The longer you're in the workforce, the more you realize the importance of skills and abilities that you simply can't learn in school.
You may have the greatest ideas in the company, but no one will know that if you can’t communicate them.
It’s important to be clear and professional in your communications, whether that’s over email, in meetings, or one-on-one. Observe colleagues and superiors whom you admire to see if you can learn and adopt their most effective communications techniques. Take care in composing emails to your boss, colleagues and clients; don’t get lazy simply because of the communications medium.
“The ability to effectively communicate really is the bedrock to developing critical relationships within the organization itself and sets the tone for development and movement,” says Michael Steinerd, director of recruiting for Indeed.
To be an effective communicator, it’s just as important to listen and ask questions as it is to put forth your own ideas. Listening carefully to your audience will help you determine whether your ideas are being understood, and gauge how well your goals jibe with the interests of the people you’re addressing.
Prepare in advance, and practice what you’re going to say. “When you get on the phone with a client, when you go into an internal meeting, when you are talking to your boss in a performance review, preparation is really key to getting your point across,” says Peggy Klaus, an executive coach and author of The Hard Truth About Soft Skills. You want to develop “the ability to speak with both warmth and strength, using both parts of your personality to be dynamic and impactful.”
Don’t shy away from difficult conversations: They’re an important part of effective communication and are better tackled directly rather than avoided.
Another much-neglected workplace skill is networking, both inside and outside of your organization. Many people assume they can stop developing their networks once they’ve landed a job. But continuous networking is key to success within your workplace — and to finding another role if and when you’re ready to change jobs.
“People think that if they show up on time and do a good job that they will be rewarded,” Klaus says. “You’ve got to let people know what it is that you’re doing, not only so that you can advance your career, but so that people can use your expertise and services.”
With more organizations relying on cross-functional teams and projects that reach across divisions, you need to network internally. You also will open yourself, and your team, to more opportunities if you have a strong internal network.
Identify people you admire inside and outside your company, whether for their technical or soft skills, and make an effort to cultivate them. Continually look for ways you can help these individuals rather than focusing on what you can get out of it.
“The people that are more successful aren’t thinking about networking, they’re thinking about connecting: How do I connect this need with this resource?” says George Bradt, author of the forthcoming book First–Time Leader. “They fundamentally believe by helping everybody they’re helping themselves.”
Taking into consideration another person’s goals, interests, and beliefs is central to any relationship. It’s not enough to be named team leader if you want to get the cooperation of others — especially when the people on your team aren’t your direct reports.
“Anybody at any level in any organization has to influence people who influence other people,” Bradt says. “You have to co-create a shared purpose and drive toward the cause, and they don’t teach you that in school.”
The simplest way to learn someone else’s perspective is to ask, and then listen carefully to the answer. You can also read body language and consult with colleagues.
Perspective taking is particularly useful when it comes to your boss. These days, supervisors and managers have more responsibilities and stress than ever — typically with fewer resources. They’re often doing the same job that two people would’ve filled a decade ago.
“You are there to help them and to make them look good. Any way you can do that, do it,” says Klaus. “Look at the personal side of that boss rather than as a figurehead. Think about him or her as a person. The compassion, empathy, is really important.”
Look at your to-do list. To get to the bottom, would you need to work solidly for a day? A week? A month? A quarter? You’re not alone. We all have more tasks and responsibilities than hours in the day it would take to complete them. The answer is to prioritize rigorously and manage your own energy.
“The whole secret to time management comes down to saying, ‘No, thank you. If I take on that project, I won’t do the other ones well,’ ” Bradt says. If your supervisor or teammates demand that you shoulder more tasks, insist that they provide additional resources, give a later deadline, or help you decide which of your other responsibilities to off-load.
It doesn’t benefit anyone to keep saying yes, whether that’s to new projects, conference calls at inconvenient times, or other additional work. You’ll end up burnt out with a mediocre track record.
Instead of letting other people’s problems and urgent requests dictate the shape of your day, decide for yourself which tasks you need to complete personally and do well, and make those your first priority. List them on a sticky note on your wall if you need to be reminded of them when emails or calls distract you.
Along with prioritization comes the need to delegate well. If a task doesn’t need to be completed by you, find someone else to delegate to, and manage the project indirectly. (The items at the very bottom of your to-do list may never get done — and that may be OK.)
“At any level you are always delegating. You are always relying on others,” Bradt says. “If you don’t have too much to do, the organization is in trouble.”
To effectively delegate, you must first believe the person who’s taking over the task can complete it well, even if the path or the solution itself differs from what you would’ve done. Give clear direction, lay out parameters, make needed resources available, and provide any needed training. Then, step out of the way.
To develop any one of these skills, the most important piece is practice. Start small and persist. Ask for feedback from colleagues and mentors. And don’t give up!