‘Soft Skills’ Can Help You Get Ahead

WALL STREET JOURNAL – After working five years as a regional director at a large health insurer in Oakland, Calif., Daniel Eddleman felt ready to move up the ladder. So he found a mentor within the company who agreed with Mr. Eddleman that his performance and leadership ability merited the promotion.

But he’d need to work on a few soft skills to clinch the job. “It can be a challenging environment to get noticed in because it’s such a big organization,” says Mr. Eddleman, who connected with a job coach who helped him identify and work on three weak areas—including the ability to self-assess, manage his emotions and brag.

“I realized that I can sometimes come on too strong. I learned to let the moment pass so I could have the space to make a calm decision. I also learned how to acknowledge my own accomplishments to the right people by feathering them into conversation, which is something that I’ve never been comfortable doing,” says Mr. Eddleman, who ended up getting the promotion to vice president.

Most people are terrible at self-assessment, a core skill that is needed to succeed, says Peggy Klaus, an executive coach from Berkeley, Calif., and author of “Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It.”

“It’s not easy to turn the mirror back on yourself and be absolutely honest,” she says. “And it’s hard for other people to give difficult feedback. But you need to encourage honest feedback from third parties…who can help give you a more objective viewpoint that you can act on.”

Although hard skills like sales and software knowledge can get you through the door, more companies are asking for soft skills as well from job candidates, finds a recent study by Millennial Branding, a consulting firm in Boston.

Soft skills refer to personal aptitudes and attitudes, such as being a good listener and communicator, that affect how people perceive you in the workplace and strongly influence workplace relationships. Fortunately, most soft skills can be adjusted or learned on your own time with some feedback from peers.

Here are a few day-to-day skills that can play a big role in determining whether you get promoted, hired or even fired:

• Compile two lists to use as an action guide. One should itemize what you do well and the second should list improvements others would like to see in you, says Gabriela Cora, an executive coach in Miami. “You have to be open for that feedback and willing to work on those points. And don’t just ask people that you’re friendly with. Ask a couple of people that you’re always competing against or people that you butt heads with.”

• Learn to control your emotions, and you should see a quick improvement in your working relationships. Uncover what your emotional triggers are so you can predict and head off any potentially rash or embarrassing responses to peers or bosses. Emotional outbursts aren’t viewed favorably in most workplaces, which is why you should just excuse yourself from meetings or work if you feel emotionally overwhelmed.

• Know your limits. This can not only preserve your health and sanity, it can keep you from exceeding your limits and making mistakes that can hurt your career. If you can only handle five of seven tasks, for instance, that’s something you need to talk to your boss about, says Ms. Klaus, who had a client who got saddled with two jobs and ended up hospitalized because of stress and overwork.

“Your manager may not even know how swamped you are if you keep taking on additional work without question,” she says. “You need to outline very specifically what’s on your plate, how much more you can handle, if any, and prioritize what needs to be done.”

Most people are uncomfortable with self-promotion, but hard work doesn’t always get noticed without a little help. There are plenty of mediocre employees who get promoted because they’re good at letting the bosses know how good they are at their jobs, says Ms. Klaus. “You simply want to let other people know who you are and what you’ve accomplished in a very gracious and artfully skillful way.” For example, don’t just boast, tell stories that frame your achievements in an entertaining narrative way.

Illustration by WESLEY BEDROSIAN. You can read the full story here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324715704578481290888822474