Written by Emilie Brunet
Not paying enough attention to developing your soft skills will stop you from moving ahead in your career — regardless of how skilled you are technically.
Here are 6 soft skills that are important and how to start working on improving them.
This should be the most important skill that you develop regardless of whether or not you’re looking for a career in tech.
Learning how to communicate your ideas, thoughts, and feedback in a clear way will get you far in any industry.
In tech roles, it’s important to learn how to present and speak about complicated technical information to people who are non-technical. Web Developers are not always going to be speaking to other Web Developers. Data Scientists are not always going to be speaking to other Data Scientists.
You need to learn to communicate with stakeholders, managers, clients, the marketing team, or anyone else in the company without over-complicating it with technical jargon.
In addition, more and more tech roles are moving into remote settings. Communicating in a remote environment can be incredibly challenging.
When you start a new role, take the time to figure out what type of communication your manager, your direct report and your colleagues prefer. See if the company already has a system in place for communication “best practices”. Notice which areas you struggle with, and make a point to work on those areas.
Check out this popular course on Coursera for Improving Communication Skills.
Heavily tied to the skill of communication, learning how to effectively give feedback is important for success in any role.
The most common mistake with this skill is believing that “giving feedback” means always giving your opinion at any given time in any given way.
But giving feedback in a clear, humble, approachable and specific way is a skill in and of itself.
There are whole articles and courses for leaders on how to properly give feedback, but here are some key things to keep in mind:
This isn’t always possible, especially if you’re a manager, but taking the time to learn how your direct reports and colleagues prefer to get feedback will go along way in building your relationships with them
You can do this by using “I” statements and avoiding “you” statements. Make sure that your feedback has specific action points tied to it. Vaguely stating that you don’t like something doesn’t actually help anyone. What don’t you like? What needs to be changed?
No one wants to be criticized in front of their colleagues. It doesn’t feel okay and can lead to a toxic work environment. Shout your praise and positive feedback from the rooftops, but keep your harsher feedback to one-to-ones.
This feels like it should be obvious, but being conscious of your tone of voice, your mannerism and your facial expressions so that you are conveying feedback in a kind but direct way is really key to maintaining your colleagues trust and respect.
These are just a few of the ways to start giving effective feedback, but this article by Asana goes into more detail (including why the “sandwich” feedback method isn’t always the best choice).
Giving feedback can be tough because no matter how good you are at the skill of giving feedback, if the person you are speaking to does not have the skill of “receiving feedback” it makes it much more difficult.
Giving feedback is just one half of the feedback skills. You can be incredibly good at giving feedback, but if you struggle with receiving it, it’ll be hard to excel in your role.
Tied pretty extensively to emotional regulation (which we’ll dive into next), being able to receive feedback without losing your sh*t is really important in a professional environment.
Here are some tips on receiving feedback:
We sometimes think that all feedback = bad feedback. But feedback almost always helps us to improve and hone our skills. Shifting your mindset to one that wants feedback will allow you to continuously improve your craft.
Just like any skill, the more you practice it, the more you’ll improve. So asking for feedback often gives you the opportunity to work on that skill -- it also makes it feel more in your control rather than feeling like you’re always getting unsolicited feedback.
Asking someone for “general” feedback is not always helpful and may result in you getting feedback on things that you aren’t prioritizing. Try to ask for specific feedback, for example, “Can you give me feedback on the tone of this article?” or “What are three things you think I could change in this presentation to make it clearer for the client to understand?” or “What do you think I can do next time to improve my facilitation in the meeting?”
We’ll get into this on the next point, but being able to separate your emotional self from the work that you are doing is a key skill to develop in order to improve on your ability to receive feedback. Remember that feedback is not about you, it’s about the work. This is really hard to remember when you’re right in the thick of getting feedback — especially if it’s harsher than you’d like — but emotional regulation can help you do this.
This article dives into how to better utilize feedback for professional development.
Emotional regulation is a highly underrated skill but is the difference between a professional and a non-professional. There’s nothing that gives away your lack of experience in a workplace quite like not being emotionally regulated in the face of difficult situations.
Emotional regulation is not just a professional skill but a life skill and it’s one that will likely be the hardest and take the longest time to develop.
Whether it’s dealing with a stressful situation, receiving harsh feedback, managing a workplace conflict, dealing with a passive-aggressive colleague, emotional intelligence can go a long way.
If you find yourself easily annoyed, frustrated and angry at work, here are a few tips:
I know it’s cheesy and not a new concept, but it’s because it truly works. Deep inhalations followed by a slow exhalation is an immediate way to move your body away from the “fight or flight” mode we get into in stressful situations
Making decisions at work when you’re angry will almost always lead to negative consequences. Take the time to pause, step away and come back to the situation when you have a clearer head.
It might sound weird. But sometimes when work is so stressful, it can be really hard to remember that we exist outside of work - that we are complex humans who have hobbies, passions, interests and connections that don’t exist in the workplace. Tapping into and remembering our lives outside of work, can be a way to separate ourselves from the work and approach it from a place that is not inherently tied to our emotions.
There are whole courses, books and lectures on emotional regulation. This article dives into it a little more. And if you struggle a lot with this, taking a course on understanding techniques and strategies for emotional regulation will go a long way in your professional life.
As someone who worked in administrative roles for 10+ years, I underestimated the skills that I developed during that time. It wasn’t until I was speaking with an old colleague who didn’t even know what I thought were “basic” calendar management skills that I understood the importance of administrative skills in the workplace.
It doesn’t matter how good your technical skills are, if you struggle with checking, sending and crafting professional emails, keeping your calendar organized and up to date, saving documents and locating them again in the future, etc, there’s only so far that you can go.
When hired in a new role, taking the time to understand what systems they use and developing skills to use those systems more efficiently will make your job much easier.
For example, does the company work with Google Workspace? Take the time to understand how to properly set up your Google Calendar and get into the habit of using it regularly, learn how to organize your Gmail Inbox, how to organize your Google Drive and how to work with Google Meet.
It might seem relatively silly of a skill if you already know how to do it, but for those that don’t, it can make a huge difference. Consistently missing meetings, not replying to emails in a timely manner, and fumbling with Google Meet in important calls can all scream “unprofessional”. So take the time to deepen and stay up to date on these skills to stay organized and move forward in your career.
While technically three separate skills, they are intrinsically linked. Being autonomous and resourceful are important in problem-solving and it’s very hard to be autonomous if you aren’t very resourceful or good at problem-solving.
Developing these skills takes time. It can feel very hard to be autonomous when you are just starting off in a new industry. But being resourceful is a key skill that anyone in any industry can develop.
Resourcefulness, problem-solving and autonomy can look like:
Demonstrating an ability to work and problem-solve independently is incredibly important when trying to excel in the tech industry.
Beyond the ones highlighted above, other soft skills to develop include: Critical Thinking, Adaptability, Innovation, Self-Learning and Self-Awareness, Time Management, etc.
Which soft skills do you struggle with? Which ones have you developed that have made a difference in your career?
I'm the People & Culture Manager at Journey Education. I have always had a passion for writing, organization and finding creative solutions. I aim to be personable, empathetic and compassionate and believe that kindness can go along way in both business and life.
Having worked and organized with anti-capitalist, feminist and queer organizations, I strongly believe that EVERYONE deserves, not just a living wage, but a thriving wage and that it should be the priority of every business to create an inclusive, caring and diverse work environment that doesn't just ensures the work happens, but allows people to be people while the work is happening!
My approach to everything I do reflects my training in trauma-informed practices, active listening and harm reduction as well as my interest in understand the way people work, behave and exist as their full human self. I want to create safer spaces for people to explore, create and excel in a supportive environment - whether that's in life or at work.