The workforce used to be divided into two simple categories: white-collar workers, workers who used their heads for professional jobs; and blue-collar workers, workers who used their hands for manual labor. The essential use of technology in every business today—from banking to manufacturing— has brought forth another category: the no-collar, or new-collar, category. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty coined the phrase “new-color” to describe jobs that don’t require a traditional four-year college degree but do require a good amount of skill. (Some college is recommended.)
Regardless of the color of the collar you are wearing now or will be wearing in the future, polished soft skills will be required for you to be successful in your job. But what are soft skills? Soft skills refer to a cluster of personal traits, including your work ethic, your attitude, your communication skills, and a host of other personal attributes that are crucial for success in business. Soft skills are also known as interpersonal skills, social skills, and people skills. Soft skills are 85% of success in getting a job, keeping a job, and moving up in an organization; technical skills or the knowledge required for a job account for 15%, according to research.
Following are 10 soft skills to cultivate to be successful in business:
1. Be interested in others and the world around you. People like people who are interested in them and the world around them—not just in themselves. “Your goal is to make others feel comfortable around you by focusing on them; and you can influence people’s perceptions of you by playing to their needs,” writes Camille Lavington in “You’ve Got Three Seconds.” Knowing what is going on in the world will not only make you appear less egocentric, but it will also equip you with conversation topics for everyone with whom you come into contact.
2. Be a good listener and ask questions. “Research has consistently demonstrated that ineffective listening habits present the most common barriers to success in relationships and careers,” according to Larry Barker and Kittie Watson, authors of “Listen Up.” People like to know they are being heard and that their ideas are appreciated. By being a good listener, you let others know that you value them and what they have to say. Etiquette expert Letitia Baldridge says, “Politeness decrees that you must listen to be kind; intelligence decrees that you must listen to learn.”
3. Be skilled at relationship management. “Relationship management is your ability to use your awareness of your own emotions and those of others to manage interactions successfully,” according to Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, authors of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0.” People like to work with people they like, trust, and feel understand them. Today’s workplace can be very stressful; but when you are skilled at relationship management, you can more effectively work with your team members to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges and obstacles to achieve a win-win scenario.
4. Be good natured; have a sense of humor. Be positive; try to make the best of situations; and don’t take yourself too seriously. A judicious and tasteful sense of humor can often deflate tense situations; and studies show having a sense of humor can help you get ahead at work. A Robert Half International survey, for instance, found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement; while 84% feel that people with a good sense of humor do a better job. Another study by Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor.
“A sense of humor is the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower
5. Be a team player. “We’re all in this together; and let’s make it work” is an attitude that is appreciated by everyone. To paraphrase Harvard professor David Deming in his paper “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market,” “As work is becoming more team-oriented, workers with strong soft skills are more able to work well with others and will be considered more valuable, since good teamwork increases productivity.”
6. Be polished. Your appearance remains one of the main factors that will encourage others to work with and for you. It is important, not only in first impression, but also in ongoing interactions. It is the filter through which your talent, suitability, and communication skills will be evaluated. According to a research study by senior managers in the U.S.A., polish is by far the most important aspect of appearance. Whatever collar–or no collar–you wear, polish your appearance. Casual does not mean sloppy.
7. Be confident. “Confidence is important because it is the most attractive personal brand attribute. When someone exudes confidence, we want to work with them; we are more likely to follow their lead,” says William Arruda, personal branding expert. And, “Employers will know they can trust you with a project and that you are likely going to be good at motivating others as well,” according to Dr. Katharine Brooks, author of “You Majored in What? Your Path from Chaos to Career. “Fake it until you become it.” advises Amy Cuddy, author of “Presence.”
8. Be an effective communicator. Communication skills are some of the most important skills you will need to succeed in the workplace. “First communication is not so much what you say, but rather how you say it. And this you can condition and control,” according to Sylvania Ann Hewlett, author of “Executive Presence.” Your words and your body language must be congruent to be believable.
Furthermore, in order to be an effective communicator you must understand what your message is, what audience you are sending it to, and how it will be perceived. If is it not perceived the way you intended it be perceived, you did not effectively communicate your message. Seeing the world through the other person’s eye’s will help ensure your message is being accurately communicated.
9. Be skilled at making small talk. Small talk “breaks the ice;” it makes others feel comfortable and puts them at ease. It is the first level of a conversation; it is about the current situation—how you got there, the weather, the location, mutual friends or other connections. When you work in an office environment, making small talk and socializing with team members is essential for building rapport with them.
10. Be polite and treat everyone with respect. Good manners will be noticed and approved of, just as poor manners will work against one. Having good manners and a respectful attitude toward others will make people want to be around you—in and out of the office.
“Civility lifts perceptions of warmth and competence. Civility lifts people,” writes Christine Porath in her “New York Times” article (6/19/15) “No Time to Be Nice at Work.”.
By: Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick
Updated: January 25, 2018