How to improve and leverage your soft skills at work

By Robert Half on 9 July 2021

You need strong interpersonal skills to navigate today’s highly collaborative work environment. Many employers also seek candidates who excel at problem solving and critical thinking, as these skills can help to drive innovation.

More intangible qualities like self-confidence, an entrepreneurial spirit and inquisitiveness are also in demand.

But solid communication skills may be the most valued soft skills of all. And they encompass much more than the ability to speak or write well. For example, you must be able to communicate effectively through an array of channels, from email to social media to video. You must be a master of the art of listening, and have awareness of the body language you’re exhibiting in business settings. And you must be attuned to how others prefer to receive information from and communicate with you.

The catch is that employers will expect you to have well-polished soft skills from day one. There are two reasons for these high expectations:

  • The pace of business is incredibly fast today, so there is little or no time for new hires to ramp up.
  • Many employers are keeping an eye toward the future when hiring. They want to invest in candidates with the ability to grow with the company and eventually assume a leadership position. Strong interpersonal skills are a strong indicator of that potential.

So, how can you develop the soft skills you need to succeed?

On the job hunt

Your soft skills can also help you promote yourself during a job search without bragging. There’s a fine art to this, but the more you work on active listening and clear communication, the easier it will be to find opportunities to talk about your accomplishments in a natural way. For example, you could congratulate a colleague who just played an important role in wheeling in a new client and relate how you felt when you achieved something similar. Just remember to turn the focus back around to your colleague’s accomplishment to avoid stealing the spotlight.

Give examples of your soft skills when responding to job interview questions. Go beyond the usual “I have great communication skills” and present anecdotes that demonstrate your flair for tapping your soft skills. For example, you could talk about a time in a previous role when you helped a client accept a necessary compromise.

Here’s another way to demonstrate your soft skills in the job interview: Prepare ways to answer the common questions, but don't assume you’ve been heard the way you intended. After responding, actively ask for feedback. “Have I answered your question?” is a simple but effective tool. It shows humility and a sincere interest in the interview process.

On the job

Demonstrating to an employer that you have well-developed soft skills can help you get hired. But if you want to progress in your career — and if you aspire to leadership roles — you’ll need to continually refine your interpersonal skills. Even professionals who have been in the workforce for years are still learning how to be better communicators and leaders.

Here are some ways to improve and develop your soft skills:

  • Be mindful about showing empathy, being a good listener, using humour, promoting teamwork and acknowledging the accomplishments of your co-workers. Your everyday interactions with colleagues in the workplace provide endless and varied opportunities for exercising interpersonal skills.
  • Look for any opportunity to lead, innovate, learn or provide solutions while on the job. Stepping outside of your comfort zone at work on a regular basis not only helps you to grow your soft skills, but it also can raise your profile and help you earn respect.
  • Go back to the classroom. Whether it’s a public speaking course or a leadership workshop, there are many ways to sharpen your soft skills through continuing education. Colleges and universities and professional organisations are just some of the resources you can turn to for formal training.

What’s most important is that you start as soon as possible to make interpersonal skills your strong suit. You’re going to need these skills, and they will play a vital role in your future success.

Remember that you’re always ‘on’

Don’t save showcasing your soft skills for the job search and on the job. Make the most out of every professional exchange by adding something of value to every conversation. Take an active interest in others; make an effort to focus on the topics that matter to them, both professionally and personally. Listen to their points of view, and offer thoughtful comments and help whenever possible. You never know when the person you’ve just met might turn out to be a future colleague or a client of your next employer.

Soft skills like active listening can prompt others to view you more favourably, but don't forget: This isn’t about using tricks to manipulate perceptions. Be sincere and use your soft skills to find opportunities to project positivity, find common ground and make valuable connections. When you do, finding great jobs will come naturally.

More From the Blog...