You can reduce business skills into two types: hard and soft.
Hard skills are job-specific or technical skills and knowledge you need to perform a job. In comparison, soft skills, are a combination of people, social, and communication skills.
You could say that soft skills are the most important since they affect so many aspects of daily business. They include being collaborative with the people around you, thinking creatively, making decisions, managing your time, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. Soft skills also involve personality traits like being personable, having a positive attitude, being an empathetic listener, and being self-disciplined.
Of course, not everyone should be expected to excel in all soft skills, but depending on our job, some are more essential than others. A 2012 study identified 10 soft skills that were the most important for business executives: integrity, communication, courtesy, responsibility, social skills, positive attitude, professionalism, flexibility, teamwork, and work ethic.
The hardest part of soft skills is not necessarily learning them, but remembering to use them. Many times we only realize our lack of soft skills after the fact, like when we didn't manage a problem well, or missed an opportunity during a routine business transaction to turn a client into a long-term customer.
How do you remind yourself to take the time to use your soft skills? One way that I make sure to do this is by practicing what I call "the 3 Ms": mindfulness (external awareness), meditation (internal awareness), and mantras (shifting energy).
Mindfulness is about being actively aware of what you do while you are doing it. When unawareness dominates your mind, you miss all kinds of important details. How often have you had client conversations without hearing all the important details? Or make a silly mistake because your mind was elsewhere.
Being more mindful means that you experience life with what I call a "beginner's mind" where everything is new and worthy of exploration. When you are more mindful, you listen fully to people's words, voice, and feelings, so you can obtain all the valuable information you need to help lead a team, spearhead a project, and resolve a problem.
Practicing mindfulness takes practice. It's something that you are always working toward. I have found that one of the best ways to improve mindfulness is to eliminate distractions. Close out your web browser for periods of time to stop the temptation of web surfing and social media scrolling and turn off notifications so you are not diverted to read every email that pops up.
Another thing you can try is to turn off your phone for 30 minutes at a time when in meetings or when you need to focus on your work. You can also close your office door to prevent outside chatter. This way you can better direct your attention to the person, task, or problem at hand.
The practice of meditation can help you be more mindful as it quiets the mental chatter in our heads that Buddhists refer to as "the monkey mind." Our thoughts can be like monkeys aimlessly jumping from branch to branch without ever pausing to stay still and be in the moment.
A Harvard study published in May 2018 has found that mediation lowers blood pressure by actually altering how your genes operate. Meditation has also been shown to change certain brain regions that can trigger monkey mind, like the medial prefrontal cortex, which is linked with negative thoughts like worrying about the future and ruminating about the past, and the amygdala or "fear" center where your fight-or-flight response lies.
A guided meditation or something simple like closing your eyes and repeating a single phrase or word, or counting your breath, can help calm your monkey mind, refocus your thoughts, and calm your body. When you quiet your thoughts, you can reset your brain and fully focus on the people around you, and the task at hand. In addition to doing a guided meditation in the morning before work, I like to engage in a simple two-minute meditation right before meetings or when I need to dive into a project that requires my full attention.
A mantra is the story we tell ourselves about who we are and what we're capable of doing. It's easy to find words and phrases on social media and websites that inspire, motivate, and keep us focused. (One of my favorite sources is www.dailyom.com.)
Make a list of your favorites (the shorter and simpler, the easier to remember). I like to organize them by themes depending on what I might need at any moment. Some of my favorites include: "Beauty is wherever you are at this moment"; "Believe in your vision"; "Look forward not down"; and "Life is choices not destiny." I often place one of these mantras on a Post-It note on my computer so that when I find myself in a moment of struggle, my eyes can catch the mantra, refocus my mind, and shift my energy back to where it needs to be.
Soft skills are something everyone in business can utilize to be more engaged with the people around them and to make clearer business decisions. While there are many soft skills that are helpful, most people find there are specific ones that they rely on the most. Setting goals to use your soft skills more frequently though is not always easy. To help, choose which of the 3 Ms above that resonate with you, and start practicing them every day to help you access your soft skills more easily whenever you need them most.