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Emma Sue Prince



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Does practice actually make perfect?


In order to get better at any skill it’s important to practise. In fact, many of us will only practise up to a point where we’ve got reasonably good at something and actually fall short of excellence or superior performance because after that point we simply don’t exert as much effort.

So how does this work when you are wanting to enhance your behaviourial skills? How can we avoid not coming across as simply manipulative or just trying out a new set of techniques? Can you actually practise and hone your soft skills?

Soft skills encompass many different skills but most fall into two general areas:

  • Self-management - those we use to manage our emotions, self-perception, and reactions to unexpected situations. Examples of these soft skills include stress management, self-confidence and managing emotions effectively.
  • People skills - those we use to influence how others perceive / receive us, our work, our ideas. Examples of these soft skills include communication skills, leadership skills, teamwork skills and the ability to deal with difficult personalities.

All of these have far more to do with how we act than what we know. Much of the time, these soft skills have to be seen "in action" and it’s important, therefore, to try out different things. Every interaction we have with people at work is an opportunity to practice a soft skill.

What is the best way of doing this without it being obvious that you are practising something? First of all developing these skills is a process and takes time and won’t come from just using a set of techniques learned at a workshop. In fact your ability to put these skills into practice effectively has a lot to do with the nature of training or input you receive in the first place.

There are two key areas that are vital to this:

  1. Self-awareness -  Build this by understanding better why you react to certain situations and people a certain way. Change can only start at the point of awareness. Understanding what underlies your responses to stress, the unexpected, work overload or a colleague’s annoying habits are the first step.
  2. Reflection – Reflection is about building in time to reflect on your day – ideally both at the beginning and the end. Setting intentions or identifying points in your day when you can use active listening skills or interact during a meeting in a different way and taking time to reflect at the end of the day on what worked or what didn’t. Doing this over a period of time will have a dramatic effect.

It can be tempting to try out lots of new behaviours but it is more effective to try small things in real situations – therein will lie your ability to actually handle something in a different way. For example – take adaptability - people who practise it regularly tend to be more understanding, reasonable, tactful and a stronger leader. Being adaptable will also increase your ability to communicate with others and build strong relationships.

Some ways to improve this skill include:

  • Welcoming ambiguity – an interesting one – we all like to think we are adaptable and ok with change and uncertainty. But surprisingly we are not – so start to welcome ambiguity by greeting change or uncertainty with a “yes” rather than the “no” that often so quickly rises to the surface as a first reaction.
  • Thinking creatively – look for opportunities to do this. It’s likely if there is a problem to solve or ideas are needed then creativity and collaboration need to be galvanised. Creativity can come when you least expect it! From choosing to get curious about everyday things or finding out more about something new to you to taking a lunchtime walk or swim if you make space for creativity it will come.
  • Being open-minded and non-judgmental – easier said than done but practise it anyway. For an issue that you feel strongly about, try reading authors who have a different (even opposite) point of view, but who are well-known for being thoughtful / great writers. Study how you feel when you read what they have to say. Or find a friend who is very intelligent, but who has a very different point of view on an issue that you care about. Then, have a conversation with them about the issue, but mostly (90%) listen. Listen, listen, listen. And ask questions. But don't argue or debate.
  • Being self-aware – notice things about yourself. Notice thoughts and feelings as they arise. One way to become more self-aware is to introduce mindfulness into your day. This doesn’t have to mean sitting still! You can be mindful about drinking a cup of coffee or during your commute – it’s about being present and aware of everything in that current moment.
  • Being flexible – the next time someone cancels at short notice or wants to change something at the last minute, hone your flexibility by accepting this and moving on.

The Advantage Licensed Trainer is a three-day workshop led by Emma Sue Prince to train the trainer in delivering ‘The Advantage’ soft skills programme. The programme introduces vital soft skills we all need to succeed in work and life in a highly interactive way. Training Zone members get 10% discount on the course with coupon code TZ1017 (on all payments made before end December 2016). The Advantage workshop is based on the book by Emma Sue Prince published by Pearson Business and translated into eight languages.

One Response

  1. Great to see growing
    Great to see growing recognition for the importance of reflection and self awareness in behavioural change after learning, particularly with soft skills.

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Emma Sue Prince


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