The business world is very good at teaching, celebrating and rewarding hard skills such as coding, engineering, copywriting or strategic planning. We instinctively understand the years of training, practice and hard work that go into achieving excellence in these fields. On the flip side, when it comes to soft skills, such as building trust or persuasion, we assume that they are inborn or “natural.”
But soft skills are seldom as natural as they appear. The people who have mastered skills such as persuasiveness, empathy or active listening required the same years of hard work that goes into mastering data analysis or engineering. It’s crucial that you focus on developing your soft skills while continuing to hone your craft.
There is no way a short form like this can make you a soft-skills ninja in just one read, but there are a few things you can focus on and practice immediately: making persuasive arguments, running a solid meeting and creating a team culture where you never settle for good.
1. Be more persuasive in your writing style.
No matter what your job is, one of your most important responsibilities is to advocate — for your work, your team, more resources, better compensation, etc. Far too many potential leaders ask for things by making haphazard arguments rooted in emotion and long-winded stories.
You can learn how to advocate with rigor by employing what I call the CRER Formula. This formula stems from my own experiences and lessons coming up in the industry. When I was a junior employee, I tended to write with a flowery and emotional tone. I won points for persuasion and passion, but ultimately, I lost more points for lack of brevity and organization. I realized that I needed a simple way to distill and organize my argument when writing if I wanted to persuade those senior to me — cue the CRER Formula.
First, lay out the context behind your ask. What’s going on? What do you want? Explain the risk-reward profile. What does the organization risk if you don’t follow this course? What reward will there be if you do? Provide an overview of the economics of your ask — a rough, unflinching estimate of time and resource investment. And wrap it up with your final recommendation, restating your request and asking for approval by a hard deadline.
2. Plan ahead to run meetings with focus and efficiency.
Meetings are, perhaps, the business world’s greatest sin: expensive, frustrating and often poorly managed. It is crucial that you learn to run the meeting and that you don’t let the meeting run you.
Use meetings to debate, not to inform. Share a deck or any prework along with a clear agenda 24 hours in advance so that everyone is up to speed. If you spend 15 minutes of a 30-minute meeting on the recap, then only 50% of your time is available for problem-solving and decision making.
Be polite yet ruthless with attendee lists; no one may join to “stay in the loop.” And speaking of polite, cut off distractions — politely. You’re there to discuss something specific, not to follow every tangent that comes up.
3. Refuse to settle for ‘good enough.’
Becoming a manager is a big career step. You’re now responsible for the performance of a team, and your ability to succeed is now tied to theirs. If you had to evaluate each person on your team from a scale of 1-10, you might have some 1s, 2s, 3s, and 4s — people who are poor fits for the role. You likely have some superstars, the all-around fantastic 8s, 9s and 10s. And then you have your 5s, 6s and 7s — the middle of the pack.
Of all these figures, who presents the biggest challenge? The 6.
Why? Because they’re camped out in the land of “good enough,” and if you let them stick around, the rest of your team will follow. A 7 with the potential to excel and become a 10 won’t bother if they see they can get away with “good enough.” And a 10 that’s busting their butt while the 6 gets a pass won’t stick around for long.
It’s important to institute a review system for your company that creates healthy conflict and choice. The 1-10 notion above is not a review system. It’s merely a way to get across the point that 6s must be acknowledged. Instead, I’ve found that a 5-point scale system is ideal, where only a few people can attain a 5 (crushes expectations) or a 4 (exceeds expectations). A good review system means that a 3 (meets expectations) is even hard to attain.
This forces choice and constructive conversations between the manager and the employee. The key when implementing a new review system is change management and making sure folks understand what the new system means. For example, it’s hard for someone who is used to hearing they’re amazing but is now just a 4. However, ultimately, there is nothing healthy about a culture where choice and forks in the road are not created and everyone gets a high-five and a 5. Whatever system you use, make sure it establishes choice and healthy conflict.
Soft Skills Matter Now More Than Ever
I believe there’s a desperate need across industries for a greater focus on soft skills. And as AI and automation take on a more prominent role both in industry and day-to-day life, this need will only become more urgent.
For companies to address this means investing in active training of current employees, including soft skill evaluation in internal review processes, and establishing recruitment filters that value a high emotional IQ as much as a high GPA. But on an individual level, don’t wait for your company to make this a priority — you need to make it a priority for your career advancement. With persistence and practice, you can hone the soft skills that will help you continue to climb the ladder.
Read More : Forbes