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3 Effective Ways to Improve Soft Skills

Learn how to improve soft skills day by day in a way that is actually effective

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If you want to improve soft skills, this guide will tell you how to do it. We do this with actionable items, specific things you can do right now. No buzz words that will leave you puzzled such as “create a positive environment”. No, we will stick to things you can actually start to do right now.

What are Soft Skills?

If you want to improve soft skills, you probably know what soft skills are. Yet, not everyone has the same definition, so spend a few minutes to be sure we are on the same page. You don’t want to spend all your effort to follow some tips that will give you amazing skills – but the skills you didn’t ask for!

So, to start, soft skills are all those skills that are not easily teachable or explainable. They are soft in that sense, compared to hard skills that you can learn simply by watching others or by reading about them. For example, how to insert a reservation in an online system is an hard skill, it is procedural. Giving a speech is a soft skill.

Of course, the line between soft and hard skills isn’t always clear. This is because hard skills are not necessarily procedural. For example, solving complex math problems is a hard skill that relies on technical knowledge (about math). That knowledge can be learned on books. True, it is hard to learn, but the process to learn it is to go through books and lectures.

Soft skills are of a whole different breed. They grow into you with experience. It is like playing tennis: you can learn the rules in half an hour, but becoming a master at the sport will take a lot of practice doing the same thing over and over. And it is not just about physical fitness, it is also about soft skills. We can say:

Soft skills are simple, but not easy.

They are simple because you can quickly grasp what they are about or describe them. We all know who is a leader and who isn’t, who is a great communicator and who isn’t. But if you were to tell why a leader is like that, then it’s almost impossible to say. This is because those skills are simple and natural, but they are not easy. Think about tennis once more: champions do one simple thing better than any other, hit the ball with the racket. That simple thing, however, is not easy to do.

Improve Soft Skills

What Soft Skills to Improve, Anyway?

There are plenty of soft skills. Just to give you a long list, there you have it. But there are even more. The only point here, since there are plenty, how do you know which one to pick and improve upon? See you at the end of the list!

  • Communication
  • Time management
  • Adaptability
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Teamwork
  • Critical thinking
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Creativity
  • Organization
  • Positive attitude
  • Active listening
  • Presentation skills
  • Empathy
  • Negotiation skills
  • Goal setting
  • Stress management
  • Decision making
  • Networking
  • Mentoring
  • Coaching
  • Collaboration
  • Attention to detail
  • Initiative
  • Flexibility
  • Multitasking
  • Customer service
  • Leadership development
  • Intercultural communication
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-motivation
  • Emotional stability
  • Perseverance
  • Responsibility
  • Trustworthiness
  • Consistency
  • Patience
  • Dependability
  • Honesty
  • Tolerance
  • Open-mindedness
  • Respect for others
  • Professionalism
  • Work ethic
  • Good judgment
  • Effective decision making
  • Time-bound task completion
  • Continuous learning

If you look closely, most soft skills tend to cluster around common topics. For example, self-awareness, open-mindedness, emotional stability and teamwork (just to name a few in the list) all cluster around the same broad concept: work effectively with other.

We can say that soft-skills can be grouped into three broad areas. I decided to group them in this way because it makes sense to me, there is no specific rule for it, it is just a soft skill that led me there.

  • Interpersonal Soft Skills – These skills allows you to work effectively with other, and ensure people feel good about interacting with you, and are eager to listen and follow what you have to say.
  • Effectiveness Soft Skills – These skills are all about accomplishing things. You can get done what you set out to do, and you do it effectively, without wasting time or resources.
  • Growth and Development Soft Skills – The skills in this area are about growing yourself, learning new things and improve in general (not only improve soft skills). The better you are in this area, the easier it will be for you to learn.

With this framework in mind, we can see how to improve soft skills in each area. Let’s dive right into that!

Improve Interpersonal Soft Skills

Ah, good old interpersonal soft skills. Talking to people, conveying a message, listening. These skills are important because if you want to make an impact on the world, make a dent in the universe, you will need to influence other people. You can’t do everything all by yourself.

Here are a few tips on how to improve your interpersonal soft skills.

Take notes in meetings. This will force you to pay attention to what other people are saying. But taking notes is not enough, make a habit of sending them out to everyone in the meeting afterwards. If you do this consistently, people will start to expect it, and you will know you can’t drop the ball and stop listening because then everyone will know about it (seeing bad or no notes at all).

As you take notes, note down questions you want to ask, but do not interrupt the speaker. Maybe he is already planning to address your concern. If not, once he finishes speaking, you can raise all the questions that you need. This will make people feel more respected as well, and strengthen your network.

Improve Soft Skills to Grow and Learn
Most of your growth will come from acquiring new knowledge.

Go meet someone new. I know this is hard, especially if you are living far away from larger urban centers. But push yourself out of the comfort zone and try to meet new people to exchange different point of views. You can do that using MeetUp, Facebook Groups, check messages on the board of the local university or church, heck you can even use Tinder for all it matter. Just meet new people and talk with them. If this makes you feel a little uncomfortable, then this is what you have to do.

Journal. Keep a habit of daily recording your emotions and feelings, as well as how you think you made others feel. This will keep you alert on the emotions, and over time develop your emotional intelligence. Note that the concept of emotional intelligence is still a little controversial because there is mixed scientifical evidence about what “emotional intelligence” is. Nonetheless, you will be much better of if you can understand what other people feel, and take that into account.

Seek feedback. Ask other people how you are doing, and then let that sink. Feedback is likely to contain at least something people wish you did differently, or other sort of suggestion that would hurt. Let that pain sink in and be comfortable with that.

Improve Soft Skills: Increase Your Effectiveness

Effectiveness is all about accomplishing things, getting things done, delivering results. Of course, delivering results has a big component of technical “hard” skills, but that is not the only part. You will also need some soft skills that will enable you to be more effective with your hard skills.

Time management. This is one of the most important soft skills you could ever learn, even as an individual. Time is a constrained resource, and we all get 24 hours per day. So, you need to be effective with that. There are tons of online resources on time management, and it would go beyond the purpose of this guide on improving soft skills to talk more about this. But in general, my best piece of advice on this is to measure things.

Measure what you are doing, keep track of that. Even if you don’t plan in advance, just write down what you did through the day, and that will make you think on how you are using your time. Then, move to the next level, and start to document how long does it take to do one activity or another. You will see what the most time-consuming tasks are, and then start to think about why.

Decision-making. We all make decisions every day, and they bring us closer or farther from our goals. If we can get to do just one better decision per day, we would be much better off, because decisions compound themselves. That is, if you are already at the gym because 20 minutes ago you decided to go there, then you can decide what workout to do. If you went to Burger King instead, your decision will be if you get the double or triple whopper.

Effectiveness with wind turbines
When thinking about your effectiveness, think about wind turbines. How much energy can they get out of the wind and turn that into electricity? What about you, what can you get out of your time?

Goal setting. This is all about deciding what you want to do, and how you will do it. If you set unreasonable goals, nothing will get done. If you set no goals, then you won’t get much done either. So, you need to understand how to set proper goals to be more effective.

A good starting point is the SMART framework. A goal must be Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound. So, you need to be really clear about what you want to do and how you will know you get done (S), have something you can look at to tell if you reached that (M), you can do something about it (“prevent hurricanes” would not be a good goal in that sense, something you can actually reach, and associated with an expected completion date.

However, this framework will not save you by itself. Goal setting means you set the goals, but you also periodically review them, and if you fail at them you think about why. Over time, this will get you better at estimating.

Communication. This is about conveying your message to others, and it is crucial if you want to be effective in working in a team. If your impact is larger than yourself, you will need at least some form of communication. Communication is a two-step process, you need to be good both at listening and at talking.

My suggestion here is to start taking notes in meetings, and even in 1-on-1 discussions, then share the notes with the participants. After listening, ask clarifying questions and try to rephrase the point to see if you got it right. Explicitly solicit feedback from others. When meeting, come with a specific agenda beforehand, and a clear outcome you expect out of a meeting. Then, take charge and be sure you get to that outcome. Note that the outcome may be something like “decide what to do with issue X”, but don’t fix on what is the content of the decision itself. In other words, do not use meetings to force your point of view.

Growth and Development Soft Skills

This is the final section in our guide on how to improve soft skills. Probably, it is the most long-term focused, because here we discuss on you can be more effective in learning. How can you learn more things, better things, and retain what you learn? These are the kind of soft skills you need to succeed in the modern world. Here are a few of actionable tips to improve your soft skills in this area.

Set time aside for learning. I personally do 1 to 2 hours per day, but figure out what works for you. Then, just stick with it. It does not matter the learning itself, take the habit if learning something at that specific time of day, possibly every day, or at least on well-defined days. Then, you can finally start to eat in your reading list that keeps just growing.

Replace Instagram with Kindle. This is a pro tip to improve your soft skills. Pick a social media that you use a lot on your phone, let’s say Instagram. Put the Kindle app where you used to have the Instagram app, and the Instagram app somewhere else. You don’t even have to uninstall it. You will soon see that you will start opening the Kindle almost mechanically and start reading.

Have a backlog of things to learn. You want to remove friction that prevents you from learning. If, whenever you are in the mood for learning, you will need to think about what you want to learn, where to learn it, and then discover that you have to buy a course to do so, then you may not start altogether. However, if you prepare in advance with a list of things you want to learn, rank them in order of priority, and even get yourself ready for the first one of two (by buying the course, if there is one), it will be just about learning.

Improve Soft Skills to Grow and Learn
Most of your growth will come from acquiring new knowledge.

Write it down. On paper. This is a tip that works well for me and will help you improve soft skills. Whatever you are learning, however the learning material is coming to you, write it down. Pick a pen and a piece of paper and write down your notes. The act of writing will help you cement that information in your brain.

The way I do this is by writing down a summary on paper as I am reading or studying. Then, every week or so, I take all my notes and transcribe them on a Word document on my PC. When I exhaust a physical notebook, I just trash it, because I never need to read those notes again, I have them digital. Even here, transcribing them on the computer adds some more value as it helps cement the concepts once more.

Improve Soft Skills in Summary

I hope this article will help you improve soft skills. As you read here, it is not really hard, but it takes patience and dedication. By chunking your soft skills in three areas (interpersonal, effectiveness, growth) you will be able to prioritize the ones that matter the most to you.

Now, continue to improve your soft skills by learning more about referent power.

Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded ICTShore.com with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.
Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded ICTShore.com with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.

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Alessandro Maggio