Soft Skills: Back in Style



BY JEN OLENICZAK BROWN

Disruption, automation, future-proofing – it seems like every day there is a new buzzword and every day employers are looking for the new “cool” skill set. Don’t fret: if you’re not a robot, you still have some hope. A recent study by the World Economic Forum predicts human skills, like critical thinking, problem-solving and people management, will increase in value as the robots take over (or as technology and automation advances). These so-called “soft skills” are the kinds of skills that robots can’t do.

Often, we take those skills for granted, and we shouldn’t. Classes and professional development in soft skills are not the hardest to find with a quick Google search, but for now, to stay ahead of the game, here are a few ways to flex and improve those three desired human skills:

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is exactly what it sounds like: you’re analyzing the facts before coming to an answer. One easy way to start improving this skill set is to respond, rather than react. Come up with a line that gives you time to think. My go to is, “That’s a great question; let me think about that.” This gives you a bit of space to ask yourself questions, and to ask those questions to the other person. Essentially you want to let go of what you believe is true and be open to new information.

Try This: After you come up with your line that gives you time to think, use it and really think about the situation. Give yourself space in conversations, and don’t just jump to what’s always been true for you, or your automatic response!

Problem-Solving

There are SO many ideas on how to improve problem-solving: from dancing (according to Dance Psychologist, Peter Lovatt, dancing has a positive impact on neural processing) to dragging out the Rubik’s Cube, everyone has an opinion on improving your problem-solving skills. What if you don’t have time to dance or cube? Give yourself some space from the problem and again, respond instead of react. When you give yourself some room from a problem, you can think about it from a place of logic, versus a place of emotion. While having an understanding of your emotions is a great trait, we often let our emotions guide our decision making. Again, take a breath, walk away (if you can) and work the problem out. Return when you’re ready.

Try This: Think about the last problem you “solved.” How did it go? Did you wish you had solved it in a different way? How is your view of the problem different now, with space?

People Management

Leadership and management skills have consistently been desired by companies – so this one isn’t going away and will only increase in worth as the world turns on. I hear all too often, “Lead like a woman,” or worse, “Lead like a man.” You have to lead like YOU, not like someone else. One skill set that will consistently help in managing groups: communication. Specifically the ability to use assertive communication over passive, passive-aggressive or aggressive communication. Assertive communication is the most desired, and effective, communication style: think lots of “I” statements that respect others, all while taking responsibility for actions and ourselves, without passing judgment on others. You’re not secretly muttering what you feel (passive-aggressive), letting people walk over you (passive), or being so agenda-orientated that no one else matters (aggressive). By understanding assertive communication and using it in professional and personal settings, you’ll be able to communicate in a clear and concise manner to coworkers and your team.

Try This: Start using more “I” statements to express yourself. Be sure to start small! If you disagree with something someone says in a meeting, try saying “I don’t agree, because [insert reasoning]” versus just sitting there and stewing, or resigning yourself to accepting something you don’t believe in.

Soft skills aren’t going anywhere. While they aren’t always “learned” from reading, try these activities and reflect on your progress. The best part of soft skills? They can be practiced over and over, with all the people that you meet.

 


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