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A roadmap for better soft skills

I do not qualify myself as outspoken.  I am still more on the shy, reserved, introverted side.  I am more on the shy side and introverted by nature.   I never felt this to be a problem until I finished graduate school and joined a professional consulting firm in Detroit Michigan. I noticed that I was different from the company stars. They were outspoken, confident, and easily carry on a conversation, whether personal or business related. I noticed that the way they said things made all the difference. Sometimes the message they had would be difficult to accept, but they were able to bring it through to their audience very clearly yet tactfully. I really had an eager want to be able to do what they do.

There is no single formula for building better soft skills.  It is a very individual affair.  However, it is always good to learn from the experience of others and I would like here to share my own experience with those who are trying to learn how to improve their soft skills.

A good place to start is books and seminars.  Look for soft skills books, audio books, seminars, and anything related to the subject that you can put your hands on.  What really helped me were audio books and seminars specifically targeting business professionals and more on the practical side than on the theoretical side.  I also was very picky with who I listen to.  Carefully research the coaches , their background, and experience before listening to them or attending their sessions.  I also focused my research on resources that tell me the “how” not the “why.”  I wanted practical techniques that work, not abstract concepts to struggle with.  As I learned more and advanced a bit in my career I became more interested in the abstract.

It is important to note that what made the learning work was the practice.  I used to pick a technique and apply it the next day and the next, for a whole month, and see how successful it is to achieve the goal I was after.  I started applying refinements that fit my personality and the environment I was in.  That helped a lot.

Another action to take is to stay close to people who have mastered these soft skills.  Try to get to know them personally, go to lunch with them, do after work activities, etc.  At work, try to interact with them more.  Volunteer to help them with presentations, work, anything to keep you close and give you an excuse for additional interaction with them.   Once you are comfortable around them, you can ask them for tips on how to improve your soft skills.  Many people want to help and are very generous with their coaching and mentoring. You also need to be an eager student who really wants to learn.

An important point to consider is that not to try to change who you are.  Instead, you are trying to learn how to make your point clear and influence others in a positive manner.  Start looking at things that you do that make people listen to what you have to say, or to be convinced with your argument.  If you notice that one of your traits is very effective in convincing others and building rapport, for example, you are a good listener, then build on it.  Use listening more consciously and refine that skill by learning more about effective listening.  So it is a good idea to look at existing strengths that one has and to build on them and refine them.

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