Posted August 4, 2022 by Mark Perna
It’s not so much what you do at work, but how you do it. These 7 soft skills can engineer a winning attitude at work—and beyond. Mark’s article, “Engineer A Winning Attitude At Work With These 7 Critical Soft Skills,” published at Forbes.com on July 28, 2022.
In the workplace, as in the rest of life, attitude is everything. So how do you make sure your attitude is setting you up for success? Attitude is a broad concept and more of an ingrained mindset than anything else—which can make it hard to tackle. But there’s a way to engineer our attitudes, and that is through the soft skills we cultivate.
Soft skills (or as I prefer to call them, professional skills) are the attributes, character traits and habits that allow you to behave with poise and integrity in any situation, but especially in the workplace. They’re distinct from hard skills which are more technical to the actual work. Professional skills are not so much what you do, but how you do it.
Wiktionary says a soft/professional skill is “a personal skill that is usually interpersonal, non-specialized, and difficult to quantify, such as leadership or responsibility.” Rachel Quandalle, Career Advisor at Ermitage International School, says they are “skills that a human can do that a computer cannot.” Investopedia writes that “Soft skills are character traits and interpersonal skills that characterize a person’s relationships with other people.”
Similar to Investopedia’s definition, I always think of professional skills as those abilities that allow a person to thrive in the workplace in partnership with others. A strong and growing set of professional skills is especially important if you’re stepping into your first professional role. You want to get off on the right foot with your manager, your team and anyone else you interact with in the workplace. So where do you start?
Whether you’re a first-time employee, returning to the workforce after a career break or just looking to up your game at work, the following seven professional skills can help you engineer a winning attitude.
Flexibility isn’t just something employers have to offer their people. You too, as an individual contributor, must be open to not just learn new things, but implement them. Change is the only constant, and that’s why those who can adapt quickly and effectively will thrive.
Ask yourself: am I willing to embrace the new instead of clinging to what is safe and familiar?
This goes hand in hand with adaptability but with a twist: you’re able to receive criticism constructively and make changes based on the superior knowledge and direction of others. To be teachable, you have to respect those around you who can add to your journey. There’s an element of humility here: you have to admit to yourself that you still have a lot to learn. You don’t know it all.
Ask yourself: Am I willing to learn from those who are more experienced than I am, or am I always right?
This one seems basic, but it’s actually crucial. Punctuality means showing up when you’re supposed to. It implies commitment, the ability to manage your time and a base level of respect for the company employing you. While the rigid 9–5 workday has been all but replaced by the flexible work-life blend of remote and hybrid models, it’s still important to show up when you say you will—and work hard the whole time you’re there.
Ask yourself: Am I showing up when I’m supposed to and bringing my A-game with me?
The ability to express yourself articulately—and listen attentively when others do so—is universal across all fields, in all roles, at all times. This skill is crucial not just at work, but in every relationship you have. Honesty, clarity, tact and persuasion: these are all components of great communication.
Ask yourself: Is my communication clear and helpful to others, or am I often muddled or repetitive in how I talk and write?
And a bonus question: How actively and carefully do I listen to others when they are communicating?
Often called “customer service,” a service mindset is an attitude of truly wanting to help others. And it’s not just toward customers; it’s directed toward your coworkers as well. If someone asks you a question you don’t know, are you willing to help them find that answer? Do you go that extra mile? I know one young man who ended every conversation at work with, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” And then, he followed through. With that kind of service orientation, his promotions came fast.
Ask yourself: Do I care enough about the people around me to serve them beyond the bare minimum of what I “have” to do?
As a new recruit or someone reentering the workforce, it’s all too easy to be reactive. Being reactive means passively waiting to be asked to do something. Sure, you’re willing to do it once it’s pointed out, but you’re not actively looking to help. Proactive people, on the other hand, are always looking for the next cue, the next need they can jump in and meet. This requires some creative thinking and looking ahead, but it will quickly set you apart from the type of employee who has to be prodded into contributing.
Ask yourself: Do I wait to be asked or am I actively seeking out ways to contribute?
This simply means cheerfully embracing responsibility and following through until the job is not just done, but done right. When you take ownership of a project, you are, in essence, putting your unique stamp on it. That’s why it has to be top notch. People who take ownership of their work aren’t content to produce mediocre results. To them, quality is paramount. They don’t do things halfway.
Ask yourself: Do I eagerly take on new responsibilities and fulfill them to the best of my ability?
Professional skills are an area where we should never stop learning. Every interaction, every conversation is either an opportunity to learn something new or practice the skills you already possess to make them even stronger.
But maybe you want to attack these areas with intentionality, right here and now. In that case, you can take an online course, find a great podcast, read blogs or just crack open a book on the subject. Self-directed learning has exploded over the past several years, and every day people are leveling up their skills by gleaning insights from the best minds in the field.
To build your professional skills, you can also find role models to emulate. These can be people you work with (in which case, you might approach them about a mentoring relationship) or public figures whom you admire. Think about what you admire about them and how you can practice those skills in your own life.
If you consistently cultivate these seven skills in your professional life, you will find your attitude will follow suit. And with a winning attitude, everything is possible.