Career Key

Author: Career Key's President and CEO, Juliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

People Skills: Improving Job Skills Series Part 4

People skills are required in all 21st Century jobs - a big part of the Foundation Job Skills. Whether you work from home, in an office, or out in the field, you come into contact with all kinds of people: customers, co-workers, and supervisors.  Many people you work with look different from you, have different life experiences, and different education levels. You'll need to work with them to help your team, your employer, and your customers be successful. Free agents, people who have marketable skills, master and excel at people skills.

This blog post will help you get started with improving these skills. If you haven't already, start with Part 1 in this improving job skills series: 3 Reasons to be Optimistic and Get Started.  Below, I'll describe the different people skills and then suggest activities to improve each.

There are 5 types of people skills:

  • Social skills, 
  • Negotiation skills, 
  • Leadership skills, 
  • Teamwork skills, and 
  • Skills handling cultural diversity.
To see descriptions of these skills, visit the People Skills section of the Foundation Skills article on the Career Key website, or download the Foundation Job Skills handout

Below are activities to improve your people skills that you can tailor to your career interests.  

Social Skills

  • Teaching requires well-developed social skills. Teachers must challenge students to think critically and express themselves.  At the same time, they must be sensitive to students' needs and encourage them.  Find a topic interesting to you and an opportunity to teach others.  Friends, family, community organizations, business networking groups all offer these opportunities.
  • Choose a volunteer activity that requires you to work with a child or adult who needs help. This will require you to show understanding, friendliness and respect for the feelings of others. You'll also need to take interest in what people say and do and why they think and act as they do.  It may be visiting a church member in the hospital, a Boys and Girls club mentorship opportunity, or an outreach activity with a local service organization like the YMCALions or Rotary International.

Negotiation Skills

  • Get real practice negotiating and resolving conflicts by volunteering for a local conflict resolution, peer mediation (some schools offer it), or mediation program. Often, mediation is used to help people resolve minor legal disputes so if you are near a courthouse, contact them to see if they have any mediation programs who need volunteers.  Most of the time, you do not need to be a lawyer to serve as a mediator for these programs but you will be given training, sometimes free or at low-cost.
  • Think of a conflict at home, in school, or at work that you feel you did not handle well. Mentally re-create the incident, writing down what happened and think of reasons why it was not resolved satisfactorily.  What goals did you share with the other people involved. If you had the same conflict today, how would you handle it differently to feel better about the outcome?

Leadership Skills

  • Take part in an activity that interests you that requires you to look beyond the work you do yourself, where you consider how well everyone and everything is working. For example, volunteer with an organization that needs help expanding and improving its services with current resources. Neighborhood cleanup, community event organizers, and environmental organizations are good examples.  They always need people to help and ideas for reaching out to the community.  They offer ways for you to justify ideas, persuade others to adopt them, and to implement them - leadership!

Teamwork Skills
For activities to improve teamwork skills, read my previous post "6 Critical Teamwork Job Skills and How to Develop Them."

Cultural Diversity Skills

  • With a partner, play a word association game with the terms below.  Choose one term from the list below.  For one minute, you and your partner(s) write down all the terms from this list that you associate with the term you chose and anything and everything that comes to your mind when you think of that term.
Asian American      male                unemployed person
African American   female             employed person
Hispanic                 rich person       nonprofessional 
Caucasian               poor person     professional
Native American    middle-class     elderly person
disabled person      homosexual      fire fighter
lawyer                    doctor               nurse
teacher                    engineer          college graduate

In doing this activity, you identified your stereotypes, the beliefs you have about classes or groups of people.  These beliefs can be positive or negative. Everyone has them. Unfortunately they often mislead us and can be harmful.  For example, not that long ago, people believe that occupations like airplane pilot, scientist, and police officer could only be done by men. Today, we know these were untrue but these stereotypes kept women out of these jobs for a long time. Are there any careers you are not considering because of stereotypes? People still view nursing and some other health care occupations with lingering stereotypes.

Stereotypes and assumptions about racial groups are also harmful. Be aware of your own stereotypes about people and how they can mislead you.  You can avoid letting your stereotypes harm others or your relationships with them.

  • Read a magazine or online media source for another culture or ethnic group. Write about what you felt about what you read or saw.  You can also try this with political media - if you watch MSNBC or read the Huffington Post, try reading Fox News or reading a more conservative news source. (and vice versa!) 
  • Start a conversation with someone different than you, like someone from the list in the first activity. You can do this on the bus, at a social gathering, or at work. Later write down what interesting things you discovered about this person and whether what you discovered agreed or disagreed with what you thought about the person before your conversation.

See how the careers that interest you require people skills by conducting informational interviews; ask people what skills are most important in their work. That will help you build skills around a specific career path. These articles will also help you gather career information:
Learn About Occupations
Learn More about the Jobs that Interest Me
Identify Your Skills

Activities in our most popular e-book, "What Job is Best for Me?" also helps you focus your career development efforts with skills.

Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: Getting Started with Job Skills: 3 Reasons to be Optimistic
Part 2: Improving (Not So) Basic Skills
Part 3: Thinking Skills: Improving Job Skills

Next week: Part 5: Improving Personal Qualities - Yes, it is possible...

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