“Be yourself” is a simple suggestion given to countless children on their first day of school.

The same advice gets much harder to follow when one enters the professional world. The stakes get even higher when you become a leader by responsibility or title.

 

If we are truthful, most of us are not fans of being TRUE ourselves so we build a facade.

Our soft skills reveal who we truly are, how we view the world and our place in it. They show what most of us would rather keep hidden: our fears, doubts and shortcomings.

Soft skills also enable deep connections, soften hard hearts and are instrumental in coaching team members past their own limitations – both those who are real and those that are imagined. We tread lightly because we are entering a mine field because we don’t know what to expect.

Worst, we fear being stuck there and being dragged down every day for emotional support. Having soft skills and using them does not make a therapist. It does make you more real.

 

Those who avoid developing or using their soft skills are missing out.

I remember the people who inspired me in my early days as a process engineer. I was out of my league and my comfort zone. Process engineering is day-to-day firefighting with no authority and tons of responsibility.They used their soft skills with me and it helped a lot.

 

They gave me a gift and I shared it with unexpected consequences.

Eli was a supervisor who was very difficult to deal with until the day I asked about a garage four blocks from where we worked. They were selling a 1967 Camaro and I was curious if he knew them. I was new in town and he hard lived their all his life. An interest in a classic car opened a whole new world. He was restoring his own car and believed it was his life’s calling. A new Monday morning tradition was born: Eli showing the latest pictures of his car and taking about what was next. He was much easier to work with. The barrier between us had been removed.

Tammy was an exceptionally quiet hourly co-worker who seemed to be always shut down. In moment of bravery, she revealed to me that she had escaped an abusive ex-husband a few years ago and I was his size. Her personal space needs were greater than most – she was most comfortable when people were 6 to 8 feet away and she strongly disliked being approached from behind. It was good reason. The worst beating of her life started when her back was turned. She was incredibly smart but lacked self-esteem or confidence. She shared with me intimate details of her life. It was a sign of trust and I never took it for granted.

 

Our professional world changed when we used our soft skills consistently.

We took the risk of using our soft skills every day — no matter the circumstance. By being ourselves and using our soft skills, everyone benefited. They enabled all of us to succeed. People noticed the changes in our interactions. Others who were reluctant to approach them gave them another chance.

Eli got a raise and a promotion because he started working better with other co-workers and his department’s performance dramatically increased.

Tammy started working on research and development projects – one of her career goals and helped solve some scrap issues.

 

Soft skills opened the doors of opportunity, made work a bit more enjoyable and removed some barriers to success.

Soft skills matter. They power performance and engagement. Develop them!

Image source: Avery Morrow via Unsplash.com