5 Tips to Identifying and Sharpening Key Soft Skills

To live your dream tech job, it’s important to have solid credentials: a technical degree, relevant work experience, and a few good professional references. But it’s your soft skills—not hard-hitting credentials and technical know-how—that ultimately determine your employability and your growth trajectory at a company.

Soft skills can be broadly classified as a combination of personality traits, behaviors, and social attitudes that allow people to communicate effectively, collaborate, and successfully manage conflict. Essentially, they are the skills and abilities you need for long-term success in a dynamic landscape like Managed IT. When managed right, soft skills can help you be a better leader, improve your problem solving, enhance critical thinking and improve teamwork, efficiency, and productivity.

Though many are formed as part of your personality, soft skills can be learned and developed with practice. Having a learning mindset, as well as being open to change and constructive criticism is great place to start.

Self-reflect and set measurable goals

In order to improve your soft skills, you must first be honest about where your shortcomings are. This isn’t always easy. If you are struggling, ask a family member or friend to help you identify your true strengths and weaknesses. You won’t know how to improve or develop soft skills in the workplace until you know which soft skills need improvement. Sometimes, all it takes is feedback from a friend to help you realize that you aren’t as sociable, communicative, or positive as you should be to excel in your role.

Set specific, measurable goals by carefully reading your performance reviews at work or sit with colleagues for constructive criticism. This can help you to identify key areas of improvement for goal setting and areas of strength. You can prioritize which soft skills you want to work on first based on your existing professional engagements.

Pick a skill you want to improve and practice it consistently

You can improve any soft skill if you make it a practice. For instance, you can practice “accountability” by improving punctuality and starting on projects at work earlier so you can complete them ahead of schedule. Throughout that process, try to be more aware of those distractions that might keep you from meeting your goals.

The practice may even involve observing and mimicking the positive soft skills you see in others at work. You may be able to develop soft skills by observing the practices of others and incorporating them into your own daily work routine. You can take notes on their behaviors or ask them directly for guidance.

To practice more complex soft skills such as emotional intelligence and critical thinking, use your imagination. Think of a workplace situation where your emotions may have worked against you, and think about how this affected the outcome. Use that as a starting position for developing your self-awareness — the first step to improving emotional intelligence.

Break down each skill for better practice

Each important soft skill can be further broken down into different subskills for better practice. For instance, communication skills involve four important components — verbal communication, nonverbal communication (the capacity to project positive body language and facial expressions), written communication, and active listening. By breaking this skill down into small pieces and focusing on those basics, you can take steps to improve your communication skills overall. This may mean simplifying your message, checking on your body language, and being more attentive when others are speaking.

Find resources to help you learn

You can find several resources to help you learn tactics for improving the soft skills you want to focus on. If you identify the need for a specific soft skill such as leadership, you can consider bringing in a mentor or coach to tailor an approach that’s specific and targeted to your personality. You can even undertake learning online with social apps and collaborative workshops. Research has shown there is a significant link between having fun and informal learning.

Take it slow

Soft skills development is an incredibly slow process because it requires a change of personality and habit, rather than a change of knowledge. Be patient and keep an open mind when confronted with negativity and provocations. Even taking the first step of increasing your awareness is a win.

Final Thought: No matter what career path you choose, working on your key soft skills will guide you toward professional success and fulfillment. You may have already mastered a few. That’s great! Some of the steps I mentioned above can help you develop the rest.

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