At this point we are well into the new year, so where are you on your resolutions? Are you 20 lbs. lighter? Have you quite smoking? Have you lessened your screen time by 60%? Or are you reading this on your phone while eating drive thru and simultaneously smoking. On one hand, congrats on the multi-tasking but you still have time to make meaningful and simple changes into how you move through the year. I've dug into my two favorite soft skills, communication and awareness, to share very simple daily practices that can strengthen them. Since committing to this work a few years ago, I have seen first hand how developing these skills have improved my life.
Applying this soft skill into a daily practice will most likely increase the quality of relationships in your life. As you make conscious efforts to practice this skill, you may notice more people around you look to you for clarity and wisdom. You may also find that as you practice this skill, you will have more clarity and wisdom to offer.
Many think that communication is just having the ability to speak and they overlook other important and necessary components of this soft skill. It's about having clear and coherent information that gives you insight and understanding into a situation or perspective. One of the reasons why I love this soft skill so much, is because clear communication solves so many other problems.
Projects and relationships that exhibit strong communication tend to have less "drama" and fewer "blow-ups." Communication also leads to an increase in a sense of community and belonging, increasing morale and productivity. These benefits tend to boost profitability, success and purpose driven work.
Approaching communication from a perspective of all parties being understood, heard, and seen, radically transforms how teams and relationships collaborate. I value this soft skill so much that I find ways to practice and implement it everywhere I interact with people.
The three simple ways I implement and strengthen my communication super powers on a daily basis are as follows...
Make Eye Contact: This may seem really simple and obvious but making eye contact in conversations lets others know you are actively engaged in the moment with them. I often look away as I'm forming my thoughts because I want to be intentional and authentic with the words I choose. I am cognizant of this behavior, which is why I make sure to ground my first and final thoughts with strong eye contact in conversations. Increasing eye contact communicates that you are trust worthy and accountable.
Ask For Questions (And Ask Questions): Nothing gives away an inactive listener faster than an nodding head and a blank stare. If you're looking to amp up your communication skills, ask (and ask for) questions. When I'm actively listening I'm engaged in the information I'm receiving. I want to understand it clearly. I often ask questions so I have a clearer picture of what I'm being presented. In turn when I'm communicating information to others I often end each point with, "Are there any questions? Was that clear? If not, please let me know." When my goal is to be understood I have no ego about rewording, rephrasing, or approaching a situation from a different perspective especially if it helps give insight and clarity to someone else. Utilizing questions is a great way to give and get feedback in the moment increasing the likelihood that others will continue to engage and interact with you.
Listen and Repeat: Full disclosure, I'm working on this. I've gotten better over the years but I still have moments where I catch myself. Holding myself accountable for the discourtesy of not listening requires I adjust my behavior. The most subtle and courteous adjustment I make is to repeat the details of the conversation back in my own words. That choice does two things- it automatically reinvests me back into the conversation AND if forces me to listen to what is being communicated to me. I also notice that when I communicate information back in my own words, it reassures the other person that they are being heard.
Implementing this soft skill may have had the biggest impact on my life. My ability to "read a room," assess others states of being, as well as sharpen my instincts, can all be attributed to this soft skill. Awareness means having a higher state of consciousness when interacting with your environment.
Imagine being able to tell when an employer or colleague is most receptive to hearing a new idea or suggestion. What if you were able to shift the atmosphere on a team, transforming tense exchanges into pleasant conversations? What about becoming more observant so you see opportunities and dangers more clearly and quickly than your less aware coworkers? Imagine how these skills could make you invaluable to so many. Flexing your awareness muscles is something you can do. You can build up and strengthen your awareness over time. I have two easy and simple ways to start doing this.
Practice Mindfulness: I know this may sound woo woo to many, but sitting in stillness is one of the best ways to strengthen and expand your awareness. Try starting for 2 minutes a day. Just sit in stillness, turn off your phone (or put it out of arms length on silent) and commit to not being disturbed for the next few minutes. If you sit with your eyes closed, do you notice the sounds in your environment more? Are you picking up on environmental cues like a smell or breeze you hardly noticed before you sat down? This is your awareness getting stronger. If you sit with your eyes open, are you taking in your surrounding with more detail? Are you noticing things for first time that may have always been there? This is one of the ways awareness shows up. As you practice awareness you will find it shifts how you move through the world by making you more connected and present to those around you.
Breathing: How hard can this one be, right? I mean, if your reading this now it's because your breathing, but intensional breathing is about finding stillness. I have discovered that intensional breathing has been an integral component to strong awareness. Instead of sitting in observation, intensional breathing is about turning your awareness inward. By slowing down and focusing on your breath, you may make some interesting observations about yourself.
To really enhance awareness, you can utilize breathing as an adult "time out". Let's say your find yourself in an unintended conflict. You are worried about doing damage as the pressure builds between you and the others parties involved. You don't want to escalate the situation but your aren't seeing things clearly at the moment. Stop and take four deep and slow breaths. This will do the following immediately... lower your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and calm you down enough to gain clarity of thought again. Even if that clarity is just to remove yourself from the situation until a later time. But still this is more awareness you've allowed yourself rather than choosing to escalate a dangerous situation.
Developing your soft skill super powers takes time. You need to develop a consistent practice that you come to often. Finding a group or training classes that focus on soft skills is also tremendously helpful. Unbeknownst to me, I began picking up these skills when I was studying to become a puppeteer. Years later, as I was promoted into leadership roles, I made the connection between my training and soft skills. I now view these skills as my professional super powers and rely on them heavily to get me through my day. I have a life that is filled with intension, connection, and purpose all thanks to soft skills (and puppetry). If you'd like to learn more about the work I do with soft skills training, reach out. New year's resolutions aside, I believe we can all be using these super powers to make our world little more wonderful, one soft skill at a time. And that should be motivation for anyone still struggling to achieve success in the new year.