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Who we are at work is an extension of who we are in our personal life. No resume can really capture who we are, and what gifts of personality and character we bring to a team, but once we’re in place, the so-called “soft skills” – to distinguish them from the “hard skills” of technical competencies or specialized knowledge – can be more than half of our “added value” as a teammate.
Let’s take a look at some of these soft skills, which shine especially in the context of a work team.
It’s one thing to get a job done with the skills you already have, but it’s another to step back and get a big picture vision of where the team is going, anticipate what will be needed, and propose a solution ahead of time.
Taking the initiative also means having a solutions mindset. One of the best ways to jumpstart creative thinking is actually to listen to the things people complain about. Meetings go on too long? Perhaps you could propose a way to handle some of the more routine aspects over email. The breakroom fridge is growing alternative life forms and no one seems to care? You can be the one to organize a rotating Cleaning Squad to tackle it. The person with initiative does things without being told, and anticipates needs before they arise.
The best work environments have a collegial spirit where people support and help each other, celebrate each other’s accomplishments, laugh and share enthusiasm, and give credit where credit is due. The most toxic ones are often marked by cutthroat competition, with people stepping on each other to get ahead, take credit, and burnish their own credentials.
Upper leadership often sets the tone for the culture at work, but the employees themselves also have a major impact. Being willing to share in the work, taking part in easy workplace banter, having a good sense of humor, sharing a sense of mission … these are all ways to build up that intangible sense of collegiality that makes the day feel more like an easy flow than an uphill grind. Even if upper leadership does not seem to be on the same page, one or two employees can make a big difference in their immediate work environment. Why shouldn’t that person be you?
Sometimes, out of a sense of duty and obligation in hyperdrive, we say yes to everything and end up completely overwhelmed. But it’s possible to say “no” kindly, reasonably, and fairly – leaving the door open to saying “yes” in the future when the current hurricane dies down. Just thank the person for their interest or idea and explain (briefly) that you can’t attend or do that task because you have another pending priority that needs your full attention. However, you would be happy to help out or attend in the future. Most people will take a kind but clear “no” much better than an insincere “yes” that never materializes.
Sometimes the problem is our own tendency to bite off more than we can chew. If that’s the case, take a moment to sit down and map out your day’s tasks with a triage mentality. What is the one thing you need to get done today at all costs? Push the other things to the side and put a sacred boundary around that top priority – which in some cases may actually be a person or a relationship that needs attention. The key to boundaries is to use them to protect what’s most important, and to use them with kindness and flexibility.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, said today’s career climb is not so much a ladder as it is a jungle gym. Companies have to change to adapt to a shifting industry, which in turn is adapting to a changing world … and we are in the midst of that moving puzzle. The key to navigating the slow-motion earthquake is to have an adaptive mindset, to be quick on our feet, to be willing to learn new ways of doing things, and to be ready to update our skills, learn new techniques, and even change our career path.
Sometimes we come across coworkers who get upset at having to change to a new office. They were happy where they were: they had their plant and their file folders arranged just so, and they had their daily routines down pat. Then the boss asks them to move and they throw a fit. Don’t be that person. Don’t be the office barnacle. Some positions are more permanent than others, but in today’s economy, being open, nimble, flexible, and adaptable are key survival skills for us and big assets to the team.
One survey of around 2,000 UK adults found that aside from effectiveness, one of the most highly prized qualities in a work colleague is trustworthiness. There is a work dimension to this quality – meaning that you can be trusted to get the job done up to standard – but it also has a personal dimension. It means that if a colleague shares something personal with you, they are trusting that those private conversations will not become fodder for watercooler gossip later on. It also means the company can trust you with its proprietary information, and that you can be counted on to act with honesty and integrity in your day-to-day work.
Being trustworthy also means extending trust to others, delegating with the confidence that they will do it well, sharing information that could lead to deeper insights, listening to others and trying to get to know them better, and building a sense of community that will inspire the “slow trusters” to let their guard down. And all of this builds up the work team in an intangible but real way.
Your best talent is not what you can do, but who you are …
These are some of the intangible gifts of self that you bring to the workplace. It might be difficult to capture them on paper, but you can always bring them up in the interview context, where people can also get a sense of your personality and way of being.
And if you excel in these skills but are a little behind on some of the technical proficiencies, bear in mind that it is often easier to learn a specific hard skill than it is to overhaul your entire personality – so you might be further ahead than you realize! Don’t sell yourself short when you could be just what the team needs.
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