Soft Skills Are Your Secret Weapon: 3 Essentials That Set You Apart
Updated: May 20, 2022
Soft Skills Are What Make You Memorable
Did you go to college? What did you learn there? I’m not asking what you got your degree in. I’m asking what you learned.
You probably think you learned Marketing, English Lit, or Earth Sciences. Something like that.
While that may be true, you also learned - or should have learned - some soft skills. Things like collaboration, dependability, creativity, organization.
Soft skills are all those tough to teach - but super important - interpersonal skills. Productive communication, constructive negotiation, stable work environments - all of these are built on soft skills.
Don’t get me wrong. Hard skills are important too. If you pitch yourself as a dog trainer, “SIT” and “STAY” better be in your skillset. But that’s called competence, and competence is the bare minimum. Zillions of dog trainers have those hard skills.
Soft skills are…the extra bit. The hard-to-nail-down essentials that make people love your work. They’re what make people buy from you a second, third, and fourth time. Soft skills are what make people talk about you to their friends. They create a rabidly loyal clientele.
“She was so dependable.” “He anticipated my needs.”
“They had such a creative way of looking at problems…”
“I felt seen and heard.”
Soft skills are about fulfilling the less obvious needs of a client, co-worker, or friend. The need for clarity, safety, understanding, trustworthiness. They address the real pain points underneath.
In this article, I want to discuss what I think are the 3 foundational soft skills. The essentials. These soft skills are the building blocks of most others.
They might sound like charming little extras. Don’t kid yourself. They’re not expendable if you want to make an impact. These soft skills are the “extras” that make your service stand out from a sea of plain old “competence.”
Soft skills are, in general, empathy-heavy skills. And emotional intelligence is like empathetic brilliance.
Emotional intelligence is, basically, the ability to read and manage emotions - other people’s and your own. Here’s the problem with that. You have to have emotional intelligence in order to measure it. So, people who don’t have it are still convinced that they do.
It’s like good manners. Everyone thinks they have them. Everyone thinks other people should learn them.
My advice? Work on your emotional intelligence - even if you think you’re an emotional genius. Just assume you have blind spots because…you do. We all do.
So okay. How do you learn emotional intelligence? Where do you even begin?
According to Psychology Today, a ton of soft skills are implied by the phrase Emotional Intelligence - “emotional awareness, or the ability to identify and name one’s own emotions; the ability to harness those emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes both regulating one’s own emotions when necessary and helping others to do the same.”
That’s a lot.
So to start, work hard to understand why you do things. Watch how you react to people, and stop to ask yourself why you reacted that way. Journaling can be a help here.
Learn to ask yourself about how your actions affect other people. Don’t assume you know everything. Because you don’t.
Expand your emotional vocabulary. I mean that literally. A five year study of 7000 people found that the average person can only name 3 emotions in real-time. You need to know more words to describe your feelings more accurately.
Observe other people. Avoid knee-jerk reactions. Be patient - with them and yourself. Deep breathe if you have to - but give your brain a chance to slow down and test your first impressions.
Be curious about other people’s needs? Do they need silence, encouragement, patience, space, information? Are they hoping to get security from you, a laugh, advice? Don’t assume that they need what you need.
Does that sound too hard? Soft skills are…hard. I guess that’s why they’re so valuable.
Active Listeners Really Listen
You know those people who are just waiting for you to stop talking so they can talk?
Yeah, I know…sounds so annoying.
But my guess is that you’ve been that person. I mean, we’ve all been that person from time to time. In sales, leadership, and business it’s pretty common.
And I get it. We think we’re supposed to talk. We think that’s the job - to teach, to pitch, to inform, to persuade. But, no. What you need to do is listen. To actively listen. As far as softs skills are concerned, this is kind of a big, rare deal.
Active listening is about fully showing up to a conversation - and letting the client know it by your actions, words, body language, and expression.
“Active listening is a pattern of listening that keeps you engaged with your conversation partner in a positive way,” says mental health site verywellmind.com, “It is the process of listening attentively while someone else speaks, paraphrasing and reflecting back what is said, and withholding judgment and advice.”
To actively listen, you want to communicate support. Even if you ultimately disagree with them, it’s important to let them know that you’re open and eager to hear their point of view.
Use relaxed, positive body language. Put your phone away. Make some eye contact.
Ask open-ended questions, not just yes or no ones.
Occasionally reflect back on the ideas you’re hearing from them. Say things like, “What I’m hearing is that you’re worried about getting the support you need.” It’ll feel weird at first, but it will show them you really comprehended their message.
And you've gotta be genuinely patient with them. Soft skills in leadership, in business - in everything - are mostly about creating understanding and connecting to the person in front of you. That may take a moment.
Drop into this moment without any other agenda - just be there for them. Be present.
Are You Flexible?
There’s no point in listening to your clients, assessing their needs, and managing everyone’s emotions if you always just revert back to “business as usual.”
Sure, boundaries are important. Rules and systems can protect you and your product. But soft skills are about thinking outside the box. And being flexible is a soft skill that signals confidence, adaptability, and depth.
This doesn’t just mean recklessly destroying norms or letting people walk all over you. It’s just learning to value the spirit of your goals above the letter of the law. It’s about approaching issues with creative thinking. And being big enough to question your own process.
Flexibility makes the client into a teammate. It invites them into owning the outcome. Take the time to think about how you can create a result you both want. Always move in the direction of progress.
Ask yourself what could be different. What’s really important and what’s not? Don’t take anything for granted. Flexibility is branding yourself as a collaborative force. That spirit creates rapport with your client, and it makes you hard to replace.
Make Over-Delivery A Standard
When soft skills are combined with real expertise? Your reputation for being someone who reliably over-delivers is set.
Like I said, hard skills are important. But when all is said and done, hard skills are just your credentials.
Soft skills are your identity, your character, your work ethic displayed in the marketplace.
And these particular soft skills are the biggies. They’re so obviously client-focused. These 3 skills are basically about connection. And connection is just another way of saying to the customer, “I’m on your side.”
That’s the most valuable product you can offer.
Are we buds on Instagram? No? For the love of holy hippogriffs, what are you doing!?
Time Magazine, Brené Brown Thinks You Should Talk About These 7 Emotions, By Belinda Luscombe
Psychology Today, Emotional Intelligence, Staff
Verywellmind.com, What Is Active Listening, By Arlin Cunic, Reviewed By Amy Morin LCSW