When it comes to to succeeding in the workplace, a college degree isn’t necessarily enough. Nor is years of experience on the job.
That’s because the most in-demand skills that employers crave are the elusive “soft skills”—the intangible but important qualities that enable you to work and interact with the people around you effectively.
These traits include leadership, self-awareness, communication skills, and emotional intelligence. In fact, an important criteria during the hiring process at Google is screening for “learning ability.”
Having great soft skills can be a huge game-changer as you go through your career. It can be the difference between getting people to believe in you or being forgotten, the difference between advancing a project or having it rejected, the difference between getting a promotion or finding yourself in yet another disappointing lateral move. These skills teach you not just to be a better employee but a stellar human being as well.
So, check out the five soft skills below that are essential for success—all of which you can teach yourself to practice in your daily interactions:
1. Listening: Make it Your Secret Communication Weapon
People often associate good communicators with excellent public speaking. But the best communicators do something that most others fail at. They listen.
The easiest way to build trust with someone is by showing interest in him or her. You can accomplish this by listening more than you talk. Good listeners don’t think about what they’re going to say next when the other person is speaking. Good listeners ask follow-up questions. Good listeners make it all about the person they’re with—not about them.
When in doubt, provide guiding cues like “Tell me more about that.” The most valuable thing that you can give someone is your attention.
2. Take Accountability: Do What You Say You’re Going to Do
When something goes wrong and you’re responsible for it, don’t make excuses, ignore it, or blame someone else. Instead, take full accountability and responsibility for the role that you played in it. Even better, learn from it.
Further, when working on a project, it’s easy to hit send on a message or email and assume your job is done. It’s even easier to agree to something in a meeting and then not follow through on it. However, being accountable also means making no assumptions, it means holding others accountable and following-up to confirm tasks have been completed, and it means keeping the agreements that you make.
When in doubt, this skill’s all about doing what you say you’re going to do. This is the core of integrity and it builds trust.
3. Creative Thinking: Be Resourceful With What You’ve Got
Being creative often means finding ways to solve problems with limited resources. Chefs are a great example of how to do this. If a chef wants to make a dish that requires 10 ingredients, but he only has seven of them on hand, what will he do? Is he going to leave his customers hungry?
No, a great chef will go into problem-solving mode. He’ll find a way to get creative with the seven ingredients that he has to make a delicious dish. The greatest innovations tend to arrive under constraints. The companies with the largest budgets or head counts don’t always finish first. Use your disadvantages to your advantage. Focus on the ingredients that you have, not the ones you don’t, and then embrace the freedom that this creates.
4. Emotional Awareness: Know What You’re Feeling
When we’re having a good or bad day, it’s easy to act on pure emotion. But this can be a deeply problematic way of making decisions (for reasons you can probably figure out).
The truth is, sometimes when you’re afraid, you’re actually very excited. Sometimes when you’re sad, you’re really angry. Sometimes when you’re angry, you’re actually quite sad. When you’re feeling any type of emotion that may cause you to behave in a questionable manner, one that you may possibly regret a few hours later, press pause and ask yourself: “What am I really feeling?”
Talk to a friend. Get a second opinion on that angry email you have drafted to your boss before you press send. Take the time to pause, re-center, and ask yourself what’s most important.
5. Empathy: Go Outside to Connect Inside
It’s easy to be part of the crowd and do what everyone else does, particularly within a large organization. However, it’s valuable to find time outside of the office to explore new experiences that allow you to grow and build empathy for others.
Great outlets for this include volunteering, taking continuing education courses, travel, working on side projects, attending conferences or cultural events, and more. When we do this, we learn how to connect with others outside of our industry and build an understanding of those who may have different viewpoints, backgrounds and who see things from a different perspective. This also teaches us how much we may have in common with others.
When we take these outside experiences back inside the office, it can create a greater empathy and understanding of our colleagues, which ultimately allows us to feel more comfortable in our own skin.
And this is really what soft skills are about. After all, it’s not just about landing a cushy job or impressing an employer. Bringing these traits to a job can help make the work you do more efficient, effective, and—dare I say it—even enjoyable. They may seem simple and you may already be practicing some of them, but push yourself to do more, go deeper, push yourself even further. Because in the long run, they’re what’s going to get you ahead.