Own My Growth

Helping folks with practical tips to manage themselves better

Focus On Your Soft Skills

soft skills

I often come across people who, in their hearts, feel very strongly that they are capable of making a difference and creating an impact in whatever they are doing. They believe they have all the necessary skills to deliver solid work. They look around, and they say

  • “I can code as well or better than the average.”
  • “I am great at selling.”
  • “I understand credit risk better than others.”
  • “I am very good at my art.”

But they also feel something is missing. They say they feel stuck, unable to move forward and get to the “next” level.

” I am good at what I do, and I am doing everything needed, but somehow the people around me are not appreciating or recognizing my capabilities.”

In many situations, this happens because these people are focusing on their hard skills.

Hard And Soft Skills

Hard skills are the competencies that you have developed in your specific domain- credit risk, Finance, Coding, Language skills, Music, etc. You acquire your hard skills through a combination of formal learning and on the job training. Hard skills are easily measurable. Someone is a good programmer while someone else is terrible at selling.

But, there is another facet of every individual’s ability, and that is the soft skills. These are fuzzier and less concrete, hence the “soft.”

Soft skills speak to your intrinsic personality in terms of your temperament, attitude, mindset, and qualities such as being resourceful, being there when needed, being “professional,” or organized.

If you were to make a list of things you would look out for in a partner, in your good friend, in someone you would wish to work for or with, what would you look for? They would never be about hard skills. You would want someone honest, sincere, hard-working, adaptable, has a positive attitude, is empathetic, good at listening, etc.

People who feel stuck in their work or career confuse and attribute their “stuckness” to some gap in their hard skills when the problem is possibly more in their soft skills.

Your Soft Skills Have To Evolve

I have a mental model to describe how this works in terms of work and career.

When you are in the early stages of your work life, hard skills predominate in differentiating your contribution. But note that there is a sliver of soft skills that becomes more relevant as you advance your life and career. As you get into the higher echelons of an organization, the soft skills start predominating and create the difference between those who move to the highest levels and those who don’t

To help bring home the distinction between Hard and Soft skills, I often share this example.

Imagine you are running a Marathon. Running a Marathon, no doubt, involves hard skills like strengthening your muscles, learning about the right diet, and developing a good training routine. But at a deeper level, to be a successful marathoner, it all comes down to the soft skill of how the runner processes the pain associated with running the marathon. Does she persist or give up when the body is in pain. Does she show up with a commitment to complete the marathon no matter if it takes 5 hours or more? It’s the mindset that takes the marathoner beyond the finishing line.

It’s the same with your career. Your hard skills are essential. But how you deal with and overcome challenges, how you engage with people around you, what attitude you carry to work every day- these are all matters of your soft skills. Your mindset is the source of all your soft skills.

You Need To Have The Desire

Soft skills cannot be taught in a classroom setting. You will not be able to enhance your soft skills unless you come with an intrinsic desire to do so. To develop the right soft skills, you need to be open-minded, aware of your own personal “blind spots.”

Persuasion, Negotiation, Conflict Resolution, Responsibility, Relationship orientation, Working in teams, Problem-solving, Creativity, Networking, Empathy, Vulnerability, Persistence, Time Management, Adaptability- These are all soft skills that you can develop by observing people and situations around you with awareness and consciously practicing them yourself.

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