Networking: Improve your soft skills and become a people person

At work, your industry expertise and experience may not always be the be-all and end-all.

Of course, in hospitality and health and social support, precise technical expertise and industry know-how are incredibly important, but people skills (and more widely, soft skills) play a bigger role than people may think.

Faced with the choice between two candidates, many business owners would choose the person who demonstrated empathy and team spirit but has less experience over someone who knows the industry inside out but who comes across as arrogant or impulsive. Why is that? Well, in a healthcare setting, for example, it is much easier to train someone how to insert a drip than it is to teach them how to behave in a professional environment.

A study carried out for LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends found that, compared to hard skills, 92% of recruiters consider soft skills to be equally or more important to hire for. But if you either have it or you don’t, how can you improve your soft skills and stand out from the crowd in the world of work?

In this article, we will use the example of working in a new team with people you don’t know — a crucial skill for Talents, and one that can easily be improved… if you go about it the right way.

Assessing people skills

People skills and other soft skills are not tangible qualities that you can measure in an exam, and it is difficult to be objective when evaluating your own skills. So how do you know if you are comfortable in new environments, or if you work well in a team with people you barely know?

To find out, we need to put our people skills to the test — or rather, a double test! The first test involves putting ourselves in real-life scenarios. Answer the following questions. How do you feel when you join a new team? Are you the person that hovers in the background and doesn’t dare ask for help? Or, do you find it easy to strike up discussions with new colleagues and make positive first impressions?

Sometimes, other people know us better than we know ourselves! That’s why the second part of this test involves asking someone else, ideally someone who knows you professionally. Get in contact with an old colleague or manager, and ask them how they would rate your people skills. Perhaps their first impression of you was that you were timid when you first started, or, on the contrary, maybe you were (a bit too) self-assured and you didn’t really listen to the advice colleagues were giving you.

After every mission with Brigad, the feedback feature allows you to receive constructive feedback about your missions, which is a great way to understand your strengths and areas for improvement through concrete, recent examples. We’ll find out more about how that can be useful later.

Can you really improve your people skills?

It is easy to assume that people skills and other soft skills are innate and we can’t do anything to improve them later in life — but this would be wrong!

OK, but how can you learn to be more sociable if you are shy by nature?

In reality, like any technical skill, your soft skills are not really part of your personality, they are learnt behaviours that you can train. Let’s take an example: you are struggling to fit in to a new team because you don’t take criticism well. As a perfectionist, you take any comment about your work personally and it hurts your feelings. This characteristic can alienate your new colleagues and prevent you from getting along well with your new teammates, potentially jeopardising your future within the team.

An effective way to work on your reaction to negative feedback is to change how you perceive it. Think about it this way: a criticism about your work is not so much about your actual ability, but about how you conform to your new workplace’s pre-existing standards and practices. You can work on this soft skill step by step. The first step is being aware that this area needs work, and the key is to pay attention to your behaviours.

Set yourself a period of time (let’s say a month), during which you will pay extra attention to your reaction when someone says something about your work. Assess the way in which you react each time and how those comments make you feel. Think about what you could change or what you could do better. Then, conscientiously apply these changes the next time you are confronted with a similar situation. And of course, allow yourself time to progress and adapt at your own pace.

And there you have it! After a few months of introspective work, you have:

  1. Identified a soft skill that you could improve (perhaps with the help of people who know you best).
  2. Taken the appropriate steps to remedy the problem.
  3. Implemented change over time.

From now on, you know you can boast about your ability to learn from feedback, and perhaps even reach out for constructive criticism during each mission, knowing that it will help you integrate with your new teams and, ultimately, work better.

4 top tips for learning to work with people you don't know

Working on soft skills that seem very far from your normal character is all about learning new habits — and sticking to them! The idea is not to change your whole personality, but rather to question your instinctive behaviour and apply new habits in order to make certain situations or interactions more pleasant, such as working in a team with people you don’t know.

If you struggle to find your feet when you have to work with a bunch of new people, we advise you to:

1. Get off on the right foot

Team work is easier when everyone knows exactly what their role is and what is expected of them. Before starting a new mission, take some time with the team leader to agree on who does what and what they expect you to bring to the team.

2. Be open about how you work

When working with people you don’t know (especially when joining a team of people that do know each other well), it can be tempting to just go with the flow and do everything the way the others do. However, this is not always the most productive approach. Feel free to express your preferences openly and, if appropriate, introduce your new team members to your way of doing things if you think it could improve their processes. This allows your new team to gauge your strengths and weaknesses and helps everyone find a harmonious way of working together.

3. Keep your eyes and ears open

To make things work, you should nevertheless make sure there is a certain give and take. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and assimilate your new colleagues’ work methods. This is the best way to find common ground, helping you fit in and find compromises in the future.

4. Learn to deal with your reactions

Working with people that you don’t know can make you extra sensitive to their comments. But remember not to fly off the handle at the slightest comment or remark because you think it is a criticism of your skill or expertise. Take a deep breath and aim to better understand the other party’s intentions. Often, that comment that you took badly was actually supposed to be some friendly advice to help you work together better!

Brigad’s feedback system means that you can read comments left about you after a mission, once you have had the time to cool off. It is always easier to take comments on board and identify the soft skills you could improve upon when you’re not in the heat of the situation. It is also a great way to have a think about the type of mission you are the most comfortable in, and even the soft skills to highlight on your profile that will help you land more missions!

Working with people you don’t know can be a real challenge, but with a bit of practice and the willingness to succeed, you will find that the soft skills you didn’t think you had can quickly become second nature. Start practising your people skills right away by landing your first mission through Brigad, and widen your professional horizons while getting recognition for your skills and expertise!

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