They’re called “soft skills:” the abilities used when interacting with other people. They’re not as easy to teach or even measure as more traditional skills like math or reading are. But they may be even more important in the workplace — no matter what kind of work you do.
Soft skills have a “soft” definition; there’s no official description of what they are. Dictionary.com calls them:
Personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.
Take the time you need to do things the right way.
Getting a task done quickly is important, too, but if you don’t spend the time to collect the right information and put your project together the way it needs to be done, the project could fail entirely. Then you’d have to start again, costing even more time in the process. You may feel pressure from others to get your job done, and meeting deadlines is important. Be sure to allow enough time to get the work done — the right way.
Admit mistakes and have a way to make it better.
Mistakes happen, and no one can be perfect. You might face some criticism if you make an error, but it likely won’t last long (everyone is working quickly, after all). People appreciate it when you admit your mistake instead of trying to blame it on someone else. You can also help deflect some of the criticism if you have a response, an idea of what to do to fix the mistake, or to move past it. It can help to say, “I’m sorry, but here’s what we can do to make things better…”
Make an effort to help.
Almost every job has some kind of down time, when you’re done with one task and before you need to start another. Employers, and your co-workers, appreciate initiative. If you don’t have a project to work on at the moment, see if someone else could use assistance. If they’re busy with their work, they may be too busy to ask for help, even if they need it.
If you were asked right now to describe your job, you could easily do that. And at the same time, you can also name the things that someone else in your office or work site does. If you get a call or message from a customer asking about something you don’t do, you can still help the customer. Just say, “Let me put you in touch with the person who can best help you.” No caller wants to be transferred to someone else in the office — they just want their question answered — but they will appreciate the effort you’re making to provide good service.
“Care to be aware.”
Not everyone is like you: they may have different races, different genders, different ages, and backgrounds that might be much different than yours. Be aware of those differences and be willing to make changes to your plans if necessary. Be sincere with others — a genuine smile and handshake can go a long way.
Participate in activities/volunteer.
Your time with your business doesn’t always end at quitting time. At Hastings Mutual, we have employees involved with everything from Adopt-A-Family, where we help purchase and provide gifts for needy local families during the holiday season, to our annual United Way week of fund raising. No matter what you do, there’s probably an opportunity to do a good deed for someone else. If nothing else, volunteer time shows you what your co-workers are like when they’re not working (and they’ll see the same about you, of course…).
Communication, both verbal and written.
If you want to make a change or introduce a new idea, let everyone else know! This ties in the soft skill “integrity” you read about earlier. Taking the time to get things right also means letting people know what you’re thinking, so they can help modify your idea before you’re too far into putting your plan into place.
Finding common ground when there are two (or more) different opinions is always a challenge but being willing to try and reach an agreement is a good first step. Explain your viewpoint, listen to the other person’s take on things, and discuss what can be done. You may need to step in as a mediator if there’s an especially difficult conflict keeping work from being done.
Always offer ideas.
Constructive criticism can be an important tool when improving a project, but it shouldn’t just be presented as, “Here’s something wrong.” If you critique, also provide a suggestion for a better solution: “Here’s something I think we can do better, and here’s my suggestion on what to do.” It not only moves the project forward, but it encourages cooperation between team members.
Have fun but get down to business when you need to.
You probably know the expression, “water cooler talk,” chatting about a new movie or last night’s ballgame. Even though they’re not directly about work, these informal talks are a way for co-workers to build their relationships with one another.