Avoid office fireworks: Five tips to improve your soft skills

  • career advice
  • June 22, 2016
You might think you’re a rock star at the workplace. You’re always on time, and your performance is stellar. But you notice you are passed up for promotions and feel you are always involved in some sort of drama or argument with your colleagues. It’s true you may have mastered the technical skills required to succeed in your role, but that’s not all that goes into being a good employee and co-worker.

Consider this scenario: Your car breaks down while you are on vacation and needs to be fixed immediately. So you pull out your phone and read the reviews of nearby auto mechanics. Of course, you’ll want someone who is knowledgeable about your vehicle, but won’t you also want that mechanic to be friendly and understanding about your situation? In the business world, the workers who are most successful are those who have good “people skills” — such as work ethic, attitude and communication. Here are five quick and easy ways you can master your soft skills and contribute to a happier workplace.

Reach a compromise

You’re not the boss (or maybe you are, but this is still important information). Even if you are absolutely certain your project solution is best, listen to what others have to say and be open to changes. You may pick up on something you missed or didn’t consider. This isn’t to say you should never voice your opinion, but be flexible in your project plans. You’ll be seen as a team player and someone with whom people will want to work.

Speak up

We’re not mind readers here. We can’t tell what’s bothering you or if you’re overwhelmed unless you speak up. If you need assistance or extra time to complete a project, then politely ask for help. You might be stressed, but no one wants to be around someone who is agitated. Don’t snap at a co-worker who is “bothering you” by trying to start a conversation about a recent baseball game, especially if the person doesn’t know how busy you are. 

It’s also important to remember it takes two people to communicate. Return emails and voicemails promptly and clearly. Try to anticipate any follow-up questions and include that information in your response. Give your co-worker an appropriate amount of time to answer your questions before you reach out again. It’s better to say something twice than not at all, but be careful that you don’t come across as being pushy or too aggressive.

Keep your attitude in check

Everyone has a bad day from time to time. But it’s important not to take your grumpiness out on other team members. It’s not your cubicle neighbor’s fault that you spilled your coffee in the car or forgot to pack a lunch this morning. During your work day, you know something will likely come up that’s unexpected and unwanted. Be extra cautious about overreacting to these issues. 

If you are in a funk, try stepping away from your workspace for a few minutes. Sometimes even just a 15-minute coffee break is enough to take the edge off so you can return to work with a clear mind.

Ditch the bad habits

Did you ever sit next to someone who had an annoying habit that just drove you crazy? Did it get so bad that you began to associate that person with the annoying habit and developed a negative view toward the individual? If so, keep in mind that your own workplace habit might be a major pet peeve to the person in the next cubicle. Be mindful of your nervous quirks, and take note of ones you might not even realize you have. All that pen clicking or foot tapping can get annoying to others. And please save the fingernail clipping for home.

Get social

We’re not talking about social media here. Put down your smartphone and have a real conversation with your co-workers. Try to build a connection. What are their favorite TV shows? What do they do in their free time? You’d be amazed by what you might have in common. This will make conversation easier and more natural. Besides, who doesn’t like talking about the latest episode of Game of Thrones? No spoilers though!

By taking time to improve your soft skills, you can help prevent some arguments and outbursts at your workplace. It’s not difficult — if you can make a few dozen double-sided copies or unload a delivery truck, you can work on these personal skills. With a bit of time, you’ll start to feel more accepted and included, and you’ll likely notice a better professional relationship between you and your colleagues.

So leave the fireworks for the 4th of July. It will make everyone happier. Especially you. 

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