Whether you want to make new friends or land that job, taking an inventory of your skills is one of the first steps toward creating that new reality. People are social beings and are drawn towards others that demonstrate specific characteristics. The quality of person-to-person interactions is dependant on the variety of the participants’ skills.
Being able to self-assess and identify your current personal skills is a start. From there, you’ll need to determine which abilities are lacking. Once you’ve established these two sets, you are on track to forming better relationships.
Going a step further, long-term employment satisfaction also heavily relies on your skills and the skills of your coworkers and managers. You can not control the actions of others. However, you are entirely in command of your own. Thus, if you find yourself lacking in a particular aspect, you can choose to work on its improvement.
Studies have shown that employers seek employees that are skilled in:
- Written communication
Since these particular skills are in such high demand, we’ll begin with a discussion of these four personal skills to improve along with several subsets of abilities. You will notice as we examine them that many of these skills are overlapping.
Personal Skills to Improve: Problem Solving
More than 83% of employers in the study mentioned above say that they look for candidates that have strong problem-solving skills. Companies rely on their employees to be able to identify and solve problems that come up in day-to-day activities. A minor problem that can not be resolved quickly and efficiently could become a significant issue, costing the company time and money.
Practical problem solving requires a combination of critical thinking, effective communication, and creativity. Problem-solving isn’t only for work situations. Learning to solve problems successfully in your personal life will enrich your relationships and overall quality of life. When you can analyze and find solutions for your budgeting, overcome short-term crises, and open your mind to opportunities, you are on your way to a happy future.
Critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue. It may require ordering, contrasting, comparing, evaluation, and selecting the best option among several alternatives.
Having a thorough understanding of the problem also means that the critical thinker is well-versed in the skills specific to his or her field. For instance, a doctor would not be able to examine an illness critically, if he or she did not have a solid grounding of the medical situation the patient is presenting.
To improve your critical thinking, you can begin by questioning general assumptions. Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it is the most efficient method. Questioning assumptions doesn’t imply that you challenge every work assignment you get. Instead, look at alternatives and try them out.
Maybe you have always done your report writing in the mornings because the general assumption is that everyone is freshest earlier in the day. However, perhaps you work best after lunch when the high priority items have been attended to, giving you more time to concentrate on the more complex topics such as report writing. Examining your work rhythms critically while questioning the assumption of the order of the daily activities might just give you better results.
A second way to refine your critical thinking skills is to practice reasoning through logic, rather than emotion or generalization. Consider how logical a decision is, paying particular attention to flaws in the argument. Just because sales improved after a specific marketing endeavor doesn’t mean the change in marketing caused an increase in sales. Perhaps the marketing campaign coincided with the typical holiday rush, and in fact, sales were lower than prior years in comparison.
Creativity uses your imagination to generate a large number of ideas beyond the obvious solutions. This process requires you to draw a connection or make inferences that may not be immediately visible to everyone. It may also call upon your prediction and conceptualization skills to envision a solution to the problem using alternative methods.
You may need to be more creative in your problem-solving techniques when there is not an obvious solution at hand or when the outcome is uncertain. Coming up with a variety of solutions with several different scenarios can help you narrow in on the best approach. You may also need to add some creativity when there is disagreement on what needs to happen next among your co-workers or management staff. In this case, a creative solution may solve the problem while taking the needs of affected personnel into account.
Your creativity can be improved by using specific techniques such as brainstorming, mind-mapping, role-play, and drawing, which activate the right side of the brain. Creativity can also be fostered by being open to new experiences, learning new skills unrelated to your field, and interacting with a broader and more diverse group of people. Making a concerted effort to expand your world in these ways will encourage your brain to make new connections and result in more creative solutions.
Even if you have the best idea in the world for a particular problem, if you are unable to communicate your ideas effectively, then that solution might just be overlooked. Therefore, effective communication is another one of the personal skills to improve.
Improving your verbal communication skills starts with thinking through and organizing your ideas before speaking. Having a clear plan will help eliminate awkward pauses and stumbling over your words. If you are preparing for a presentation, writing down what you want to say in order will help your speech go more smoothly.
A second way you can improve your verbal communication is by being transparent and precise in your sentence structure and word choice. Writing in this way means keeping your audience in mind as you speak. What might be clear and concise terminology for a group of electrical engineers might not be understandable to your Uncle Bob, who has no background in engineering.
Thus, problem-solving, which includes critical thinking, effective communication, and creativity, is a high priority personal skill to improve. Doing so will enhance both your work and personal relationships and lead to a better quality of life.
Working well on a team is valued by 83% of employers. Again, knowing how to get along is a useful skill to have in your relationships outside of work as well.
To become a good team player, you should work at being genuine in your interactions. Even if you aren’t interested in the topic under discussion, pay attention to show the speaker respect. Find ways to express your attention through body language, eye contact, and thoughtful questions.
A person who excels at teamwork will be responsible and reliable. Other members of the team know that they can depend on you to do your part. On the other hand, unreliable team members cause frustration and anger among the group.
Learning how to work well in a group is essential for a happy family life too. Each family member has his or her responsibilities to uphold the family so that it can work as a unit. Some members may be income providers. Others may prepare nourishing food, while others may still be in charge of maintaining a clean home.
Written communication is no less important than verbal communication. Being able to write and communicate well is a skill in demand of more than 80% of employers. Written communication creates a permanent record of ideas, facts, and proposals. Written communications are also representations of the company. Poor grammar, spelling mistakes, and informality detract from the professionalism any business should have.
Verbal communication sometimes is subject to misinterpretation or miscommunication. Have you ever played the game ‘telephone’ and laughed at the garbled words at the end of the line? Written communication is a way to avoid this confusion both in the workplace and in personal relationships.
Your written communication skills can be improved with practice. Both paragraphs and sentences should be short and concise. Capitalize the first word of each sentence and end with appropriate punctuation. When responding to inquiries or detailing a proposal, you should be clear and to the point.
Use spell checkers and grammar apps to improve your writing. If necessary, have someone else read through what you have written to check for completeness. Take the time to find the exact work you are looking for to express your ideas. Use an online thesaurus for variety. You might even want to enroll in a writing course to hone your skills.
Not every position requires a leader. However, 72% of employers polled felt that a quality employee has superior leadership skills. Being a good leader encompasses mastery of specific skills. These skills include the ability to actively listen, plan strategically, organize, and resolve conflicts among team members. Also, leaders are effective at verbal and written communications and are successful creative problem-solvers.
Active Listening Capability
Leaders have excellent listening skills. They can demonstrate their attention by making direct eye contact with the speaker and use paraphrasing to show their understanding. Leaders also excel at relating what they heard accurately to a third party. They can listen respectfully, without becoming emotional or defensive. Leaders also can keep confidence when asked to, proving their integrity to others.
Even if you aren’t a team leader, bettering your active listening skills will benefit you professionally and personally. Listening reduces frictions, boosts the depths of your connection with the speaker, and improves communication. You open an avenue to earn the other person’s trust when you actively listen. By genuinely listening to what someone is saying, you are also able to understand his or her situation.
You can improve your active listening skills by reducing internal and external distractions. Don’t listen to respond. Tune out background noises and side conversations so you can devote your full attention to what is being said.
Ask follow-up questions and paraphrase what you have heard to check for comprehension. Make eye contact regularly. Eye contact with acquaintances, strangers, and managers can be challenging for some people.
If eye contact makes you uncomfortable, start by making eye contact with TV characters. Then work your way up to making eye contact with people you are comfortable with. Aim for about 70% eye contact with periods of looking away as you nod your head or make a hand gesture so as not to intimidate the speaker.
Strategic Planning Skills
Strategic planning at the professional level includes documenting your company’s income, expenses, focus, products, services, and budgets while determining how those may change in the future. The business’s mission, vision, values, long-term goals, and action plans are encapsulated. However, one study indicated that fewer than half of all the participants were satisfied with their business’s approach to planning.
Strategic planning is also one of the personal skills to improve. Knowing the difference between your income and your expenses will help you create a budget that you can stick to. Creating a savings plan for long-term investments, such as your children’s college education, a new car, or a down payment on a house, requires strategic planning skills.
To improve your strategic planning, you’ll need to create a formal process to keep track of the current situation. Will you save all your receipts in a box or use a spreadsheet program? Then once you know where you stand, decide how you will make decisions on whether something happens or not in the future.
Make sure your goals are specific and realistic. For instance, if you’d like to reduce your food expenditures, decide if you will eat out twice a week or whenever you are hungry. What do you do when you’ve already met the eating out quota? How can you plan to avoid going over the allowance?
If you are doing strategic planning at a business level, get the board of directors or team managers onboard with the plan. If you are planning for personal improvement, make sure family members are aware of the new policy. Be sure to communicate effectively with everyone involved so that there are no misunderstandings.
Continue to monitor how well you are doing. Periodically, check compliance and make adjustments when necessary. Remember, strategic planning is a fluid rather than a fixed process.
Being organized is an excellent skill to acquire. Not only will you save time, but you will also get the reputation of being reliable. Everyone appreciates a competent person! Being organized will help you get things done more efficiently at home and work. If becoming better organized is one of your goals, then here are some things you can do.
Prepare your day, week, month, and even a year in advance. Use those strategic planning skills you’ve acquired to determine what you must do and when.
Make lists with that information. What do you need to do today to complete the week’s activities? Prioritize the items. Then prioritize your time. Spend your time on worthwhile efforts, not distractions like a Netflix binge.
Create a schedule keeping the tasks of the highest priority in mind. Start earlier rather than later. Once the top priority tasks are done, you’ll often find you have plenty of time for relaxation and fun. Consider your time constraints and preferences. If you get more done while the kids are napping in the afternoon, schedule important tasks for that time.
Minimize distractions. Turn your phone off, don’t check your email, and stay off of Facebook while you are working on something. If Bob in the next cubicle likes to chat, set boundaries. Tell him you are working on something right now, but you’ll catch up with him during the lunch hour.
A place for everything and everything in its place should become your motto. Devise a workstation organizational system, whether you work in an office or at home. Don’t allow papers to pile up. Consider investing in a filing cabinet in which to keep relevant documents. Do the same for your files on your computer.
Conflict Management and Resolution Abilities
Conflict management and resolution is the ability to recognize and mitigate disputes in a balanced manner. Good leaders have developed this skill, which allows the workplace environment to be relatively problem-free. Conflict management is also an excellent skill to work on at home for happy family life.
To effectively manage conflict, everyone involved must learn how to communicate effectively and be active listeners. At times, creativity and critical thinking skills are required to solve problems that arise. Another ability that is in demand in this situation is good negotiating skills.
As we’ve already discussed the other components to successful conflict resolution, let’s concentrate on negotiation. The process of mediation is a form of back and forth communication in which two opposing sides try to reach an agreement when not all of the interests are shared. Conciliation certainly is not confined to the business world. We negotiate with our friends and family, neighbors, even at the market.
Ideally, both parties leave with the feeling that they have made a good deal. Therefore, one of the foremost skills needed to negotiate successfully is being able to determine what it is that the other person wants. This process requires active listening and effective written or verbal communication.
The second step is deciding what it is that you need from this transaction. Again, communication is vital as you need to be able to express what you want with minimal misunderstandings.
Don’t be afraid to offer creative solutions if negotiation reaches an impasse. Open dialogue, coupled with brainstorming, might just provide the happy result you both are looking for.
Other Personal Skills to Improve
Now that we’ve covered the four top skills looked for by employers and their related sets of sub-skills, there are a few other personal skills to improve. These include:
- Willingness to learn
- Positive work ethic
- Multicultural sensitivity
Willingness to Learn
One survey indicated that managers and executives believe that abilities can best be developed in students rather than experienced workers. Therefore, they may concentrate their efforts on hiring new graduates instead of training workers they already have. This notion might mean you are out of a job one day unless you demonstrate the learning spirit.
Having a willingness to learn means that you want to be more qualified and stay up to date with changes in your professional and personal life. You have a desire to improve your skills and competencies. Incorporating a willingness to learn in your life will help you generate more creative ideas, provide opportunities for business and personal advancement, help you manage the unexpected, and improve your self-confidence.
You can show that you have the right attitude for life-long learning by being open to suggestions and advice. Critical feedback doesn’t have to be negative. Use it as a springboard for learning how you can improve.
Meeting or reading about inspiring people will also foster your willingness to learn. Others have had experiences that you may be faced with as well. Discovering how they overcame adversity or created a fulfilling life despite the odds can provide you with the motivation to do it yourself.
Don’t be afraid of failure. After all, we only really ever learn from our mistakes. Failure means you may not have the skills or capabilities or knowledge needed to succeed. Look critically at the experience to pinpoint what more you can learn so that the next time will be a resounding success.
When there is an opportunity for you to take a course, attend a workshop, or be involved in additional training, take it. The skills you learn in that setting might not directly relate to your current position, but they may be just what you need to apply for a promotion or succeed in another aspect of your life.
Positive Work Ethic
Related to having a willingness to learn is developing a positive work ethic. A positive work ethic means that in whatever you do, you are giving your best effort. When you have a positive work ethic, you demonstrate your dedication to the job or relationship, doing whatever it takes to create a positive environment.
Part of this is being dependable. You don’t need nagging to complete tasks promptly. You arrive at meetings or events on time and ready to begin. Both of these traits contribute to higher productivity. Simply put, you get more done than someone who is bellyaching about the job or responsibility they’ve been given.
Because you have a positive work ethic, others are more than happy to work with you. You can communicate effectively and actively listen, so people feel that you are empathic and supportive. You demonstrate respect to coworkers and managers in this way as well.
The best way to enhance your positive work ethic is to find value in what you do, even in the most mundane tasks. Doing so will improve your overall attitude about work and life in general.
The last personal skill we will discuss in this article is multicultural sensitivity. Increasingly, business and personal relationships cross-cultural borders. Becoming multiculturally sensitive allows you to recognize differences and similarities between people without judgment.
When you understand that there are inherent differences in communication styles, values, and work ethics among cultures, you open the door to reducing miscommunications and the need for conflict management. Fewer instances in need of conflict resolution, in turn, create a more positive work or home environment.
The first step is to learn about your own culture if you wish to improve your cultural sensitivity. If you belong to a dominant culture, look at how others within your group speak about those of minority cultures. Consider if you have internalized these biases and prejudices.
The second step is to learn about other cultures, focusing primarily on those that you come into regular contact with. Notice the similarities and differences in mannerisms and word usage. Learning a second or third language also expands on how you see and interpret the world.
Finally, establish relationships with people from a different culture than your own. Getting to know individuals within a culture will go a long way in proving or disproving group generalizations you may have.
Improving your skills will go a long way in bettering opportunities at work and the quality of your relationships. As you can see, many of the skills are overlapping. For instance, problem-solving includes effective communication, and effective communication requires active listening skills.
Whether you are looking for a more fulfilling job or a relationship, working on refining your skills is a good idea. All of the skills mentioned can be improved with diligence, determination, and time. The more personal skills you possess, the more well-rounded you are as an individual. Well-rounded individuals are happier at work and home than those with limited skill sets. So, what are you waiting for? Pick a skill you want to master and begin today!