things that administrators look for when it comes time to promotion, one of them being someone that can put out the proverbial fires or in more corporate terminology someone that is effective at damage control. So not only will empathy help you get the job, but it will also help your career progress.

Deflecting

You will see politicians do this frequently, especially when going through a scandal. If you have the tendency to deflect a request or question, change the subject when a grievance is directed at you or your interests, this is a huge mistake. Being defensive isn’t always confrontational; but it will always create a bad environment for communication and has the potential to hurt productivity and damage morale, a factor which lowers productivity even further.

This is similar to brushing people off with generic responses; it can be frustrating and lead to communication breakdown, which yet again can result in productivity loss. I hope at this point in the article you have realised why soft skills are so important for employers. A lack of these skills repeatedly result in the loss of productivity and in extreme cases can even lead to valuable team members leaving the company.

Formal Education

This might seem counter-intuitive especially under the premise that most soft skills are inherent to a person’s personality. You can't just study to become more sociable or gregarious. According to Dr. Howard Garner’s theory of multiple intelligences (paraphrased), people that have a propensity for certain things aren’t necessarily deficient in others. People that possess Interpersonal Intelligence are talented with social skills. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean they have more social skills; it just means that they learn those skills quicker and with less effort than someone else lacking talent in that particular area.

The actual definition of talent (or even gifted) according to Gagné is an exceptional skill that has been developed. You can be introverted and develop the necessary interpersonal skills to succeed. Something that can help you achieve this, however, strange it may sound is continuing education. Especially true in recent years, academia has embraced a multi-disciplinary approach to teaching, so although you might be taking a public speaking and communication course, it will be imbued with psychological and sociological facts that will help you develop interpersonal skills necessary to be a successful public speaker.

Have you successfully developed soft skills and used them to get the perfect job? Let us know in the comment section below! Also if you are someone that has been disadvantaged because of a lack of soft skills let us know about your experience.

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