The Sponge: Soft-Skill Savvy

December 7, 2016 at 5:29 pm Leave a comment

By Conor Lynch

Sometimes, you need more than results. As human beings, we are creatures who enjoy and thrive off of social interactions. In today’s modern business world, we need “soft skills.” Whereas hard skills show a more typical measure of job performance, sales figures for example, soft skills exemplify your ability to connect with the humans around you.

Having tangible soft skills means understanding four communication skills. Four key communication skills are listening, thinking, nonverbal responding, and flexible speaking. Understanding the interaction of the four skills when creating meaningful conversation turns you into a sponge. In this metaphor, a sponge takes in limitless information, squeezes out everything unnecessary, leaves “bubbles” behind, and shows flexibility.

Active Listening

smiley_face_sponge_shapeListening is not the same as hearing: a common misconception. Listening is understanding what you’re being told and communicating to the person talking that you’re hearing. When in a meeting, typically one person leads the discussion. We’ve all been in that position, taking a moment to look around when speaking and realizing that most people in the room fail to pay attention to a word you are saying. Understanding proper active listening will lead to better conversations within a business environment. To improve my ability in listening, I’ve made it my goal to immediately write down as many details from a conversation as I can; the more I write the better I listen. Following my writings is an easy way to track progress towards a goal. Step one in becoming a sponge is absorbing as much information as possible.

Critical Thinking

Now that you have begun listening to provided information, next think critically about what the information means to you. Generally, information is passed for a reason. Figure out what value that information has to you. Does it impact your company? Do you need to change the way you do your job? While these questions may seem big, you may find the answers in minor adjustments to your normal business routine. Sometimes a small change leads to monumental improvement. To improve this skill, I’ve built upon my note taking in the listening section; I try to identify the key points of that conversation that I’ve written about and see what conclusions I can draw from the information. For example, I’ve found after listening to a class lecture, the best way to improve retention is to think about everything discussed to get to the key points. Step two in becoming a sponge is to squeeze out all the unnecessary information.

Nonverbal Responses

How many times have we been looking around the room giving a speech and gotten the impression that everyone else would rather be anywhere else but here? We’ve all been there. For everyone involved, we must ensure that our body language is engaging to those who are speaking. Some options for body language include sitting up straight, providing visual feedback, showing interest, and maintaining an open body posture. These are common ways that businesspeople try to communicate that they are engaged and receptive to what is being discussed. To improve this skill, I’m working on actively thinking about my posture. By keeping that thought active in my mind, I hope that eventually it will become a habit and automatic, rather than forced and considered. When I gave a presentation last month, I noticed a person in the back of the room who would smile at me whenever I looked that person’s way, indicating interest and listening skills. From my perspective, as the presenter, that listening provides encouragement that leads to a better job presenting. The third step in becoming a sponge is to leave “bubbles”–the memory of your nonverbal interaction.

Flexible Speaking

Many factors go into being a good communicator, including what most people think of: understanding how and when to speak. Nothing is more important in conversation than understanding the context. In addition, understanding the effects of breathing, vocal volume, and tone can greatly enhance the value of your conversations for both you and those that you are conversing with. Mastering these concepts makes it easier to create emphasis and clarity within a conversation. To work on my speaking ability, I’m focusing on my inflection and practicing in my spare time to give myself a better ability to portray multiple messages. Perhaps the leading example of a great speaker in recent years is President Obama. He has shown diversity in his speaking tone over the past few years: confident and bold when triumphant, stern and rigid when necessary, and tender and delicate when dealing with tragedy. Just watching a few of his famous speeches of over the years, I see why he’s one of the best orators of our time. To complete the process of becoming a soft-skill sponge, be flexible. Just like a sponge can squeeze its way into any nook or cranny, your speaking ability should be able to respond effectively to any situation and use the tone necessary to convey your message.

In today’s business world, results are not just about the numbers and goals; success is about how effectively you communicate and understand those around you. Improving your soft skills can majorly impact your future in the business world. Think about becoming a sponge: absorb information, squeeze everything unnecessary out, leave behind positive interactions, and be flexible enough to perform any communication effectively. If all four of those skills come to a sponge without any trouble, with practice, anyone else can acquire them too.

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Entry filed under: Interpersonal.

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