The Most Important Soft Skill?
By Cathy Milton.
I recently had an unpleasant experience with a service provider (not a career professional), and it caused me to reflect on the myriad of soft skills that people who deliver customer service have to possess in order to do the job really well. That reflection led to me to wonder what career professionals consider to be the most important soft skill in their roles. So, I asked a few.
Empathy, in my opinion, is the most important soft skill we have in our toolboxes as career professionals. It is a trait we must continuously hone so that we improve our communications with clients, who are often at crossroads in their lives. Such clients need to feel truly heard, and need to understand that we, too, have struggled and felt vulnerable at certain times throughout our lives. In sharing our own stories, we develop rapport, create deeper connections, and, in the end, deliver better results for our clients. One of the most inspiring and powerful women I follow – and try to emulate – is Brené Brown. She said it best: “Empathy fosters connection…” and, after all, connection is why we’re here.”
I think active listening is the most valuable soft skill a career professional can have. If you don’t listen to your clients and clarify where they are in their career search then you can’t serve them. Active listening also includes parking your biases, being non-judgmental, and asking open-ended questions in the communication process. Setting the conditions to be an active listener involves being present at the time the conversation is taking place. Making sure you are in a quiet location that is free of distractions, and allocating the time to converse with the client, enables a meaningful dialogue.
I believe that being skilled at communications is the most important trait a career professional can have. This means more than simply using professional language and having a friendly tone of voice. It’s a physical thing, too. It’s giving the client your undivided attention and using good eye contact. Doing these things gives the client confidence that you’re making an unwavering commitment to assist them from beginning-to-end.
Equally important is having the talent to realize when a client understands what you are teaching them. Make sure you don’t lose the person in the conversation. Observe the client’s gestures, or listen carefully for verbal clues to ensure that he or she is absorbing and understanding the coaching you’re providing.
The essential soft skill is listening; the ability to “hear” what your client is saying, to discern what is really being said, and understand the emotional subtext behind what you’re hearing. Listening is not about just waiting for an opportunity to speak yourself. As CDPs, we may feel that the answers have to come from us, which makes us eager to speak, to give value, to “earn our money,” but we must ensure that we deliver a measured reply that responds to the client’s emotional state and needs. When we’re “actively listening,” we should be looking for the signs that provide insight into what the client is feeling, saying, and needing.
I believe that the most valuable soft skill for a career professional to have is passion; passion for helping people, passion for wanting to see people find their dream career and – since people often relate their career to their personal identity – passion to help them find that, too. Your passion will demonstrate to your clients that you are doing something you simply love and that you inherently want them to succeed. It will show them that you will put forth your absolute best efforts to make their career aspirations happen.
At a workshop recently, we were asked to imagine that we were getting a one-word tattoo that afternoon. The word would be a reminder of our key strength; something we never wanted to lose. I selected the word curious. I think career professionals benefit from being curious; curious about their clients, employers, the labour market, new approaches, strategies, solutions, and technologies. I believe that curiosity drives lifelong learning. It helps us keep our knowledge and skills relevant. It keeps us resourceful and creative. And, it definitely keeps things interesting.
Resilience, or the ability to quickly recover from hardship, is crucial for the modern day professional. Much has been written about the soft skills sought by employers, which can help people succeed in today’s workplaces; however, above all others, I believe that resilience is the soft skill that’s most essential.
Like a muscle, resilience gets stronger the more it’s exercised and, fortunately, work provides plenty of opportunities to do just that. By developing reliable and effective strategies that help you bounce back from career challenges, setbacks, or adversities, you will be setting yourself up for long-term career success.
As a career coach, I rise or fall according to the relationship I build with my client. When I listen well, the probing questions flow with ease. Listening for meaning involves intuition, caring about the client, seeking understanding, and practicing empathy. Listening opens my mind to possibilities for the future and the accomplishments of the past. As well, I’ll come to understand the specific fears, obstacles, values, and desires that underpin my client’s conscious and unconscious decisions. While hard skills allow us to “do the job,” it is our soft skill of listening that will land us the job and create a lasting relationship for the future.
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