7 Soft Skills You Need for 2021 and How To Develop Them
You made it to 2021, congratulations. The carols and Christmas trees are well gone, and you’re now face-to-face with your New Year’s resolutions (because January didn’t count) and the pandemic that’s still out there.
Perhaps one of the things you resolved to improve this year is your soft skills. It’s February, how well are you doing? What soft skills are you developing—you know you can’t just develop them all at once, right?
If you’re trying to develop your soft skills, it’s wise to think of it as a project where you determine which soft skills you want to develop and how you want to go about it. This article is written for this reason: to highlight seven soft skills you can develop for the new year and how to develop them.
But first, what are soft skills?
Soft Skills—A Definition
Soft skills are quite simply intangible skills that show how you relate to yourself and others in the workplace. They are also skills that reflect your ability to be able to do your job based on practices you have developed.
While your technical skills as a programmer are great (because you can do the job), soft skills will go a long way in determining what people think of you in the workplace and how you advance in your career as a result of it. Recruiters say they would rather hire a candidate with soft skills who shows teachability than a qualified person without them.
A study shows that with the growing dominance of technology in work operations, employees need to possess cognitive skills that are required for team building and problem solving—operations that technology cannot suitably perform. For this reason, there is a big requirement for soft skills in several job descriptions such as those for contact center jobs, hospitality jobs, and teaching. According to the study, employees with cognitive skills are more likely to earn more, as their proactive social skills with team members or clients predispose them to greater productivity.
So you need soft skills, and you need them for the following reasons:
- To be a better team player
- To make you a better candidate for career growth and acceleration
- To discover new solutions
- To boost your productivity
7 Soft Skills Programmers Need
1. Time Management
This soft skill is super important for you as a programmer. Because the nature of the job requires you to wait for code to finish compiling, it’s important for you to use that time wisely to accomplish pending tasks. If you don’t do this (and instead spend the time maybe playing online games or browsing social media sites), you might find yourself feeling a deep sense of underachievement.
If you work as a freelance programmer, you’ll probably find that you need to work on multiple pieces of code, communicate with clients, job hunt on freelancing websites, all while dealing with the distractions of working from home. Time management will help you to stay on top of your deliverables and ensure that you don’t feel overwhelmed.
The benefits of time management include improving your wellness—as you manage your time to include health-boosting activities such as eating a healthy snack, sneaking in a yoga session, or taking a short nap.
The benefits of time management include boosting your self-esteem, keeping you productive, helping to put structure to your calendar, delivering on schedule, and improving your well-being.
How To Develop Your Time Management Skill
To manage your time effectively, you need to master multitasking. Multitasking involves using time to accomplish multiple tasks. So when you have a spare moment, you slot in a task, e.g., answering an email, returning a phone call, or baking bread.
Practice multitasking in small phases, and build proficiency in it. Before long, you’ll discover that you’re better at time management than you used to be. For instance, you can decide to spend three hours multitasking for a start. You may follow these steps:
- Highlight the tasks that need to be done—it’s best to have big and small tasks listed.
- Don’t take on more than you can handle; otherwise, you will be overwhelmed and discontinue the process.
- Use every spare moment to slot in a task, especially the small ones that can quickly accumulate.
- Strike out accomplished tasks as you complete them.
- The thrill of seeing that strikethrough and knowing that you’ve accomplished something usually motivates you to do more!
- Reward yourself for accomplishing tasks. It’s an even greater motivation.
This soft skill becomes more important, especially as you progress in your career or you start to work as a freelancer or contractor. You’ll need to listen to your clients to understand exactly what they want and not what you think they want. You’ll also have to listen to C-suite executives to determine what trajectory they want the company to go in. Listening helps you to become more aware of your work environment and the solutions you need to be providing.
Listening helps you to avoid conflicts caused by misunderstanding and to become a team player. It also helps you to take note of nonverbal cues, understand challenges from the perspective of the speaker, and get a better understanding of how to tackle the problem. It guarantees a better outcome in conflict resolution.
How To Develop Your Listening Skill
Developing a listening skill requires patience and open-mindedness: patience to hear the other person out, and open-mindedness to receive what they’re saying.
- Don’t be in a hurry to respond to a query or concern.
- Breathe, relax.
- Don’t tune out—I know, it’s tempting to do so when you have a million and one things to do and the teleconference is longer than you expected, but really listen.
- Look out for the underlying emotion—it could be fear, concern, disappointment, or confusion—it’s most likely not the anger you may see.
- When you get a chance to speak, address the specific emotion that you’ve seen. If it is a concern, say “I understand that you might feel some concern …” What this does is to immediately deescalate the situation and open the door for a resolution.
- Practice listening with family and friends; let them assess your listening skill—it’ll most likely be spot on.
When you spend long hours behind a computer, occupied with your own thoughts, it can be hard to think of collaboration and team work—especially if you are working on a personal project. However, it’s important for you to think outside the confines of your personal space and collaborate with others whether you’re using a collaborative tool or meeting face-to-face.
Not only will it show you as a team player—which is crucial for your career growth—but it helps the team be more productive. Being a team player helps you to think outside the box, seeking solutions that will help the team and boost your value. You want people to be able to think of you as an integral part of the team, a must-have. Being a team player makes it easy for those who matter to recommend you for bigger opportunities.
Collaboration helps your team to be more productive. It increases your value on the team and makes you integral to the operations of the organization. It also boosts your self-esteem and makes you recommendable.
How To Develop Your Collaborative/Teamwork Soft Skill
Sometimes it’s hard for people to be team players not because they don’t want to be but because their temperament makes them naturally withdrawn or they have some social anxiety. These tips can help you to develop this soft skill so that you can become an asset to whatever team/organization you’re a part of.
- Make an effort to contribute to meetings. Don’t think that your opinion is irrelevant or that it won’t be heard.
- Listen closely to team conversations to determine how you can contribute.
- Ask questions. Some of the programmers I know are the brightest people I’ve met. They are able to see loopholes that no one can see, and when they ask questions, they use it as an avenue to proffer solutions or point out inconsistencies within a plan.
- Be patient. In the amazing world of programmers who can envision the end of a project from the beginning, it’s easy to get frustrated by people who don’t understand the way you process information—but, be patient. Help your team members to understand.
- Look for ways you can collaborate with others. Be open-minded.
- Spend time with others. Get out more.
4. Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
Conflicts will arise over one thing or another—it’s inevitable. This is why you must be prepared for it by building a soft skill that helps you to negotiate and resolve conflicts peacefully. Again, this is a soft skill that needs much practice, especially if you’re working from home.
In a team, there’s always an opportunity for you to compromise and make room for others. A good team player does their best to resolve conflicts amicably and keep their focus on the purpose of the group.
With your words you can deescalate a fiery situation by offering something else other than a “no.” Think of it as an exchange; you get something by giving something.
Having a negotiation and conflict resolution skill helps you to get along with others and maintain productivity. It will also show you as one who is very much in control of their environment—fighting with a team member or client does not do very well for your reputation. Remember, these soft skills make you a candidate for better opportunities, so build this skill not just for others but for yourself too.
How To Develop Your Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Soft Skill
To develop negotiation and conflict resolution soft skills, it is important to constantly think of solutions. How can you improve the situation, and what would make everyone feel better?
- Let your first thought be to take control of the situation—don’t get carried away by your emotions.
- Try not to take things personally.
- Don’t bottle up discontent—let the offender know that you have been distressed by their words (or actions), and don’t simply assume that they know how they’ve wronged you—it may have been purely unintentional.
- Offer something; if it can be helped, try not to refuse outrightly, e.g., “I can’t provide this now, but it is definitely something I’m planning on working on in the future. Perhaps we can draw up a framework where we can collaborate to develop a solution.”
- Measure your Emotional Intelligence (EQ). According to the authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, measuring your EQ helps you to recognize areas where you're lacking in dealing with others.
This is a super important soft skill that shows you care. No matter what they tell you, people want to feel cared for and understood. Empathy isn’t pity or sympathy; it’s really putting yourself in the other’s shoes and responding appropriately to their situation.
As you spend more time in programming and overcoming challenges on your own, it can seem difficult to extend empathy to others, especially if you’re a self-motivated high achiever who’s used to accomplishing a lot on their own.
Empathy simply shows you to be a decent person—it’s really that simple. It also helps you to be able to mentor upcoming programmers. If you’re thinking of management roles, this is a soft skill you definitely want to develop.
How To Develop Your Empathy Soft Skill
Empathy is an opportunity for you to extend grace to someone else, especially when you don’t understand what they may be going through. It greatly improves your reputation and what others think about you.
- Put yourself in other people’s shoes.
- If you can’t think of something nice to say or really don’t know what to say, offer a listening ear.
- Offer to help in whatever capacity you can. It always helps to know that help is just a phone call away. In doing this, you will cement yourself in the minds of team members or clients—they’ll know that with you, it isn’t just about business.
6. Creativity/Problem Solving
It is important to always think of solutions. People gravitate toward problem solvers. And to be able to solve problems, you need to be creative. To be creative, you need to think outside the box. The author of Unlocking Creativity suggests that we explore alternative ways of thinking that can be applied to any project regardless of how far they are from our comfort zones.
Take your client’s jobs one step higher. Think of ways you can make your coding better. Think of ways you can cause technology to interact with humans in a way that touches them deeply. For instance, how would you develop a mobile app that tells people when they are dehydrated? Or how would you design an app that can gauge emotions and prompt the user to take action based on its findings? To be a truly creative programmer, you need to constantly think outside the box, seeking solutions and writing code that facilitates it.
How To Develop Your Creativity Soft Skill
Being a creative person can be uncomfortable and challenging because it demands that you think beyond the boundaries of convention and comfort. But remaining creative and improving your creativity will ensure that you’re always doing good work.
- Challenge yourself to write code that is out of the norm.
- Spend time thinking about the world’s problems and how coding can solve them.
- Network with creative people, or be in touch with your creative side (by engaging in creative activities).
- Consider starting a blog or vlog, or becoming more active on social media, to discuss your niche. This will help to give you a sense of the technological interventions that everyday people are thinking about. It’s also a great way to practice collaboration and healthy communication as you meet other bloggers and vloggers in your niche.
This is perhaps the most important soft skill you need if you’re freelancing or working remotely. With no one to supervise you but yourself, you must be self-motivated to keep working when you don’t feel like it.
Self-motivation will compel you to pursue self-development courses and do regular skills assessments to determine if you’re up to date with best practices. It will take you from handling simple tasks to handling complex ones. And if you’re developing your creativity, it will help you to stay grounded as you keep searching for the right solutions to problems or ways to make your code run faster.
How To Develop Your Self-Motivation Soft Skill
Sometimes you’re all you have, and you’ll need to inspire yourself to work harder and be better. Try not to be hard on yourself; do the best you can, and reward yourself often.
- Speak to yourself often; remind yourself of your goals and all the benefits that await you.
- Think of your reputation on the team or with a client; your reputation of unfailing deliveries will always put you in the good graces of others.
- Motivate yourself with a reward that comes at the end of the project. This will help your brain to answer the question “Why do I have to work so much?” and put your mind in the right frame for work.
- Get some rest. It’s hard to stay motivated when you feel burned out. So schedule rest, and then work after you have regained your energy.
How To Develop Any New Soft Skill
To develop any soft skill, you’ll need to be open-minded. I say this often because your mind is the gateway to any accomplishment. Your mind determines whether you will accept new concepts and ways of behavior. It will even determine how well you are able to apply and continue these new changes.
Open-mindedness will help you to explore unconventional ways to provide solutions to problems. It will also help you to think of problems in a way that most people don’t. For instance, many people think of math as a difficult problem, but can you think of math as comic relief? Can you design a math game that elicits rib-cracking laughter? How would you apply this idea to designing a live chat?
You’ll also need to be accountable, practice new changes often, be patient with yourself, and evaluate yourself often.
On a Final Note
The new year abounds with opportunities. However, to connect to these opportunities, you’ll need to make necessary changes—such as developing new soft skills. These seven soft skills I’ve shared in this article will position you for career growth and visibility in the workplace.
Remember to be patient with yourself and remain open-minded; know that these skills are achievable.