The following story was originally published on Forbes.com and is an original publication of Forbes.com; it was written by Kate Hayes, a contributor for the website focused on writing about millennials and their careers. The original publication can be on Forbes.com by clicking here.
Soft skills are having a moment. There are countless articles, conferences, and trainings touting the importance of soft skills for success in the workplace. We no longer live in a world where technical skills are the most important factor for success in most jobs. Instead, soft skills—often defined as personal attributes required to work well with others—are at the forefront.
While we know soft skills are a critical factor for success, more time is spent on identifying them, instead of improving them. While it can seem like you either have them or you don’t, the truth is that soft skills can be learned and improved. The prerequisites: an intense desire to change and the humility to fumble while practicing. Below are tangible ways to get better at six important soft skills, which are paired to emphasize their complementary nature.
Critical Thinking and Communication
- Read More: Bill Gates reads 50 books each year, most of them nonfiction and selected to help him learn more about the world. Reading offers an opportunity to deepen our learning on almost every topic imaginable, helps to expand our vocabulary, and allows us to see how information is communicated effectively (or not). While reading for fun is important and useful, make sure to also read nonfiction books, both about subjects you know, and subjects that are brand new.
- Debate and Discuss: Whether with colleagues, friends, or family, set up a monthly debate circle. Choose a magazine article, a book, or even your favorite Netflix show, and select people to debate different sides of an issue that is presented. While this might feel like high school debate team all over again, it will increase your ability to think critically about an issue, and practice discussing topics in a safe way.
- Record Yourself: Most of us hate to hear our own phone voice, let alone watch ourselves speak. Yet, recording yourself in a normal conversation can provide exceptionally important insights—do we say ‘like’ or ‘um’ more than we expected? Do we tend to finish statements with a question mark? As uncomfortable as it might be, take the time to record, learn, and practice your communication skills as often as possible.
Curiosity and Creativity
- Assign Lessons: When we were in school, we received assignments—some were on topics we loved, and some were on topics we had absolutely no interest in. However, most of us can probably name at least one example of a topic that we thought we wouldn’t like, but were then fascinated by. Ask a friend to assign you a lesson topic and a due date, and explore it as you would a history assignment in the 7th grade. While you might not love the topic, it will allow you to practice curiosity in a way we have few opportunities to do.
- Write A Story: Creativity can be found in all sorts of places, but nowhere is it more present and universally accessible as it is on paper. Write a short fictional story in your favorite genre. The goal is not to write something that is publishable, or even shareable, but instead to create something brand new.
- Unplug: Creativity is cultivated by space, which is a rare gift in the workplace. Whether it is a morning, a weekend away, or an entire week, take the time to unplug and do absolutely nothing. Leave your planner at home, throw out your to-do list (you can start from scratch when you get back), and let your brain do nothing. You’ll be surprised at how creative you’ll be when you get back.
Responsibility and Conflict Management
- Write Your CEO Statement: No matter our position at work, everyone can be considered the CEO of something. If you are a data analyst, you are the CEO of making sure that all of the data is sourced and delivered to the right teams. If you are a marketing manager, you might be the CEO of making sure the marketing coordinators are set up for success. Write down your CEO statement, and take responsibility for the key area(s) at work that you have ownership of, and remind yourself of it frequently.
- Share Your Failure: Failure is hard to talk about in the workplace. Sit down with a trusted friend, and ask for them to just listen without judgement or solutions. Tell them about a time that you completely failed. Don’t focus on the solution, just focus on what happened and why. Then, do it again. By reflecting and practicing, it will make it easier to communicate the failure to your manager which is a key skill for employees and managers alike.
- Listen First: The desire to get our point across can be debilitating, to the extent we stop listening and only focus on what we want to say. The key to effective conflict management is exceptional listening skills. Stop talking, start listening, and allow yourself the space to think before you speak. Remember that the point is conflict management—not necessarily resolution.