Adulting 101: Soft Skills

by Ashley Wirgau

Everyone knows you speak four languages, triple-majored in Economics, Business, and International Law, then graduated summa cum laude without breaking a sweat. You are an academic ace with a shiny diploma from an undeniably impressive university. That is not up for debate. But out here in the real world, straight A’s and the regurgitation of facts does not always equal dollar signs. You are going to have to prove you have something else to offer:  soft skills.

You might be the smartest cat in the room, but if you can’t relate to other people and interact effectively with those around you, you could find yourself in the dog house. Depending on the path you choose, your success might even rely more on your soft skills than any of the hard facts you have stored in your brain. So how do you know you have what it takes? Take this quick quiz to see how you stack up against those touchy-feely types you’ve never really cared for. Give yourself one point for every “yes” along the way, doing your best to answer each one with honesty and integrity (more of those soft skills). 

Do you listen more than you speak?

People need to be heard and they really, really like when you listen to what they have to say. Are you good at holding your tongue and allowing others the floor? Can you fight the urge to throw in your two cents as soon as the other person takes a breath (I mean, your point really is the better one, isn’t it)? Regardless, there are proven benefits that come from closing your mouth and giving others the opportunity to speak.

Do people come to you for advice and/or support?

Are you someone that people come to for a pat on the back or an encouraging pep talk? Can you be somebody’s cheerleader while also offering sound advice? If so, give yourself another point. If not, let’s cross our fingers and hope the next question rings true for you.

Is it easy for you to consider yourself in someone else’s shoes?

One of the most important soft skills is empathy, the ability to connect to and understand how another person feels. Regardless of where life takes you, this innate characteristic allows you to hold much stronger and meaningful relationships with family, friends, and even colleagues. It helps avoid unnecessary confrontation and misunderstanding as you pause and consider perspectives outside of your own.

Do you adapt well to change?

Flexibility is one of those high-value soft skills that is, unfortunately, difficult to teach yet so very advantageous to have. As ironic as it is, change is the one true constant, and the faster you can get on board with that, the easier life becomes for you (and everyone around you).

Do you enjoy working with other people?

Whether in the office or at home, and as cliché as it may sound, teamwork really does make the dream work. Those folks who find joy in group projects and collaboration might just have a leg up on the rest of us. So many facets of life require cooperation with others, and people who prefer to traverse the road alone sometimes get lost in the dust.

Is problem-solving your go-to verses complaining?

When confronted with an issue, is your inclination to complain about the problem or are you geared toward finding a solution instead? Those in the latter category quickly separate themselves from the pack, often times taking lead positions to show others a better way.

Are you able to clearly express your opinions without offending other people?

You have a lot of opinions – who doesn’t? – but are you able to communicate those ideas without upsetting people who may not hold the same sentiments? We all have that friend who, regardless of how others might respond, just loves to tell it like it is (or how they think it is). Be honest - is that friend you?

Do you seek out opportunities to network or socialize with others?

It has always been said that it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know, and anybody who has been out in the world longer than a week knows there is some truth there. Do you circle the next cocktail party or golf outing on your calendar three times with a highlighter or do you schedule a doctor’s appointment to avoid the awkward small talk and catered deli tray? Your response here matters more than you might think. No one ever schmoozed their way into a promotion at a podiatrist’s office.

Are you optimistic more than you are pessimistic?

There’s no need to be Suzy Sunshine 24/7, but do you have a positive outlook more than a negative one or does that pesky raincloud always seem to find your parade? There is a lot of science behind the power that positive thinking holds, and if you have not yet tapped into this free and endless resource, you need to.

Do you consider other people’s feelings…like ever?

There are times when other people’s thoughts and feelings need not play into our own decision making; however, there are many times when they should. A good share of our choices directly affect those around us, and people who consider how their words and actions impact others are often allowed the same consideration when roles are reversed. Plus, it’s just a nice thing to do.

So how did you fare? Did you answer “yes” more than “no”? Those with the lion’s share of affirmative answers need not worry. Your soft skills are intact and will take you far.

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Folks on the other side of the coin with five or fewer positive responses could benefit from a crash course in soft skills and common courtesy. It’s time to get your nose out of the books (and your own self-interest) and start connecting to those around you in a real and valuable way. Success depends on both our learned skill sets and our ability to relate to and communicate effectively with those around us, traits that are difficult to acquire in a classroom or internship. Those of us who challenge ourselves to bring both of these things to the table are the most likely to find a seat.



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