Strategies & Tactics

Soft Skills for Your Success in 2019 — and the Not-So-Distant Future

January 3, 2019

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This issue of Strategies & Tactics focuses on PR essentials for the New Year, but I can’t help but jump ahead to the not-so-distant future, when the co-worker helping you develop a communications campaign might be a robot. Or when, with the press of a button, software on your computing device will write a news release using artificial intelligence (AI) that derives information from its analyses of company messages, news trends, sales data and social media sentiments. 

This is not speculation. Little by little, automation and AI are creeping into our lives and becoming normal. As we type emails on Google, for instance, AI technology offers to finish our sentences for us, based on its analysis of previous emails we’ve written. At grocery stores, we find fewer cashiers and more self-checkout stations. When we visit Amazon.com, we find dozens of product suggestions based on our purchasing patterns.
 
All of this automation promises to make our lives happier and more productive. But oddly (and disconcertingly), when I ask the virtual assistant Siri, “Will robots take over the world?” I’m met with silence as I watch the little icon on my iPhone whirl. Hmmm.

Given that more and more jobs are being performed by robots and automation, how can you make sure you’re still employable in the year 2030 and beyond? The key, I believe, is to develop skills that robots will find difficult to replicate. And it just so happens these are the same skills you should be developing to enhance your career, anyway.

They’re what we call “soft” skills — those intangible qualities such as creativity, empathy, listening, presenting, selling, interviewing, networking, collaborating and managing time. In other words, they are the skills we depend on to work harmoniously with other people.

To develop your soft skills, consider these six tips:

1. Become self-aware.

First, recognize the soft skills at which you excel and those you need to improve. Some people are naturally adept at networking or giving presentations, for example, while others have to work to acquire those skills. Ask yourself, “What do I truly enjoy doing?” and “What comes naturally for me?”

List the soft skills you feel you’re good at and those for which you need to improve. For example, one skill that comes naturally to me is interviewing people for market research and writing projects. But giving presentations has always been harder for me.

2. Seek feedback.

Ask people around you — those you trust and who are sincerely interested in seeing you succeed — for their feedback on your soft skills.

A number of years ago, I asked my department head to assess my presentation skills. His constructive feedback inspired me to join Toastmasters (a nonprofit network of clubs that help people become better public speakers) and eventually seek out speaking engagements to refine those skills. I also turned to a presentation specialist, who taught me how to create more compelling presentations. I don’t consider myself a natural presenter, so I constantly look for new opportunities to build those skills.

3. Find a coach.

I know many people, myself included, who have hired personal trainers to help them develop good exercise habits or learn the right way to lift weights. You can likewise hire a coach to boost your soft skills, such as learning how to give more engaging presentations.

4. Volunteer.

Volunteering is another excellent way to build the soft skills that will advance your communications career and make you better prepared for the future. To improve your leadership abilities, for example, you might volunteer for your local PRSA Chapter and lead a committee.
To practice your coaching skills, volunteer to coach a youth team through your local school district. To become a better listener, volunteer to meet with seniors at an assisted-living center and ask to hear their stories. By volunteering to serve on the board of directors for a local nonprofit organization, I learned how boards make decisions.

5. Find a mentor, or become one.

AI robots are constantly learning, and you should be, too. But instead of trying to absorb more facts and figures, you can gain wisdom from others who have mastered their own soft skills. Seek out a mentor or team of mentors willing to share their insights on the art of building and maintaining human relationships.

Consider mentors of all ages and skill levels. I rely on my niece, a college student who is studying blockchain and cryptocurrencies, to help me better understand those technologies and their potential use in my field of marketing and communications.

6. Embrace change.

Perhaps the most important soft skill to develop is your ability to adapt to change. Future employers will look for people who are nimble, flexible and open to trying new things — and who can persuade others to recognize the benefits of change themselves. We’ll likely see changes in products and services and how they’re delivered, and changes in policies.

Curious people are good at embracing change. They constantly seek new ideas and can visualize multiple possibilities. As part of their creative process, they allow themselves to make mistakes. That constant reinvention will help you stay marketable and a step ahead of the robots in 2019 and beyond.


Don’t wait to develop your soft skills. Get started now. Think of your career the same way you regard your 401(k), as an investment in your future. Make a plan to develop the skills you’ll need five, 10 or even 20 years from now, and then work on learning them a little bit every day.

Acquiring new soft skills or taking your existing ones to higher levels may require you to make drastic changes. But more often than not, we need to take action — even if it’s something small — to build our confidence in skills that may not come naturally to us.

Stephen Dupont, APR

Stephen Dupont, APR, is vice president of public relations and branded content for Pocket Hercules (www.pockethercules.com), a brand-marketing firm based in Minneapolis. He blogs at www.stephendupont.co. Contact him at stephen.dupont@pockethercules.com.

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