Looking to Stand Out and Make an Impression at Work? Sharpen Your Soft Skills

April 13, 2021


7 minute read


by Kara Goldin

Kara Goldin

This past year has shined a light on how critical soft skills are. Soft skills are the intangibles. The art of understanding people, working in a group dynamic, communicating productively so that ideas can turn into action – and then action can transform into results. The importance of effective communication has never been more obvious. Especially as we work more asynchronously and virtually.

I’m also thinking about the next generation coming into the workplace. Especially those eager college grads, Gen Z-ers, figuring out their first jobs and internships right about now. I can speak from experience with three college-age Gen Z-ers who have made me think a lot about this topic and the importance of these critical communication skills for everyone.

It’s a bit ironic because technology has been both an enabler of remote work and the culprit in the communication gap that we see widening these days. And now with a new generation of employees entering the workforce – mobile natives who have come of age communicating almost exclusively through their phones and computers – the different ways we all use technology are becoming, sometimes, painfully clear.

For those generations that grew up in the digital age, conversations often moved seamlessly between physical and digital. And that trend has percolated into the workplace over the last few years as many face-to-face conversations have shifted to digital platforms. The downside is that we’ve definitely lost some of the clarity and accountability that comes from being in the same room with our colleagues. And while video conferencing has tried to correct for that trend, it can still be an awkward stand-in for in-person interaction.

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Technology instills efficiency. That’s what we love about it. But in the context of work, we need to remember to take our time, be more diligent, confirm that everyone is on the same page, and move forward in unison.

There’s no way around it: work is most successful when it’s an open and sustained dialogue.

So for native texters – not to mention all of us who have become inextricably tied to our phones (Gen Xers included, we’re still here!) – that’s an important reminder. Maintain the dialogue. Don’t leave digital conversations hanging without a clear conclusion. Make sure that when you’re assigned a task or take on a project, you acknowledge it and set clear expectations. Whether that’s on a text thread, a Slack channel, or, ideally, in an email.

There’s a big difference between this…

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And this…

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No communication back and no acknowledgement or closure leads to a lack of clarity. For all. Seems obvious, right? Not to a generation that is used to being a student in the digital age or chatting with friends vs being an employee in the context of a work conversation.  The idea of saying something as simple as, “will get that to you by the end of the day,” or  “do you have a few minutes to discuss?” may not be what one of the parties is used to conveying.

I love seeing enthusiasm from employees. People who are looking to learn. I encourage everyone to find ways to shine, raise a hand, and assume ownership of something. But in the midst of that eagerness, ensure that you’re closing the loop. I guarantee all will appreciate this.

And don’t be afraid to over-communicate. The key is figuring out the means of communicating most effectively in this new environment.

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In an age of so much casual communication, being a bit more formal isn’t necessarily a bad thing. So send a quick “yes” response by text, but then follow it up with a detailed email outlining how you plan to attack the task at hand. What deadlines you’re setting. What resources you believe you need in order to succeed on a given project. It will not only show that you’re thinking strategically, but it will also help you stand apart from the rest of employees who aren’t taking the time to do so.

Effective communication shines through when it’s done right. And conversely, when it’s done sloppily or rushed, it can crush you. Sadly, so many people these days communicate poorly. They don’t pay attention to how they compose an email or present their work. It’s so easy to stand out when you make the effort to do it right.

I give a lot of credit to Millennials for how they’ve altered and, in so many cases, improved the modern workplace. Today, the Millennial generation makes up the largest percent of the workforce. They’ve transformed the modern office, bringing conversations about mental health and work-life balance to the forefront. They’ve nudged the conscience of corporate America to take a stand on social issues too. Having a corporate culture that is awesome is critical and one Millenials have highlighted that they prefer to come to and interact in. Who doesn’t? And finally, working for companies that have mission and purpose is the preferred way – especially for this generation – to make a living.

Enter Gen Z. They are all of this and more. They are knowledge-gatherers but also creative thinkers. They know how to find the info but also question it and aren’t afraid to go against the grain. As a result, these young recruits are not only eager to join a company, but they are ready to contribute. Continue learning. And lead.

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It’s tempting to think of this past year as an anomaly. But we should take the time and give what we have witnessed a lot of thought. The trends around remote work and digital collaboration are here to stay, as are bridging communication gaps between the generations. Upping our soft skill game – for all of us – is going to be critical for employees, managers, and companies that want to succeed in the “new workplace.”

We all need to work with each other. Recognizing how we can all learn from each other.  How we can all leverage the flexibility that technology offers us. And keep conversations moving in the right direction. Always.


Kara Goldin

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