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Soft Skills for the Self-Development Win


Effective communication between franchisees and franchisors is a hallmark of a strong collaborative relationship, yet it’s also one of the top promotability gaps that exist in the corporate world alongside emotional intelligence and effective time management.

Regardless of your industry or role, these soft skills are mentioned time and time again amongst executives and senior leaders as the top reason they see people held back in their careers. It speaks volumes about how crucial it is to achieve demonstrable mastery in these three core areas if you want to move your career forward. Let’s dive into why these are make-or-break soft skills to develop.


Effective Communicator


Being an effective communicator is hands down one of the most important professional skills you need to drive your career forward in today’s content-saturated world. While communication is a significant development bucket, I’ve broken it down to the three most valuable skills identified in the research, regardless of the organization or industry - presentation skills, effective listening skills, and, my favorite, brevity.


Presenting your ideas clearly and effectively and delivering your message in front of your colleagues or clients in a virtual or in-person world is essential. Unfortunately, according to research conducted by the Mayo Clinic, it’s also one of the highest areas of anxiety people face in their careers [1]. Our ability to deliver our key messages with clarity and confidence helps to convey our most important ideas and mission-critical cascade information to our key stakeholders, whomever they may be. How you present your information to others is also a key tactic in creating enthusiasm and energy in those around you. We’ve all been to conferences, meetings, and events where the presenter leaves us feeling fired up and energized; this is the goal. Make others feel a connection to you when you are delivering your message. Sweaty palms, lack of eye contact, and stammering voices are the tell-tale sign of nerves and a lack of confidence and ultimately can tune out your audience and significantly harm your chances of landing the message.


Hand in hand with solid presentation skills is your ability to deliver the message, either verbally or in writing, with brevity. Professionals today are drowning in content and information. We live in a time where information is abundant and at our fingertips, so finding ways to share the key points in a way that doesn’t disengage the audience is critical because, according to Timothy Egan, a journalist for the New York Times, people today have an average attention span of only eight seconds [2]; yikes. Additionally, research conducted through Harvard University found that professionals get interrupted on average eleven times a day [3] and give up on lengthy emails after thirty seconds. It’s never been more important to distill your information into the key messages before it hits someone’s inbox or before you speak up at meetings.


Finally, we can’t talk about being an effective communicator without talking about listening skills; it’s imperative to building strong relationships, creating trust, and uncovering the whole message, so to speak. We often think we are great listeners simply because we don’t interrupt the person speaking to us or the group, and while it’s important not to interrupt people, I’d argue that that’s just basic good manners at this point. What I’m referring to here when I talk about listening skills is something called level-five listening [4]. Listening to understand and gain empathy, not merely being quiet and waiting for your turn to talk – two very different things. Without the ability to become a level-five listener, you will struggle to achieve empathy and deepen your relationships, something we’ll discuss next.


Emotional Intelligence


Daniel Goleman, a leading expert on all things related to emotional intelligence and leadership, said it best when he said that “what really matters for success, character, happiness, and lifelong achievements is a definite set of emotional skills — your EQ — not just purely cognitive abilities that are measured by conventional IQ tests” [5]. Those who excel in emotional intelligence contribute in meaningful ways to a workplace culture that has a very rich social fabric. One that fosters the building of solid relationships, mitigates harmful workplace stress, and helps to motivate others. But again, not unlike the communication bucket, this area of development is enormous. So, what are the most significant gaps that leaders report regarding emotional intelligence? Three key areas emerge in the data: managing your composure, dealing with ambiguity, and displaying empathy for others. Let’s dive in.


Managing composure is such an interesting and valuable skill to develop; truth be told, this was my most significant development area. We all have what I like to call a personal development cross to bear, and this was mine. What's also true is that your most prominent area of strength is often your most significant area of opportunity, and I wholeheartedly agree. Composure must be developed very carefully because managing composure absolutely does not mean becoming a robot and displaying no emotion; after all, showing emotion is a huge part of creating energy and building trust and relatability. What we’re talking about here with composure is specifically in two areas.

The first area where managing your composure is critical is when receiving feedback, specifically corrective feedback. Seeing feedback as a gift and an opportunity to grow and improve is a skill. Being able to absorb and carefully consider the information given to you is critical. Nobody wants to provide feedback or share perspective with someone likely to get angry, fly off the handle, or worse yet, shut down completely. Working on ways to evaluate the verbal and non-verbal cues you are giving off during these challenging moments is a huge part of becoming self-aware of your reactions during difficult conversations.


The second area where managing your composure is essential is during times of tremendous pressure. Workplaces can be stressful; between deadlines, demanding clients, and complex and challenging circumstances, managing your emotions and remaining calm under pressure is imperative. Failing to do so is a surefire way to transfer your stress to others, and if you happen to find yourself in a leadership position, showing stress and panic is an absolute no-no. Your team is watching every move you make, and you can be sure that if the boss is worried, the team will be worried too. One of the biggest contributors to challenging workplace environments is our ever-changing world; things move quickly and change fast, thus the second area of emotional intelligence to develop – dealing with ambiguity [6].


I think it’s safe to say that dealing with change and changing environments are no longer specific events we can prepare for in advance; it’s just a fact of life these days. Information moves too quickly for things to stay still for long. One of the implications of this new reality is that we all must get better at dealing with ambiguity and thriving in an ever-changing world where you don’t always have the complete picture or all the information. It’s hard, but you must develop internal mechanisms to help you cope and increase your odds of going with the flow and acting and reacting appropriately. The world isn’t slowing down; with the emergence of AI in the business world becoming the norm, I think it’s safe to say that the pace of change will only amp up.


Finally, we can’t close our discussions about developing your emotional intelligence without covering this big bucket, empathy, and this one is arguably the most important. Both Deloitte [7] and MIT [8] suggest that this will be one of the most needed skills in the future of work. So, what does empathy mean? Well, from my perspective, it’s a fancy word for effectively walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. To be able to listen to and hear what they are saying and consider what it would feel like to experience what they’ve experienced. It’s the ability to bond with someone, make them feel heard, and sense how they might react to certain situations. Developing in this area is no small feat, but even incremental gains in this skill set can pay huge career dividends.


Effective Time Management


Time management is a broad term used to describe someone’s ability to effectively stay on track, allocate the right amount of time to specific tasks and ultimately be productive, delivering a high output of quality work. There are two big buckets under the time management umbrella that come up time and time again, pun intended!! Senior leaders everywhere expect that those advancing on their team will be able to effectively plan and organize their time and prioritize work tasks and functions based on their importance. Let’s start with the big one, how to allocate your time.


The great leveler of achievement is time. We all have the same twenty-four hours in a day and eight hours in a workday, and those that can maximize that time and spend it effectively without waste can accomplish great output and get ahead. After all, we can’t magically create more time in a day, and spending more time at work is not the answer. Finding ways to maximize time in your day and protect that time fearlessly and with great discipline are core drivers of success in this area. To do this, one has to really understand the value of the work they are doing and its priority within the more significant business objectives, thus leading to the second skill to be developed in this bucket, your ability to prioritize.

One of the most common gaps we see in those who cannot effectively prioritize their time is that, to them, everything they are working on appears urgent and important. This is a mistake. Not everything to cross your desk fits into both buckets and being able to tell the difference is crucial; failing to do so means you are effectively tackling all your work like a five-alarm blaze that needs to be dealt with immediately. Taking a step back to judge the tasks you’re working on as either urgent or important and classifying those tasks as an item for completion today, this week, or next month, etc., is vitally important. Without the ability to look at and classify your work this way, you will never be able to allocate time appropriately. You’ll forever be spinning your wheels, missing deadlines, and having mediocre at best productivity – all things that will not advance your career.


Check in next week for some incredible self-development tools you can use to help you enhance your skills in these core areas.


1. Sawchuk, Craig Ph.D., L.P, “The Fear of Public Speaking” The Mayo Clinic, 17 May 2017, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/specific-phobias/expert-answers/fear-of-public-speaking/faq-20058416

2. Egan, Timothy. “The Eight Second Attention Span.” New York Times, 22 Jan. 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/the-eight-second-attention-span

3. Leroy, Sophie, Glomb, M Theresa, “A Plan for Managing Constant Interruptions at Work.” Harvard Business Review, 30 Jun. 2020, https://hbr.org/2020/06/a-plan-for-managing-constant-interruptions-at-work

4. Crawley, Don, “The Five Levels of Listening.” 20 Mar. 2013, https://doncrawley.com/the-five-levels-of-listening

5. Goleman, Daniel. “Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ.” 1995, https://www.amazon.com/Emotional-Intelligence

6. Rinne, April. “A Futurists Guide to Preparing Your Organization for Constant Change.” Harvard Business Review, 22 Sept. 2021, https://hbr.org/2021/09/a-futurists-guide-to-preparing-your-company-for-constant-change

7. Deloitte. “Building the Future of Work with Data, ML and Empathy.” Deloitte Global https://www2.deloitte.com/Building-the-future-of-work-with-data-ML-and-empathy

8. Brower, Tracy. “Empathy is the Most Important Leadership Skill According to Research.” MIT, 19 Sept. 2021, https://cdo.mit.edu/empathy-is-the-most-important-leadership-skill-according-to-research


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