How to improve 3 soft skills in 3 weeks

Important skills to learn

Soft skills are essential for personal and professional success. They are both valued by the employees and underdeveloped among professionals.

Learning soft skills can be intimidating. For one, they are often perceived as a set of character traits that a person either possesses or does not. As a result, many recommendations for developing soft skills are vague, such as "be empathetic." However, we believe that soft skills can be learned just like any other skill, and we strive to provide specific guidance on how to do so.

Another reason why learning soft skills can be difficult is the sheer number of them. Soft skills is an umbrella term that encompasses more than a dozen different concepts. Therefore, we suggest focusing only on the most valuable ones. After analyzing various charts, we have assembled a list of the three most important skills:

Most important soft skills:

  • 1

    Communication skills

  • 2

    Critical thinking

  • 3

    Creative thinking

We have compiled a list of exercises that can significantly improve all three of these skills in just three weeks, provided that you practice daily.

1) Communication skills

Communication skills refer to the ability to effectively convey thoughts, ideas, and information to others. They are important because they enable individuals to build and maintain relationships, understand others' perspectives, resolve conflicts, and collaborate.
Here are some exercises that you can practice for a week to improve your communication skills:

Active Listening

Being an active listener is crucial in any conversation. To be one, you need to participate in a discussion by asking relevant questions, seeking clarification, and broadening the subject's perception for everyone involved.
You can practice active listening by checking all of the following boxes during your meetings for the week:

1) Ask open-ended questions to widen the discussion.

For example: "how exactly did you do it?", "what did you feel?", "how do you rate it?”

2) Ask for a clarification of an idea that you do not fully understand.

For example: "Do you mean this - am I right?", "I correctly caught that you agree with this statement?”

3) Rephrase your companion's answer in your own words.

Starting with "Just to make sure I got everything correctly..."

4) Summarize the meeting to ensure everyone is on the same page

By following these steps, your colleagues will appreciate your contributions and notice the value of your comments. However, be mindful that these practices will only work if your intentions are productive. Asking questions just for the sake of it or asking for clarification on things that are obvious will appear unnatural and useless.

Idea Delivery

Effective idea delivery helps in both personal and professional settings. Pitching your ideas with confidence and clarity can make a significant difference in their success.

You can practice idea delivery by following these steps:
  1. Choose a topic for the day, whether it's a work project or a movie you're excited about/
  2. Build a 2-3 minute speech using this template to structure your speech.
  3. Set a timer and practice your speech in front of a mirror.
  4. Present your speech to an audience and ask for feedback. If the idea is fictional, ask your manager, colleague or a friend to listen to you.

After five pitches, expand this practice by adding more arguments or changing the timing. If there are a lot of ideas in one speech, we recommend using the Minto Pyramid so as not to forget anything.

This exercise should help you quickly highlight the main ideas and focus your speech on the main thing. You learn to structure information and just feel more confident in communication if you practice it.

2) Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a vital skill that involves analyzing information regardless of its correspondence with your personal views. It comprises several skills, including the ability to analyze prerequisites, ask questions, build a logical chain, and find vulnerabilities in it.
Critical thinking is closely related to logic, which is the universal language for separating the true from the false. Scientific thinking is built on logic, making critical thinking a complex skill that strongly affects other soft skills such as problem-solving, public speaking, and creativity.

To develop critical thinking, we suggest practicing it with tasks you will most likely use it for:

Interactions with Content

1) Ask questions.

To test and practice your ability to ask questions, try asking 50 questions on a short text. You can use this article or your favorite poem. Limit the time to 30 minutes and write down all the questions. It might sound easy, but the further you go, the trickier it gets. Don't worry about quality; quantity is more important at first. Exercise limitations will force you to be creative.

2) Analyze content.

Take a new article or a YouTube video and answer the following 3 questions:
  • What statements does the author make? What arguments do they use to support those statements?
  • What is the main idea of this piece of content?
  • What problem is the author trying to solve?

3) Simplification.

Try explaining a concept to a 5-year-old. Choose one from your professional field and try to create an explanation in 10 minutes. Avoid complex terminology or abstract phrases. Your goal is to find parts of the concept that might be obvious and therefore under-analyzed for you.

Interactions with Others

Debating is a perfect exercise for developing critical thinking.

How you can organize debate one yourself:

  • 1

    Find a partner for a 1v1 game

    It's more interesting and useful to assemble teams, but a 1v1 game is much easier to organize and it is fine for a start.
  • 2

    Set a schedule

    Such as 30 minutes for the whole activity, two speeches of 3-4 minutes each, 10 minutes for preparation, and 7 minutes for discussion afterward.
  • 3

    Choose a topic

    Any controversial question will do. If you catch yourself in the middle of a discussion, offer to debate the topic. It's always interesting and educational to debate the opposite side of your personal opinion.
  • 4

    Draw the arguments in a mind map

    This way, you will see your logic and its weaknesses more clearly. It will also help you to prepare for the performance, whether it's part of a debate, a stand-alone exercise, or a way to prepare for a negotiation.
  • 5

    Have a debate round!

    To make it structured, try following this speech order:

    • In the first speech, explain your main arguments. Don't chase the number; try to prove just the most important one.
    • Dedicate the second speech to answer the ideas of the opponent.
    • Now, spend 3-4 minutes each to tell your opponent what in their argument convinced or impressed you and what could strengthen their position for you. This last step will help you to get the maximum out of the discussion and end it on a positive note.
    Remember, debating is about education and fun competition. Try not to get upset when someone disagrees with you. You are just practicing together.

3) Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is the ability to generate novel and useful ideas. It is important because it improves your problem-solving abilities and helps you approach situations from new perspectives.
Contrary to a common misconception, creativity is a skill that you can develop through practice. To improve your creativity, make your brain more agile with these three fun exercises:

Routine check

Choose any of your routine tasks, such as washing dishes or cooking, and ask yourself how you can improve this process. Take just 20 seconds to find a solution and pick one that comes to mind. If you like the idea, make it more detailed. If you don't, repeat the exercise with another task. Improvements can be related to time, convenience, resource savings, and so on. You can even figure out how to eliminate the routine entirely.

A New Word

Try to come up with a new word. Everything that surrounds us physically is already named, so do not try to look around. Figure out a new term that might be a mix of feelings, character traits, or specific weather. You can combine parts of existing words and rely on sound and rhythm to find the right combination.

Write to Yourself

Engage in a conversation with yourself in a text. Use messages to yourself in a messenger or open a new page in Notion. Choose a problem or a question that you are currently trying to solve and start a dialogue. Stage this exercise as a real dialogue, and don't hesitate to decline and challenge your ideas. It will help you to make them much deeper and unique.

With practice, you can develop your communication skills and become more effective in delivering your ideas and listening to others.

Start Tuesday

To start improving your communication skills choose one exercise to focus on each day of the week and practice it consistently. You can also set aside time each day to engage in routine check-ins or conversations with yourself to help develop your creativity. Remember, motivation may come and go, but if you commit to doing at least five minutes of exercise each day, you will achieve great results in no time. Good luck!
Gregory Balon, BEsmart Partner, Public Communications and Speaking Trainer
Gregory Balon
BEsmart Partner, Public Communications and Speaking Trainer

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