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10 Types of Soft Skills to Develop to Stay Competitive in the Workplace

According to a report compiled by the Institute for the Future, 85% of the jobs that will be available in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.

If that number sounds high, consider how many of today’s jobs didn’t exist 10 to 20 years ago. The Internet was in its infancy 20 years ago, and social media didn’t exist. The very concept of a “search engine” was brand-new. Blogs weren’t a thing yet. Brick-and-mortar businesses were dipping their toes into the digital waters by setting up simple websites, mostly because it was trendy.

Ten years ago, cryptocurrencies, crowdfunding websites, 3D printing, virtual reality, and machine learning didn’t exist. Marijuana was still being smuggled in Cessnas, not a legal industry worth over $10 billion in the United States alone.

An economy evolving this rapidly poses a serious conundrum: How can today’s workers prepare for tomorrow’s jobs?

Sure, you can try to learn every new programming language that’s invented or every new marketing gimmick, year in and year out. But the trouble with hard skills is that they change, and in today’s world, technology and its related hard skills change faster than ever.

Instead of sprinting on a technology treadmill, here are 10 soft skills that are increasingly useful in nearly every career path.

Soft Skills That Are Useful for Every Career Path

1. Negotiation

Whether you’re an employee or entrepreneur, you need to know how to negotiate to get more of what you want.

When you go to ask your boss for a raise, you don’t fall on your knees and beg; you negotiate. When you want higher rates for your freelance work, you don’t yell and scream and issue ultimatums; you negotiate. When you want lower prices from your suppliers or lower rent from your landlord – well, you get the idea.

Negotiation is a skill. It takes patience and effort to learn, and it takes practice. Start with these negotiation techniques that anyone can use to score a better deal, and don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Make your own luck and set your own terms through skillful negotiation.

2. Persuasion

If negotiation is the art of give and take, persuasion is the art of leading others to a conclusion – specifically, the conclusion you want them to reach.

You can’t get your way through bullying or sheer force of will in today’s, or tomorrow’s, workplace. Instead, you must learn how to win people over by aligning them with your vision.

Anyone who does marketing, including all entrepreneurs, should pay particular attention to developing their persuasiveness. Each sale, after all, requires you to convince the customer that their life would be better with your product or service.

Honing your persuasiveness is an enormous part of becoming a charismatic leader. People follow charismatic leaders of their own accord, with no resentment or feeling that they were coerced. If you dream of management, executive leadership, or launching your own business, persuasion will ease the friction and resistance.

Learn to attract rather than push others if you want to become a leader. Try Robert Cialdini’s excellent book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” to win over everyone from hiring managers and bosses to customers and coworkers.

3. Conflict Management

You didn’t get along with everyone you knew 10 years ago, you don’t get along with everyone today, and you won’t get along with everyone 10 years from now. Humans don’t “all just get along.” But some people are better able than others to smooth ruffled feathers and win over even the prickliest of compatriots. They find ways to settle disputes and move on with no hard feelings.

Learning tactful-yet-firm conflict management techniques is one of the keys to success in climbing the corporate ladder. Even if you’re an entrepreneur or work at a small business, you’re going to encounter difficult coworkers, clients, or vendors. And if you ever experience workplace bullying, adept conflict management skills will help put an end to it calmly yet firmly.

The average worker wastes nearly three hours per week on conflict, according to education consultancy firm EAB. Not only is this lost time, but it’s also time spent angry, stressed, and unhappy.

Don’t let conflicts fester. Develop the skills to cool tempers and solve disputes quickly and effectively so that you can convert your rivals into your greatest supporters and gain increasing support in your company.

4. Time Management

Our modern lives are crowded and encroached on from all angles. Phones ringing, emails chirping, chat messages, social media – they’re all productivity killers. The average worker receives 121 emails per day, per a report by the Radicati Group.

We are each increasingly responsible for managing our own time. Worldwide, 70% of professionals now telecommute at least one day per week, according to a 2018 study reported by CNBC. And more workers join the gig economy every year, as demonstrated by a 2018 Gallup poll finding that 36% of American workers now participate in it. Employees, freelancers, and entrepreneurs alike assume more accountability for their time every year.

When you have more emails, phone calls, and projects than you can possibly juggle, the only solution is to learn how to quickly triage and prioritize the highest-impact work.

Reclaim more of your precious time with these time management skills. While you’re at it, start thinking more like an entrepreneur, managing the business of your career. Use these small business time management tips to block out all the demands for your attention and focus only on the most critical tasks.

5. Personal Productivity & Accountability

Closely tied to better time management is better productivity. Again, workers are increasingly accountable for their results. Every year that goes by, employers get better at measuring key performance indicators, or KPIs if you like corporate lingo.

Most employees recoil instinctively at the idea of more accountability at work. But wouldn’t you rather have a clearly defined set of expectations? It’s nice to know exactly how your performance is measured.

Imagine your boss tells you, “We expect you to produce 15 reports a month, with a client satisfaction rating of at least four out of five. If you produce more than 15 reports, we’ll pay you a small bonus per report. If you produce fewer, we’ll sit down together and form a strategy to help you get there.” That’s a lot better than endless meetings about this week’s pet projects from middle management and wondering what the heck you should prioritize.

Sit down with your supervisor and ask precise questions about how they judge your performance. Don’t relent until you know exactly what the highest and best use of your time is.

Try these tips to increase productivity, both your own and your employees’ if you have them, and watch your results improve the more accountability you take for them. If you work from home, you especially need systems in place to boost productivity and avoid distractions.

6. Stress Management

Three-quarters of Americans believe the workplace is more stressful today than it was a generation ago, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The same report found that 40% of workers say their jobs are either “very” or “extremely” stressful.

The CDC also found that job-related stress correlates more closely with health problems than either financial or family problems. As Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer explains to The Washington Post, workplace stress is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, linked to 120,000 early deaths and $190 billion in health care costs every year.

The good news is that many of the soft skills on this list are interconnected. When you’re clear on your boss’s expectations and what constitutes productivity, it’s easier to prioritize, which is a key to time management. And the better you are at managing your time and productivity, the better you’ll be at managing stress levels.

No one can take your stress away from you. Only you can do that, and not by quitting and running off to Antarctica, either. Learn how to master your job stress to avoid work burnout, or let your stress continue being the master of you.

7. Effective Writing

Everyone needs to know how to write. With more communication happening by email, text message, and social media than ever before, effective writing is no longer optional; it’s mission-critical.

Fair or not, people judge your intelligence based on your writing. Your colleagues, clients, and boss notice when you confuse “their” with “there.” They notice when you write run-on sentences, waste their time with long, rambling emails, or just plain can’t communicate what you’re trying to say. Persuasion doesn’t happen only when you open your mouth; it also happens when you open an email draft and start typing.

Start with these steps to improve your business writing skills, regardless of your profession, to learn to write succinctly and persuasively.

If you’re interested in a side gig that involves writing, such as blogging or social media marketing, go a step further and start gathering objective feedback about your writing. Find a writing mentor or coach if needed. The more you improve your writing skills, the more money you can earn freelancing.

8. Financial Literacy

Pensions are an endangered species, and employer contribution plans such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s aren’t available to contract workers in the growing gig economy. Social Security benefits effectively shrank by 30% between 2000 and 2017, according to a study by the Senior Citizens League.

The theme should sound familiar by now: You’re increasingly responsible for your own results. That goes beyond your work results and extends into your finances.

To survive in tomorrow’s world, you need to take charge of your own retirement planning. You should understand concepts such as safe withdrawal rates and know how much you need to save to retire.

Bear in mind that you don’t have complete control over your own retirement date. The sad fact is that nearly two-thirds of workers over age 50 have been forced to leave their jobs, and most older adults forced from their jobs never recover their previous income. That means the responsibility falls to you to protect your career and finances as you get older. The better your financial literacy, the better you can plot your own career and financial path. And the younger you start learning, the faster you can build wealth and control your own destiny. Start with this financial and investment advice for young adults.

Entrepreneurs particularly need financial literacy if they are to succeed in launching and managing a business. Knowing how to read balance sheets, set realistic yet ambitious financial goals, and measure progress and results all take financial literacy.

9. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is one of those terms that get thrown around a lot by gurus. But don’t be fooled by its overuse; it matters, and you should develop yours to accelerate your career.

Consider a CareerBuilder survey that found 59% of employers would not hire someone with a high IQ but low emotional intelligence. The study further found that employers are more likely to promote workers with high emotional intelligence over those with high IQs.

So what is emotional intelligence? Everyone has a slightly different definition, but the Institute for Health and Human Potential sums it up well: “the ability to recognize, understand, and manage or influence both your own and others’ emotions.” If you ever watched “The Office,” Jim and Pam showed emotional intelligence; Michael and Dwight didn’t.

Some of the soft skills above, such as persuasion and conflict management, rely on strong emotional intelligence. Marketers and salespeople use it to structure their sales pitches to appeal to customers’ emotions and desires. But no matter what your field, emotional intelligence helps you read your colleagues and communicate in a way they’ll respond to better.

And like your IQ, it’s not fixed; you can improve your emotional intelligence with effort and practice.

10. Adaptability & Ongoing Learning

The workforce is evolving faster than ever. If you don’t want to become a dinosaur, you need to evolve with it.

Commit to learning something new every day in your profession. Listen to podcasts. Read articles and books. Take online courses on platforms such as Udemy. Get out ahead of your competition, whether they’re companies or colleagues jockeying for the promotion you want.

Hard skills come and go. If you’re a marketer, the latest social media marketing tactic will work for a year or two, then fade to irrelevance as platforms change or customers grow immune to that particular tactic. Your staying power hinges not on any one hard skill but on your ability to adapt, grow, and learn every day.

If you take nothing else from this article, take this lesson to heart. It’s one of the 10 lessons I’ve learned from over 200 hours of personal development audiobooks, and it’s the key to a long, lucrative career.

Final Word

The job market in 10 years will be a very different place than it is now. Look no further than Harvard professor Clayton Christensen’s best-selling book about disruption, “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” and his assertion that 50% of colleges won’t even exist in 10 years. Whether that prediction proves true or not, what’s indisputable is that higher education has skyrocketed in cost over the last 30 years and is ripe for disruption. There may not be taxi drivers or truck drivers in 10 years with the adoption of self-driving cars. Instead there will be new jobs, in new industries, based on new skills that don’t currently exist.

If colleges and cab drivers could be disrupted out of existence, your job could be too. Don’t count on coasting your way to retirement. Develop the soft skills above and, most of all, never stop adapting and learning.

What soft skills have made the greatest difference in your career?

G. Brian Davis is a real estate investor, personal finance writer, and travel addict mildly obsessed with FIRE. He spends nine months of the year in Abu Dhabi, and splits the rest of the year between his hometown of Baltimore and traveling the world.

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