In an increasingly technological world, people first think of building technical skills when trying to make themselves employable. However, people skills — how you communicate with others, behave in a team environment and accept personal responsibility — top lists of employability skills. This is true not only on job websites for first-time job seekers, but also for sites like AARP.
While these skills aren't usually taught in schools, a flourishing industry of books and online classes can help you develop these abilities. In the meantime, here are some simple things you can do to learn five of the most important interpersonal skills for the workplace.
1. Listen attentively
"When people ask me about the top skills for today's job market, active listening always tops the list," said Mark Babbitt, management consultant and CEO and founder of YouTern.
The most important thing you can do to be a better listener is look directly at the person speaking. The advice your mom gave you is the same that management consultants like Babbitt give their clients.
"Too often, rather than being fully engaged in the conversation we're in right now, our brains are set on multitasking mode," he said. "Our eyes are on a device or laptop. Our minds are onto the next project. To set yourself apart, attentively and enthusiastically listen to the human conversation happening right in front of you."
You should also focus on the speaker's intent, said Brit Poulson, psychologist, leadership development expert and author of "Clarity Compass" (Vision Creation, Inc., 2017). He recommended paraphrasing what the person said to make sure you're getting his or her meaning.
"What you want to focus on is the reason for their speaking. Paraphrase in a way that reflects the primary reason for their talking," Poulson said.
2. Project a positive attitude
A positive attitude does not mean being a "yes man or woman" or a Pollyanna, but rather being up to the challenge, Babbitt said.
Being positive in a "glass-half-full" way "does nothing to show me how someone will respond to an opportunity, challenge or potential crisis," said Babbitt. "Instead, I look for someone with the confidence to say, 'Hey, we got this. Let's go to work.'"
Projecting optimism in the workplace isn't always easy, said Babbitt, and it's simple to tell when someone's faking it. When you're feeling less than positive, find ways to refocus your energy, he said.
"Take a walk around the building. Breathe. Think. Deliberately bring yourself back to why you're here, your specific role and the mission of your team," Babbitt told Business News Daily. "Once you're fully and sincerely able to help produce a positive outcome and are ready to lead by example, walk up to your team at a determined pace — and get to work."
Having an attitude of gratitude can also boost your positivity at work: "Using 'please' and 'thank you' goes a long way in the realm of people skills," national workplace expert Lynn Taylor wrote in a Forbes magazine article.
Politeness can make a difficult task easier, and sincere gratitude makes people feel good about themselves and the work they did, Taylor said.
3. Communicate clearly
Communication breakdowns can result in interpersonal conflict as well as errors that cause company projects to fail. Poulson emphasized the importance of knowing your reason for talking at that moment.
"It comes back to intentions," said Poulson. By knowing your intentions, you can stay focused and keep from going off on tangents.
Babbitt noted that communicating with colleagues comes down to three critical points:
- State the challenge and provide the context.
- Provide actionable inspiration.
- Drive toward a solution.
For example, you can say, "As I understand the situation, our challenge is X and the impact is Y. We have the right team in place. All the stakeholders are present. So let's set our focus on solutions. How do we meet this challenge?"
"This … works exceptionally well, both verbally and in writing," he said. "It also works well when injecting clarity into an ongoing conversation. Take this approach, and you'll not only be seen as a great communicator, but [you'll also be seen as] a great leader, even if that isn't your current role."
4. Improve your team-building skills
Team players become team leaders, so if you want to move up in your career, team-building skills are essential, Babbitt said.
"Leadership today is not based on titles, seniority or the amount of gray in our hair. It is based on who will get the job done," Babbitt said. "More specifically, it is often based on who builds the best team to get the job done."
Monster.com reported that among senior executives, the most frequently mentioned quality of a good team player was getting work done on time. It's a simple, obvious thing, but it's crucial for ensuring others can get their work done, too.
You should also keep your focus when working on a team project, Babbitt said.
"Whether or not you are in a leadership role, ask yourself, 'Are we all focused on the mission at hand? Are we collectively working toward the right goals?'" Babbitt advised. "It will add context, perspective and a proper sense of urgency.
5. Take responsibility
The National Institute for Professional Practice (NIPP) listed this as one of the top five communication skills for the 21st century workplace. "Employers want to hire workers who are honest and can manage themselves," noted the AARP Foundation WorkSearch Information Network website.
To understand what's at stake, the NIPP suggested that you learn the legal and ethical issues related to the technology you use in your job. Of course, this also applies to your duties; if you messed up, own up to it, Babbitt said.
"When stuff is hitting the fan and the blamers are doing their worst, take two steps up," said Babbitt. "Confidently look them in the eye, and say, 'I didn't meet your expectations today. I failed. But I know what I did wrong. I know what to do. And I'll make it right.'"