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How to Begin Boosting Your Soft Skills

The twelve soft skills most employers are looking for and what they mean.

Key points

  • While we all have natural strengths and weaknesses when it comes to soft skills, that doesn’t mean they are immovable matters of personality.
  • Figure out which soft skill you should lean into and which you should work on building by identifying the gaps.
  • You can gain valuable insight from evaluating your own soft skills performance.
Dzmitry/Adobe Stock
Dzmitry/Adobe Stock

Soft skills, like any skill, can be practiced and improved. While we all have natural strengths and weaknesses when it comes to soft skills, that doesn’t mean they are static, immovable matters of personality. All it takes to begin boosting your soft skills, and leveraging your natural strengths, is a little focused self-evaluation.

Twelve Soft Skills Most Employers Are Looking For and What They Mean

What exactly constitutes a soft skill and why is somewhat subjective. Ask any boss what soft skills they’re looking for, and you’ll likely get as many answers as there are people.

This lists the soft skills most commonly sought by leaders, managers, and employers. Use this list as a starting point to make your own. What are the soft skills that matter most in your organization, on your team, for your role, or to your own manager?

  • Self-evaluation: Regularly assessing one’s own thoughts, words, and actions against clear, meaningful standards; and one’s own performance against specific goals, timelines, guidelines, and parameters.
  • Personal responsibility: Staying focused on what one can control directly—principally one’s self—and controlling one’s responses in the face of factors outside one’s own control.
  • Positive attitude: Maintaining and conveying a positive, generous, enthusiastic demeanor in one’s expressions, gestures, words, and tone.
  • Good work habits: Wellness, self-presentation, timeliness, organization, productivity, quality, follow-through, and initiative.
  • Interpersonal communication: Attentive listing, observing, and reading; perceiving and empathizing; effective use of words, tone, expressions, and gestures—verbal, written, and otherwise; one-on-one and in groups; in-person and remotely.
  • Proactive learning: Keeping an open mind, suspending judgment, questioning assumptions, and seeking out information, technique, and perspective; and studying, practicing, and contemplating in order to build one’s stored knowledge base, skill set, and wisdom.
  • Problem-solving: Mastering established best practices—proven repeatable solutions for dealing with regular recurring decisions—so as to avoid reinventing the wheel. Using repeatable solutions to improvise when addressing decisions that are new but similar.
  • Decision-making: Identifying and considering multiple options, assessing the pros and cons of each, and choosing the course of action closest to the desired outcome.
  • Respect for context: Reading and adapting to the existing structure, rules, customs, and leadership in an unfamiliar situation.
  • Good citizenship: Accepting, embracing, and observing not just the rights and rewards but the duties of membership/belonging in a defined group with its own structure, rules, customs, and leadership.
  • Service: Approaching relationships in terms of what you have to offer—respect, commitment, hard work, creativity, sacrifice—rather than what you need or want.
  • Teamwork: Doing the part assigned (or relegated) to you to support the larger mission; coordinating, cooperating, and collaborating with others in pursuit of a shared goal; supporting and celebrating the success of others.

Identify the Gaps in Your Soft Skills

Once you have a list of high-priority soft skills, figure out which ones you should lean into and which you should work on building by identifying the gaps.

For each skill, ask yourself the following questions and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10.

  • Is this a natural strength? Or is this a natural weakness?

ON A SCALE OF 1 (weakest) to 10 (strongest)

  • Is this a skill you’ve practiced and made strong? Or is this a weakness?

ON A SCALE OF 1 (weakest) to 10 (strongest)

  • Is this a skill in which you have gained a lot of experience? Or very little?

ON A SCALE OF 1 (no experience) to 10 (extensive experience)

  • Is this a skill in which you are interested and motivated:

ON A SCALE OF 1 (not interested) to 10 (extremely motivated)

The skills with the highest ratings are your soft skills strengths. Lean into these strengths in your interactions with others, especially when taking on new tasks or supporting collaborative work.

Learn From Experts

Drawing lessons from others’ performances can be a powerful first step in improving soft skills. Compared to technical skills, defining success in soft skills can be difficult with words alone. Use your powers of observation to your advantage:

  • Can you think of someone you believe is highly effective at this skill?
  • Can you think of an example you’ve witnessed of this skill in action? Can you describe it?
  • What makes this skill in action so valuable?
  • What do you learn from this?

Evaluate Your Successes

You can also gain valuable insight from evaluating your soft skills performance. For the soft skills strengths you’ve identified, ask yourself:

  • Can you think of a time when you’ve been successful with this skill in action?
  • Describe what happened: When? Where? Who else was involved?
  • What lessons do you take away from this experience? How could you use those lessons to improve on other soft skills or use this skill to even greater effect in your interactions with others?
  • What is your next step?
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