Updated: Aug 20, 2020
As a professional, you need 2 sets of skills to succeed:
Hard Skills: Technical knowledge and know-how of your work.
Soft Skills: Technical knowledge and know how of the people part of your work.
“You cannot continuously improve interdependent systems and processes until you progressively perfect interdependent, interpersonal relationships.” - Stephen Covey
In simpler words:
You cannot consistently improve your business and/or professional life, until you improve your people skills.
Harvard and Stanford research reveal that 85% of job success depend on people skills and soft skills. However, most professionals often, focus on hard skills as the main factor needed to be a successful professional.
That's unfortunate because, as important as hard skills are, a professional with all the hard skills, and no or low soft skills will struggle professionally.
As a professional, it is therefore important to consider where you stand with your soft skills, where you need to improve, and create a plan of action to elevate your soft skills.
In this article, you will read about 3 components of communication, and some simple things you can begin to do immediately that'll improve your soft skills (people skills). Let's get cracking.
What the Heaven is soft skills?
Your soft skills (People Skills) is an expression of your personality traits and behavior playing itself out when you interact with people. When you're on top of your soft skills game, you'll communicate and collaborate effectively, and successfully manage conflicts in a professional setting.
With good soft skills, you will be able to navigate through difficult working environments, while producing positive results consistently.
Soft skills are important for leadership positions. As you know, good leadership is more about guiding people, and directing their efforts toward a desired outcome rather than bringing technical skills to the table. I'm however not negating the need for technical skills in leadership.
Your career success in the workplace of today–independent of technical expertise– depends on the quality of your people skills. Max Messmer. Managing Your Career for Dummies
You can understand that, to be able to grow in one’s profession and fulfill one’s professional potential, soft skills are not “good to haves” they are MUST HAVES..
Question: what the heaven is soft skills
Answer: The skills you must have to get to the heaven (top) of your career.
How the Heaven can soft skills help me professionally?
I'm glad you asked :-)
If you are interested in changing (stepping up) positions at work, changing jobs (internal recruitment), or even if you’re in-between jobs (job hunting), soft skills can help you get your foot in the door, and allow you to take your first step into your new professional placement.
Be prepared for your soft skills proficiency to pay you the following dividends:
Most recruitment processes, are designed around assessing the level of soft skills that applicants possess. That's because, your certifications, qualifications and CV have demonstrated your technical capacity required to do the job. Consequently, organisations are focusing more on assessing a candidate’s soft skills during the interview process.
It helps you adapt to changing circumstances at work, which is the “norm” today. The ability to communicate effectively during a time of uncertainty, or collaborate with others in turbulent times, when solutions are no where in sight is extremely important; regardless of your position i.e. if you’re a team member or team leader.
"In an ever more competitive jobs market it is such qualities that will give our young talent a head start and also allow existing employees to progress to higher skilled, better paid roles.”
Neil Carberry, Director for Employment and Skills at CBI In simple Arithmetic
People skills + Technical skills = Better paid roles
Question: How the heaven can soft skills help me professionally? Answer: Soft skills can help you:
Land a new job/position
Collaborate & communicate effectively, in turbulent times
Contribute more, and become more successful professionally
What the Heaven are the components of soft skills?
Soft skills are the intangible, and non-technical abilities that enable you, and other professionals get their job done efficiently; either as a team member or team leader.
Soft skills as a subject is as wide and deep as "Leadership". With such depth and width to cover, where do you start, and where do you stop?
You may have guessed, I love simplicity. I decided to simplify the subject. As this blog is called People Skills Made Easy, we should live up to our name :-)
Soft Skills = Communication + Networking + Presentation & Public Speaking
Soft skills = People Skills
We'll start with communication.
Of all the life skills available to us, communication is perhaps the most empowering. Bret Morrison
You can certainly remember a time or two when you were speaking with a colleague, who completely misinterpreted the information you were passing to them wrongly. Not your fault, not theirs either, let’s blame it on “communication gap”.
Question: How can we close communication gaps? Answer: By understanding what communication is.
In my training and workshops, I tell participants that: communication is the successful transfer of information from one point (sender) to the other (receiver) without distorting the message.
Going beyond what I think or teach, dictionary.com says communication is the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.
Speaking of signs, here's what you may see as a communication "sign"
Successful communication is a cycle
Communication is not just the ability to speak and transfer information successfully, it also includes the ability to receive, and interpret information successfully.
It goes without saying that communication is one of the most important components of soft skills. However, communication is not a one way road. Sometimes you are the sender, other times, you are the recipient. Which means, you have to develop your capacity to receive. We’ll come to that later.
Most people understand the basic idea behind a traffic light. Red means stop, yellow means pause and/or get ready, green means go. When it comes to communication, similar rules apply.
Where most “communicators” miss it is that they imagine the light is always green. They think, they’re the “communicators” and they must do all the talking. Not so.
How can they fix that problem?
They should look in the mirror, and observe that they have two ears and one mouth. That should give them a clue! Listen at least twice as much as they speak.
When communicating, start from the "receiving end".
Main Idea: Always. Listen. First.
You might ask why?
And I'll say because, good communicators can adjust their tone and style to match their audiences’ need, mood, and level of comprehension. It's only when you listen first that you can detect and/or understand their needs and mood.
You have a brilliant project to propose, and you want your colleagues, and manager to buy in. These 5 steps would take you through it successfully:
You find out where your team and team leader stand on the subject. You can do that before the meeting (ideally), or you can do inquire while you’re all in the meeting room.
You now know where everyone stands, you can filter through their mood as you go.
In the “listening” phase of your communication cycle, you now know what they know, and what they don’t know about your project.
Begin your presentation and adapt your material to clarify their objections, fill their knowledge gap (help them know what they don’t know), alter their mood as well as elevate their level of understanding about your project, to the point where they are able to make the right decision in the best interest of the organization.
Ask for more questions, feedback and thank them for their time.
As you may have observed, more than 60% of the activity is focused directly towards “listening” to the audience, hearing from them, and feeling their mood.
Communication isn't complicated.
If you remember nothing, remember to start from the “red light zone”. If you consistently operate more from the red light zone you’ll:
1. Be pushing up your people skills to a higher level
2. Usually get through to colleagues and clients on (complex) issues successfully
To help you keep things in perspective, the sender and the recipient have 3 obligations each. Whenever you find yourself in any of these roles, and you keep to your part of the deal, you'll discover that communication isn't complicated.
3 Senders’ Obligations
Your primary task as a sender, is to be vivid and efficient enough in your “broadcast”. Here are 3 things to keep in mind whenever you do your “broadcast”:
Use “Economy of Words”: Remember the 2-ears-1-mouth approach. You have less than half the time to transfer your message. It’s pays you to use fewer words.
Use “Feeling Words”: This is better explained with an example: Good: I was happy to have enjoyed the very delicious dinner I had yesterday with my daughter. Better: Yesterday, I happily enjoyed a Yummy dinner with my daughter. The words were fewer, the feeling and the message was transferred successfully.
Use “Thirsty Words”: Everybody knows water in their language. Omi, viz, Wasser etc. The words may be misunderstood, but the gesture for thirsty, or “I’m thirsty” when used well is easy for most people to understand. Whenever possible, use “thirsty words”.
3 Receivers Obligations
The recipient has a huge role to play in the communication arena....
Pay attention: OK, this is a world of distractions. Most people find it difficult to focus on things, and now they have to focus on you for 5 minutes? It's Hard! But, don’t be one of them. Put your gadgets away, pay attention to whom you’re communicating with, listen to them. Give them 100% of your attention, because you will develop a better understanding, as well as a deeper connection with your communication partner. Plus, when you're sending, they'll receive with their full attention too.
Record for recall: Whenever I’m going into a meeting, I have a notepad to write on. I take notes for referencing. I discovered that it’s easy for me to mix details up, and/or forget them completely. I just take a notepad with me. With technology, I don’t even have to look for the paper anymore. I just scribble on my iPad, and the next time I meet the client or colleague, I just pick up from where we stopped.
Ask Questions: Some people ask: Question: Should I ask questions to show my interest in the conversation or person? Answer: You’re asking the wrong question. You ask questions to clarify what you don’t understand around the subject matter. Not to “patronize” your conversation partner.
7 Communication Rabbit Holes
Sending and receiving information as a communicator is not a “one size fits all” affair. It involves a handful of communication skills, which I refer to as the 7 Communication Rabbit Holes, because....well you know about rabbit holes, need I say more?
Listening is receiving information, and accurately translating them into meaningful messages in the communication process. Listening/receiving information is responsible for at least 50% of all effective communication. You and I don't need to be reminded of how cogent it is.
You may be dealing with a client’s complaint, or developing products with your colleagues; good listening skills will help you learn, and respond correctly to the circumstance you have been presented with.
Listening is an active and conscious act. Basically, we listen to obtain information, to understand concepts, and/or to learn. Listening is an integral part of communication, and it is an art we will always need to fine tune, so that we become more effective as we go along our professional career.
Forbes Women magazine contributor Dianne Schilling, shared 10 steps to effective listening:
1: Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
2: Be attentive, but relaxed.
3: Keep an open mind.
4: Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
5: Don't interrupt and don't impose your "solutions."
6: Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.
7: Ask questions only to ensure understanding.
8: Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.
9: Give the speaker regular feedback.
10: Pay attention to what isn't said—to nonverbal cues.
2. Negotiation skills
Not all negotiations are born equal. You'll briefly read about 2 kinds of negotiations that I work with.
a. Win-Win Negotiations
b. General Negotiations
In a nutshell, here's how they work (from my education and experience)
When you see and understand what your negotiation partner wants and needs, as well as their objectives; and you match that with what they can afford, and/or are willing to pay, you have identified their win.
When you are able to make them see what they will get from you, and what it will cost them to get that level of value from you; you have helped them to identify your win.
The process of expressing and understanding each other is what I call win-win negotiation. If this process goes well, both parties usually win. Sometimes, winning is not going through with the deal on the table.
I call this General Negotiation, because most people pack negotiation into this category.
Negotiation skills are qualities that allow two or more parties to reach a compromise, as defined by Indeed.com.
They tend to focus on getting the bigger slice of the pie, and call it "compromise". If you find yourself in this kind of negotiation set-up, remember the following:
The first offer can always be better
Seek for something better than the first offer
When you are the one offering, do not let your first offer be your best offer
"Persuasive communication is any message whose sole purpose is to get the listener to support, and transform their thinking in favor of the presenter’s perspective." Dr. Beth Sears of Workplace Communication Inc.
Persuasion doesn’t always have to be a “tug of war”, it doesn’t have to be a “my way or the high way” approach. Then again, that’s my opinion, but persuasive skills is the ability to get the people on the other side of the fence, to cross over to your side of the fence without “force or fire”.
What you should keep in mind about persuasion is that; you need to think about your listener’s preconceived and/or potential perspective of your topic.
Plus, it is often helpful to present explanatory information to possible opposing questions before they come up. This often makes the entire process easier for both sides.
You may ask: "How can I improve my persuasive skills?"
Harvard Business Review suggests the following in the Necessary Art of Persuasion
1. People don't just ask "What should I do?" but they ask "Why should I do it?" -Tell them
2. Frame both parties into one "team". Remove borders and create common ground
3. Make the effort to meet the key people one-on-one
4. Use vivid language and stories, not numbers
5. Connect emotionally
There you have it!
4. Writing skills
Princes and paupers have used writing to pass information about power and poverty, for thousands of years for posterity. That's me feeling like shakespare
Seriously, and for our soft skills purposes; writing is a process of passing your inquiry, information, or instructions to other people successfully. Your ability to write succinctly is a huge advantage to your professional life.
When was the last time you went to work, and you didn’t have to write email responses, reports, or reviews. Hmmmm…..? That’s what I thought. Maybe once a year.
That’s our world of work. We write everyday. It may be beneficial to shine up your writing skills. We all have a long way to go,you may have heard that “the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.” So, let’s get on with it.
Question: How can I shine up my writing skills? Answer: You may find the following helpful when it comes to improving your writing skills
Know your goal before you begin writing
Include only need-to-know details
Write the bottom line upfront
Make use of outlines
Keep it professional
5. Presentation skills
A presentation is a means of passing prepared information and/or ideas that can be adapted to various speaking situations, such as addressing a meeting, or briefing a team, or keynoting in a conference. In our “new world of work” it definitely now includes online conferences.
As far as soft skills and presentations are concerned, there are four purposes for a presentation:
If you’re interested in improving your presentation skills, paying attention to the list below will be helpful:
Know your audience
Identify your presentation purpose
Define your desired outcome for your presentation
Collect materials & prepare your work for your presentation
Be yourself, present with ease and rock your Presentation stage
6. Verbal Communication
When you say “hello” to the postman, guess what?
That is Verbal Communication :-) It's not rocket science! In the final analysis, any interaction that uses spoken words is verbal communication.
Verbal or oral communication is the act of sharing information between individuals by the use of speech.
In professional settings, it spans from “coffee corner whispers” at the office, to staff meetings, telephone discourse, formal presentations...to name a few.
Hmmmmm…So, how can you become a be a better verbal communicator?
Your verbal skills can benefit from the following:
So that you have more to talk about :-)
There are things you have to repeat to different people, fine tune them
When your conversation partner speaks, pay attention to what they're saying
Be mindful of others
Remember, communication is a 2-way street. It's not about you, its about them!
Be yourself, have fun
The more authentic you are, the more fun you'll have. Plus, you'll be super relaxed
7. Non-Verbal Communication
When it comes to soft skills, non-verbal communication is a non-negotiable, you’ve got to have it.
Nonverbal communication is everything you “say” (or don’t say) without using your words. They include gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact (or lack thereof), body language, posture etc.
Short preview of non-verbal communication components from Skillsyouneed.com
Body movements (kinesics), for example, hand gestures or nodding or shaking the head, which are often the easiest element of non-verbal communication to control;
Posture, or how you stand or sit, whether your arms are crossed, and so on;
Eye contact, where the amount of eye contact often determines the level of trust and trustworthiness;
Para-language, or aspects of the voice apart from speech, such as pitch, tone, and speed of speaking;
Closeness or personal space (proxemics), which determines the level of intimacy, and which varies very much by culture;
Facial expressions, including smiling, frowning and blinking, which are very hard to control consciously. Interestingly, the broad facial expressions that show strong emotions, such as fear, anger, and happiness, are the same throughout the world; and
Physiological changes, for example, you may sweat or blink more when you are nervous, and your heart rate is also likely to increase. These are almost impossible to control consciously and are therefore a very important indicator of your mental state. When this happens to you, take deep breaths, it should help.
Harvard and Stanford report that 85% of job success depends on soft skills and people skills. That means if you depend on your professional training alone, your chances for professional success is down to 15%.
If you want to increase your chances for professional success up to 85%, develop your soft skills and people skills. To do that, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
Soft skills are needed in every profession, especially if you have to work with people.
Soft skills are as learnable as technical skills. By definition, every skill is learnable.
People skills is a broad topic, as broad and as varying as people themselves
As a professional, the top 3 topics to focus on that will immediately help you
Presentation & Public Speaking
Keep in Mind
Communication has many rabbit holes :-) 7 Rabbit Holes that'll help you professionally are:
There you have it. 7 Communication Components that'll skyrocket your Soft Skills.
See you soon.
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