Soft skills? You’d be hard-pressed to find a workplace that doesn’t require them.
From navigating an array of communication styles to offering colleagues and higher-ups balanced critiques, soft skills are not only part of your job. They’re what enables you to keep it in the first place.
As somebody who struggles with soft skills, I reached out to specialists. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic practice that encourages participants to slow down, check the facts and, perhaps most importantly, check in with themselves.
Tip 1: Let’s Get Physical. Our bodies give us data
You’ve worked relentlessly on a project all week only to have a colleague throw shade your way at the weekly meeting. You immediately know you’re annoyed, disgusted even. How do you handle it?
Take a minute to check in with your body. Is your jaw clenched? Is your forehead wrinkled? Are your palms sweating? Are your shoulders tense or raised? Noticing these cues is the first step toward releasing the physical manifestation of your nervous system’s response.
An experiment for the skeptics: Look at your hands right now. Are they loose? Clenched? Open? Flex your palms and fingers so that they are as open and long as possible. Many report a sense of relief, safety or calm after doing so.
Tip 2: Defense isn’t always the best offense. Consider the opposition.
You’re working a booth at a career fair for your company, so there’s a lot of 1-on-1 interaction. Later that day, your colleague informs you of an anonymous report claiming that you were rude to a booth attendee. Your stomach drops. You were at your best all day. The report is clearly ludicrous. Is somebody lying or out to get you?
If you find yourself becoming emotionally dysregulated after checking in with your body, consider the opposition. Is it possible that an attendee perceived you as rude? Absolutely. Could your colleague have misheard the complaint? Yes. If you were rude, does that make you as a person less valuable? Absolutely not. Know that your worth, just like theirs, is insurmountable. When you feel a sense of peace and belonging (we call this emotional regulation) perhaps offer an apology.
An experiment for the skeptics: Not everyone likes big buts. When you apologize, use the word “and” instead of “but.” To the booth attendee, you may say, “I am sorry that I came across as rude, and I care about how I make our customers feel.” This is more generous than spouting off, “I’m sorry that you were offended, but I wasn’t trying to be rude.” Speak kindly for yourself not for them.
Tip 3: It’s not about you. Never was, never has been.
Our fight, flight, flee and fawn responses kick in when there’s an immediate threat. If you’re prone to emotional dysregulation, you may have a reactive nervous system. It is not your fault. Genetics and the way we are raised as children both play a role in how we interpret threats from the outside world.
One person may sit down with their manager who says that a branch transfer is in order and the worker will be relocated to a new group within the company. Someone who has a reactive nervous system may personalize: “Why me? I knew my boss had it out for me”; or catastrophize, “I knew this would happen. Next I’m going to get fired and then I’ll have to move back in with my parents.”
When you have a strong negative reaction to something that happens in your workplace remember that your greater goal lies in logical and compassionate decision-making. Check your body for data, consider the opposition, and then remember that all of the events that occur in our lives are not about us. You may have been selected for a transfer, but the situation is multifaceted. The less you focus on yourself, the more enjoyment you will receive from new opportunities as they arise.
An experiment for the skeptics: What if the branch transfer leads this person to meet the love of their life? What if it results in not getting laid off in 3 months’ time? You cannot know the entire story of your career by reading only the first chapter. You can, however, stay steady and receptive to the twists and turns ahead.
Written by: Gabrielle Wilkosz