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Intern Inks: Soft Skills

I promised a blog post on soft skills, so here I am to deliver.

I had a mentor this past year who often complimented me on my soft skills. I went home and looked the term up, and found that it meant, “working well with others.” That was one of the kindest compliments I’d ever been given. With a hopeful future in public relations, knowing how to work well with people is a requirement.

Sadly, soft skills aren’t taught as effectively as hard skills. We go to school for hard skills, and inadvertently pick up on soft skills—such as being a good leader, a respectful listener, and a confident communicator. We learn those from our parents, our internships, and through people watching. The unfortunate part is that most people learn how to display soft skills during their interview, and then throw them out the window when they get the job.

That happens, in a large part, because maintaining soft skills is challenging. When you don’t get along with someone, don’t agree with them, can’t begin to understand them, why is it necessary to exchange niceties and continue working together?

There are a multitude of reasons, but a big one is that we don’t have unlimited choice in our lives. We chose our industry and profession, but we can’t always control who to work with or what to work on. If we are disrespectful to the people we work with, or complain about the project we were tasked with, it reflects poorly on the company, and in turn, the work environment.

Thankfully, everyone at Blackbird loves one another and our office radiates positive energy. There’s always music playing and lively discussion occurring. But I’ve faced tension in offices I’ve worked in before, and it takes a toll on more than just the intimate parties involved.

In addition to the work you’re required to do at your offices, I challenge you to pick a couple soft skills to really workshop this summer. Your people skills will be useful to you long after your portfolio.

Here are a few soft skills I have tried hard to perfect over the course of my professional career.

First Impressions—Interview to office

Being yourself in your interview will repay you in the end. Don’t talk yourself up as someone you’re not. At my Blackbird interview I was honest about my hobbies and my downfalls. I asked a lot of questions. I tried to let a bit of my humor show, but still be professional. If you are super professional in your interview, say you have no imperfections, and give scripted answers you think the employer wants to hear, it either, A. won’t get you the job because they’ll see right through you or, B. set you up for a tough time in the office, if you are striving to maintain this level of perfectionism you displayed in your interview. Be professional, but be truthful, too!

Be an active listener—It’s not just about you

Your ideas and input are important and valued, but so are your co-workers. Don’t dictate the conversation. Instead, when others are speaking, take notes and generate conversation based off their ideas. Don’t just let others speak while you think about what you’re going to say next. This goes for co-workers, clients, investors, bosses, interns, and those sharing verbal complaints. In most cases, it’s not about you, so listen to other people and work off of their comments, critiques, and ideas. You won’t leave your job with new skills and knowledge if it was all about you, you, you. Sometimes you learn the most when you’re executing an idea or event that someone else came up with.

Maintain positive body language

When you’re in conversation with someone, be conscious of your body language. It can tell a person more than your words can. If you’re slouched over, aren’t maintaining eye contact, twiddling your thumbs, sighing often, or have a stern look on your face, people can quickly infer your thoughts and attitude toward a situation. Remember to sit or stand up straight, nod, maintain strong eye contact, and have your body be as present in discussion as your mind is. If you’re tired and it shows, get a coffee!

Have a hand at conflict resolution

Handling conflict is not just a boss’s job. You can initiate conflict resolution with your co-worker if you’re running into issues. Once discussion starts, make sure it’s solution-oriented, and try to find a middle ground. Respectfully disagree and don’t discredit the other person’s opinions. Lastly, be truthful about what they did to prompt this meeting. If you’ve made plans to talk over the conflict, don’t avoid the issue. Managing conflict will make you a more confident and understanding leader, speaker, and stress handler.

Be patient, respectful and adaptable

Nothing stays stagnant for too long. Plans will change, hurdles will appear out of nowhere, someone won’t like your pitch and ask you to start over, or your client may be wishy-washy. Whatever the obstacle, it is important not to get too worked up about it. Spend a day upset, and come tomorrow with a fresh attitude. Your boss will take note of your ability to remain calm under pressure, and your adaptability in the wake of change. Praise, thanks or rewards may not come right away—and they may not come at all—but you will be respected by your co-workers and depended on in future situations. Be easy-going and resilient.

Write Well

Please, please know how to write. Know your there/they’re/theirs and your noun-verb agreements. To improve your writing, you can do a few simple things: type your text messages as you would to your boss—don’t misspell things or abbreviate “you” to “u.” Jot down a few lines about your day in a journal and then read them aloud. If it doesn’t sound correct, it probably isn’t. Re-read your emails before sending them, and make sure you’re spelling people’s names correctly. Doing the small things wrong are the biggest red flags when it comes to writing.

Thanks so much for following along. It’s never too late to improve your people skills! Start by helping a co-worker when they’re stressed, writing a nice thank you email, or asking your boss about their weekend (but make sure you’re active listening)!