@Work | Tools

3 ways to develop your soft skills and get ahead

From breaking out of your comfort zone to working on a self-review, these strategies can help you grow in your career. Here’s how to sharpen your abilities.

A Facebook IconFacebook A Twitter IconTwitter A Linkedin IconLinkedin An Email IconEmail

Team of young people laughing while working together during brainstorming sessionSoft skills are crucial and developing them requires going outside your comfort zone every day. (Shutterstock/GaudiLab) 

It is a paradox of the times we live in—the more society is connected, the more some people seem to struggle to forge meaningful relationships. While “soft” skills—such as communication and listening abilities—are key to career advancement, not everyone handles stress or deals with others the same way.

Benoit Chalifoux, a speaker and university lecturer specializing in soft skills, addressed this topic at École des entrepreneurs du Québec in Montreal this past November. His conclusion is clear: soft skills are crucial and developing them requires going outside your comfort zone every day.

To succeed, Chalifoux suggests a three-step approach.

Step 1: Do a 360-degree self-review, focusing on three pillars.

  • Pillar 1: You. Answer the following questions honestly: What is your self image? What are your values? What do you believe in? How would you describe your relationships with others? What are your strengths and weaknesses? (List three for each.)
  • Pillar 2: Family and friends. Ask them the same questions and compare their answers; you might be in for a surprise—especially in the strengths and weaknesses departments. “And remember, emotional intelligence [a key component of soft skills] begins at home,” adds Chalifoux.
  • Pillar 3: Your co-workers. Set your ego aside and ask them the following questions: Have you trained someone recently? Experienced an especially stressful situation? Had to resolve an interpersonal conflict or assert your leadership? Your co-workers’ answers will provide a goldmine of insight into what others think of you.
    Also, find a mentor—ideally someone with different skills than you. (You could also choose to become a mentor yourself.) “These differences will create synergy,” says Chalifoux.

Step 2: Leave your comfort zone behind. Easier said than done, right? And Chalifoux agrees. “Most people don’t like adversity,” he says. “But once you confront it and step out of your routine, business opportunities will abound. What you perceive as your discomfort zone should actually be your comfort zone. Be disciplined and make it your new routine, and you’ll never stop learning.”

Your work environment probably already offers many opportunities where you can demonstrate adaptability, creativity and organizational skills. Is your profession changing? Are you worried about blockchain? Intrigued by biometrics? These are all opportunities for you to take some initiative.

Step 3: Be altruistic. Empathy and a sense of community are indispensable to your career advancement. “Stop talking about yourself and take an interest in others, without expecting anything in return,” Chalifoux says. “Celebrate their successes. You should be more concerned with other people’s happiness than your own.

“Being altruistic also means sharing, including your money,” he adds. “The best thing you can do with $5 is to give it to someone in need—it’ll bring you so much more than if you kept it for yourself. Nothing is more rewarding than spreading joy to those around you.” And that goes for work, too.

Not surprisingly, a Purdue University study (which was based on a Gallup World Poll) proves Chalifoux right. It finds that beyond an “ideal threshold” of about US$75,000, a higher salary has no effect on happiness. Once this threshold is crossed, individual satisfaction becomes more focused on life experiences.

In 2016, the World Economic Forum published a report that ranked the 10 top skills for a thriving career in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and predicted how the rankings might change by the year 2020 in comparison to 2015. Emotional intelligence—which was absent from the 2015 ranking—is expected to emerge in sixth place in 2020. According to Chalifoux, it’s set to rank first in 2025.

Clearly, as pervasive as technology might be in the future, the human touch will be more important than ever.


Want to be a good listener and make sure your message is being delivered? These three tips on efficient communication will help you reach that goal.