Research shows that 85% of job success comes from having well-developed “soft skills” and people skills, while only 15% of long-term career success is attributed to technical skills and knowledge, or what is referred to as “hard skills.” Hard skills are what get you hired in the first place, and soft skills are essentially what keep you from getting fired.
Soft skills like optimism, accountability, and resiliency are critical to career longevity. In fact, a new study shows that employees with adequate soft skills work at better firms and even get paid more. Researchers also found that soft skills training results in a 250% return on investment based on higher productivity and retention.
Closing the Soft Skills Gap
Bruce Tulgan, bestselling author of Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, offers practical ways to learn the missing basics of professionalism. Here’s how to side-step five common behaviors of workers who lack soft skills:
1. Poor public relations.
Do you make eye contact? Do you listen (I mean, really listen) when someone is talking? Tulgan says, “The crux of people skills is ‘other orientation,’ paying close attention to the signals of those with whom one is interacting—without getting distracted—and then responding to those signals effectively.”
The fix: Listen twice as much as you talk. As uncomfortable as this may be at first, good listening skills lead to better workplace communication. Also, try sending a “thank you” email or text to someone each morning. Research shows that expressing your gratitude for another person can brighten up your own day.
2. Disheveled appearance.
Something as simple as a wrinkled shirt gets noticed. Employees who “dress for success” are often perceived in a better light. Furthermore, a study found that people who wore more formal clothing actually experienced improved cognition.
The fix: Lay your outfit out the night before work, and do a quick check in the mirror before heading out the door. Getting to work on time also makes a good impression. If you’re having trouble, apps like ETA tag your most visited places (read: work) and automatically calculate the amount of time it will take you to get there.
3. Emotional rollercoaster.
Crying during a meeting or yelling at a coworker are not the most effective ways to get your point across. These actions are not only unprofessional, but they could also be damaging over time. Think about it this way: should behavior that is discouraged at a preschool be tolerated at work? I didn’t think so.
The fix: People with high emotional intelligence (EQ) recognize how their emotions impact themselves, others, and their performance. When an international firm studied 515 executives, they discovered that those with strong emotional intelligence were likely to be more successful than those with higher IQs or relevant experience. Simple tricks to improving your EQ are to write down your feelings before expressing them, don’t dwell on the negative, and pay attention to body signals. Is your heart racing? Chances are you’re nervous and need to give yourself a “time out” before tackling that big presentation.
4. Down in the dumps.
We all have bad days. But if you find yourself complaining, gossiping, and shirking extra work a majority of the time, you’re ready to fine tune your attitude.
The fix: Tulgan suggests that we make a list of the traits and characteristics that constitute a “good attitude.” Then, keep writing down descriptions of each one until you tease out recurring expressions, words, tones, and gestures. Once you find these observable markers of positivity, you will become more conscious of your own behavior.
5. Bad work habits.
No one is perfect. However, if you consistently miss deadlines, take long breaks, leave early, and don’t pay attention to details, your team will think that you don’t care about your job (even if you really do).
The fix: Tulgan found that “99% of managers would rather…deal with employees who pretty much manage themselves.” Use everything from flagged “to-do” email items to your department’s management system to track projects and stay on top of deadlines. Give yourself short, designated breaks throughout the day because let’s face it, you’re not a robot—but you are someone who wants to strike a healthy work-life balance.
While some careers require technical skill and expertise and other fields are more social by nature, the good news is anyone can develop soft skills. And don’t we all want to be respected and well liked at the end of the day?
We’re interested in how you keep your soft skills sharp. Let us know in the comments below.
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