May 25, 2020 4 min read

It’s time to try to bake some bread because why not, seems easy enough. So, you start by (hopefully) finding a recipe, gathering ingredients, and your key equipment. You dream of the light aired fluffiness perfection that’s worthy of an Instagram post. It might not go well the first few times, but practice makes perfect or at least something good enough to eat. Shouldn’t it be the same with your skills development? Some of your skills can be measured with practicality and data which is great for resume building. What about the other skills you can’t easily put on paper? Steve Joordens, a Psychology Professor at the University of Toronto, understands the types of soft skills you’ll need in your wheelhouse and has broken them out in three simple categories. Understanding these different types of soft skills is like knowing that yeast makes bread rise.

Fight or Flight Mode

You’ve heard it before that our brains are like computers to a degree. They’re constantly monitoring, processing, and retaining information for us to go about our daily business. This is referred to as cognition, and there are different types of cognitive skills that you’ll use regularly in the workplace. Some may be simple like answering a phone call, and others will be complex, like analyzing data. Which do you think is more important? Well, the truth is they are both equally important! When we do them, we’re flexing our cognitive muscles. But, there’s another layer in our cognitive skills that leads to something you may have heard before: critical and creative thinking.

Hand outstretched holding lightbulb against sunset sky.

These two skills take time to develop as they’re often used in new scenarios you haven’t experienced yet. How do you solve a problem that you weren’t taught in another job, or school? Is there a new solution that leads to better results or efficiencies? It’s a lot of pressure in the moment, but over time, you’ll learn to recognize problems without fear. That fight or flight mode will lessen, you’ll reach a state of expectedness, and your critical and creative skills will continue growing with each situation.

Being a critical thinker will allow you to prioritize your projects, see patterns, and want to understand them more. By seeing the bigger picture, you’ll be able to add insight from another perspective. The good news is you probably already have traits that are linked to critical thinking – like curiosity, creativity, and determination.

Imagine where we would be without critical and creative thinkers like Tim Berners Lee, Hedy Lamarr, or Mark Zuckerberg. That’s right: no internet, no Wi-Fi, no Bluetooth, no GPS, and most devastatingly of all, no Facebook.

Discuss, Listen, & Learn

Remember that your career journey isn’t going to be a solitary road. No matter where your career leads you, you’re bound to interact with others regularly. How you foster those relationships is key to your personal development. Having strong interpersonal skills means knowing how to communicate effectively and listen to others.

And let's be clear, communication is a two-way thing, so it's both expressing yourself well to others but also learning to listen well to others and learn from what they are saying. —Steve Joordens

Interpersonal skills like communication may seem straightforward. Is it all about talking to your co-worker about that Netflix special you just watched over the weekend? Is it about being the next Ted Talk speaker? It should be a balance between communicating your work priorities clearly and building rapport. As Steve mentions, it’s a two-way street which means you also need to know when to listen. Paying attention to your coworkers’ feedback will lead to better teamwork. And isn’t teamwork what makes the dream work?

Then there’s collaboration, a skill that also falls under the interpersonal umbrella category. It’s the skill that helps you discover how your team works, and where you fit in on that team, like that last piece in the puzzle. Once all that’s sorted, the whole team, including you, will be able to achieve results. Imagine it: all of you are hustling on a team project, everyone knows where they contribute, and the result is victory. Without communication though that train will go off the tracks. The members of The Beatles were all individual musicians, but together, they were The Beatles!

It’s All in Your Head

This last soft skill category is one that Steve urges you to practice the most. It’s the most vulnerable and enlightening skill to have for personal development. Intrapersonal skills, not to be confused with interpersonal skills (that one letter is a dealbreaker). This is a metacognition process which is a fancy way of saying that it’s all in your head.

Woman sitting in front of computer massaging her temples.Ask yourself what your biggest weakness and strength is, and not just for the sake of an interview. Recognizing where you fall flat, and where you are triumphant will give you a better understanding of what you bring to the table. It’ll be the foundation of thoughts and ideas on how to improve and progress yourself. If you don’t know what’s broken, how can you fix it? Or how do you know which of your core strengths to celebrate?

Practicing intrapersonal skills is all about accepting self-growth. There’s more to you than meets the eye, and no one knows that better than you do. Discover your strengths and weaknesses with some well thought out self-reflection. Then act on it because there’s no better time than the present.

Level Up

Be a problem solver, be creative in your thinking, and make it fun! Update your co-workers on your project’s progress. Listen to their feedback because it’s only going to help you get to the finish line. Take responsibility for something you know you can do well and ask for help when it’s not something you’re particularly good at. Thanks to Steve, knowing how these soft skills work within your mind, will help you to become a better candidate, employee, and most importantly, a better you.


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