I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how soft skills, especially in terms of communication, are underappreciated and under-emphasized by so many people. Of course, this is coming from someone who majored in communication, but I’ve heard the same sentiment echoed from folks in fields from business to STEM.
Some people espouse that to get ahead — particularly in one’s career — you can’t be kind or agreeable, or at least not too agreeable. And of course there is an element of balance; if you only ever say positive things, it will be hard to make your own ideas known and to point out risks or issues in the ideas of others.
Especially when I’m busy, my default is to be fairly stressed and fairly serious. I’ve had to learn how to make time to build good professional relationships, even if it means a task takes a little longer. But on the flipside, it’s also hugely important to me that everyone be as content with a given situation as possible and that I take regularly opportunities to boost morale. Often that means bringing in treats for coworkers or saying “thank you” more times than perhaps necessary. And these are great, but they’re also a little shallow.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have some absolutely phenomenal bosses and mentors as I’ve gained work experience. I’ve also had the chance to be a boss or mentor to other folks, and to experiment with what comprises a successful leadership style.
Some of the elements are fairly standard: clear training and instruction, open communication channels, well-rounded feedback that includes praise for elements done well and actionable critiques on ways to improve.
The biggest thing that I’ve learned from my mentors, though, is how incredibly important it is to empower those who are learning from you — whether the setting be professional, familial, or otherwise. While “empower” has become a bit of a buzzword and lost some of the meaning it ought to possess, it captures exactly how we should be made to feel by those we’re learning from (and how we should be making those we’re teaching feel).
As an example, a brief anecdote: Yesterday was not a great day for me. I’m behind on a lot of at-home tasks (*ahem* cleaning) and my at work my number of tasks and the stakes are increasing. It was just one of those days I felt ill-equipped for all I was facing. During the course of separate conversations, both my boss and a former boss/mentor offered unsolicited, generous compliments on my competency and the impact of my work. They both absolutely made my day.
The comments meant so much because both of them conveyed that they actually believed in me. Which, for starters, is something we could all stand to hear a little more often. But it also made me want to prove them right, instead of trying to prove negative thoughts or voices wrong.
I’ve long held to the belief that small kindnesses can have radical impacts in people’s lives. For emerging adults in particular, it’s crucial that we not only embrace that idea in our personal lives, but also our professional ones. As we do so, we can foster and eventually create environments that encourage people’s growth through support or cooperation rather than relying on competition.
In the future, I’ll be looking for and taking more opportunities in which I can offer a word or gesture to help other folks feel as valued and full of potential as comments like the ones yesterday made me feel. I just hope we all do.
As always, comments, questions, and miscellaneous input welcome below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!
P.S. I know it’s yet another sunset ocean pic, but this place was home for a long time and not only taught me a lot of what I covered in this post, but could use any extra love available as the community continues to heal from tragedy.