Five Soft Skills to Focus on in 2020 (or Now)

TSP • @myTSPnet


Think of your abilities as an employee as a plate of food. Your hard skills, or the specific knowledge and abilities required for a job, are the meat and potatoes. But the soft skills are the spices and seasonings that combine to create the secret sauce, the thing that makes everything sing, the magic that sets great leaders apart.

Most people like to focus on improving and expanding their hard skills, and that has a lot of merit. But too many people don’t spend time investing in soft skills, which are just as important and worthy of development. Soft skills are the personal habits and traits that mold the way you work, such as integrity, teamwork, creativity, adaptability, organization and conflict resolution. Every soft skill can be learned, but most are never taught.

But that’s a long list of things to work on, and developing soft skills takes time and practice. To help reign in your soft skills list, try building these five that are guaranteed to help you thrive right now.

Let’s face it, listening is hard. The speaker is boring, or we disagree with them, or we just don’t like them very much. The phone is beeping. There’s always a video of a kitten doing something cute, even if we’re only replaying it in our heads, and...oh, no. What were you saying? What was I about to say? What should I say next?

Listening seems passive, but it’s actually hard work. It requires honing your focus to a single point in a world where your socks may be itchy, and you want to impress the person sitting next to you and...oh, no. What were you saying?

Recent research loves to harp on data that says human beings have now dropped our previous attention span average from 12 seconds down to only eight — shorter than a goldfish. But attention is something we control. So, practice dropping your devices, taking a deep breath and captaining your brain ship towards the person speaking.

Technology trends may change, lifestyles may be reworked, and the sky may be the limit, but one thing never changes: empathy is good. When people think of success, they think about their own merit and achievements, but empathy is one essential human skill that applies to every job, every career, every day.

Empathy is the base marker for the golden rule, because when you understand someone else’s perspective and experience, you know how best to treat them and you activate the compassion that’s a key component to conflict resolution. Empathy helps us read the room and adapt, ultimately building stronger connections that enable better teams.

If building empathy sounds too hard to develop, consider trying these six pointers from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. Tip #1: Be more curious — you can do that!

“I’m not creative,” so many say. But is that really you talking, or is it the voice of your second-grade art teacher, who had no business judging a second grader? If you look a little harder, you’ll find signs of creativity throughout your life, whether you make up recipes, tinker with cars or enjoy playing with your children. Creativity is not just a born talent, it’s a learnable skill, one that is more and more valued in top workplaces. According to LinkedIn, creativity was the most in-demand soft skill in 2019, and major companies are placing more value on such interpersonal and emotional skills than ever before.

Creativity encompasses other soft skills, including data gathering, defining objectives, analysis and the willingness to silence your inner critic so ideas can flow freely. Each of these builds toward greater innovation, the number one product consistently desired by every single company. In 2016, the World Economic Forum predicted that 35% of the skills that were considered important in the workforce will change by 2020.

To kickstart your own creativity journey and boost your resume in the process, consider taking a creativity class. That’s right, you can take a course on the tangible skills that go into being more creative. If you’re short on time, check out this one-hour Creativity Bootcamp, an innovation booster that outlines creative barriers and shows you how to energize and innovate with better ease and clarity.

Our culture emphasizes perfection in everything. We’re constantly seeing mirages of picture-perfect lives on social media and inundated with impossible ideals of appearance and achievement. But what if instead of constantly striving for perfection, we got good at being bad at things?

Karen Rinaldi, a self-made publisher, started surfing at age 40 — in her own words, she sucked at it. But she loved surfing anyway, and the journey of letting herself be bad (which she still is) taught her about the incredible benefits of not being perfect, including inviting help and kindness from others that created community, taking off the pressure of perfection, building resilience and ultimately becoming happier in other areas of her life. For a great summary of Rinaldi’s book, “(It’s Great to) Suck at Something,” check out Live Happy Now’s podcast interview.

It's no secret that nobody’s perfect, so why not build a new skill set that embraces mistakes so you can learn from them? Failure is inevitable, and the most successful people know how to gain knowledge and rebound by building their resilience skills.

Service doesn’t seem like a way to get ahead, but it’s one industry that never changes and is a requirement for every company. As robots use surges and companies drive to become bigger, service is one area most companies know they need to work on, but the concept applies to much more than customers.

Think about the best boss or teacher you ever had; did they put themselves first, or did they work to serve others? According to the school of thought started by researcher Robert Greenleaf, servant leadership is a way to focus on authority over power. A servant leader approaches wants and requirements first, and their status as the boss second.

Sometimes people associate service with being a pushover or not standing up for yourself, but true altruism isn’t about building a better doormat. It’s about knowing your own boundaries while thinking of others. It’s about listening and encouraging people to be real and honest, which removes roadblocks and prevents mistakes. Service is an investment in your team, a way to show people they matter. When you put other people’s needs first, you create bonds that benefit everyone.