What are soft skills, anyway? Soft skills can be boiled down to how you treat others. They are more associated with your personality than your training. They ‘are personal characteristics that enable individuals to interact well with others and perform their jobs well.’ Every job you hold, whether as a contractor, stay-at-home parent, solo entrepreneur, or remote-office employee, requires you to get along well with others.
We spend our entire lives developing soft-skills – no one arrives at perfection. There will always be a new way to communicate or manage time. Every time we join a team, there will be new things to learn. As humans, we are uniquely able to make mistakes and learn from them. Even a skilled musician does not stop learning.
Communication is one of the most important soft skills anyone can have, from construction workers to plumbers to lawyers. It is how you connect with others – both on your team and with who you are serving and is required in any interaction with others. Each day you speak with co-workers, employees, and clients, either on the phone or in person. Sending emails, writing job proposals, and giving a presentation are all part of how you communicate with others. This is a two-way street – you must also listen as others present their ideas, problems, solutions, and thoughts.
- How you talk – the tone and inflection of your voice, the words you use, your facial expression, and clear speech
- How you write – your grammar, spelling, clarity of words, and getting to the point quickly
- How you listen – your body language, active listening
Your Words and Actions Should Match
Let’s face it – even the quietest of us must talk. As the world has moved from working in offices surrounded by people all day to working from home, the words we use are more important than ever. What does your use of words say about you or your business? Being encouraging when a job feels like a steep climb uphill can rally your team to push through to completion. Adding some humor can help break the ice or create a more relaxing atmosphere.
The tone of your voice matters just as much as the words you use. A pleasant tone and calm words will take you much further than scowling and nasty words. The way you say ‘I love you’ to your spouse can drastically change how they feel about you.
Consider how you project your voice. Your words must carry so the people furthest away from you can hear you clearly. Mumbling isn’t an option whether you’re on stage, in a boardroom, or in a video meeting.
Non-verbal cues also directly impact this soft skill. You want to be engaging through the use of hand gestures, body movement, and the expression on your face. How you stand and where you are looking is also important to how you portray yourself.
Texts, emails, reports, and estimates are all things you write each day. They have a big impact on building intercommunication. Replying quickly to a text or email can raise trust that you are reliable. Estimates broken down into line items with explanations can show you are honest and have integrity. Short, concise sentences can reduce confusion. Keep things simple so people don’t have to read between the lines.
The Art of Listening
Listening is more than simply hearing what the other person is saying. It is being observant of their verbal cues and can build rapport with them. Also called active listening, it means you are truly hearing the speaker. You aren’t listening with half an ear while crafting your response to what they’re saying. Active listening can help you learn more about your client needs you to help with. Listening and understanding what they need could also help you identify other products or services they would potentially want. As you listen, you can also gain valuable feedback from your client. Active listening tactics are also crucial in conflict resolution. You want to set aside your feelings to hear and understand where the other person is coming from.
Practice Makes Better
While the saying is actually practice makes perfect, communication is something we can always refine. Building up confidence in your abilities will take time and hard work, much like going to a gym. Handling conflict, adapting to circumstances as they come, and delivering excellent work all feed into confidence.
Communication skills can be learned and improved. As you invest in growing your skills, they will naturally help you market your company through how you treat your clients, co-workers, and employees.
- Speaking and presenting skills – working with a local Toastmasters group would be the perfect place to grow in this area.
- Writing skills – use the Hemingway app (www.hemingwayapp.com) when crafting important articles. This app has many measurements to help you refine your content.
- Listening skills – try focusing entirely on the speaker in your next meeting and take handwritten notes. This will also help with memory retention!
As you learn or improve upon skills, new neuron pathways are being created and strengthened in your brain. Eventually, the new pathways will overtake your ‘old way of thinking’ to become second nature. Good communication skills can shed light on ways to be resourceful when things aren’t going according to plan. Enthusiasm, encouragement, confidence, and even teamwork are all manifested through and grow in communication.