Editor’s note: It can be hard to “fit in” to the social scene at work, and harder still to learn the often-unsaid “rules” of connecting with co-workers in socially appropriate ways. That’s why Amanda Bernath brings you, teens and young adults who are blind or low vision, advice on upping your social skills savvy. I’ll be over here taking notes, too!
Have you survived the interview process and started preparing for your first day on the job? Or are you still in the job-hunting phase and haven’t quite made it as far as the interview? Maybe neither—you’ve been at your job for a while but are having a little trouble “clicking” with your boss or co-workers. Good news! There is a particular set of skills that will serve you well in any stage of the employment process, and should you choose to hone these skills, most every employer will appreciate your newly developed savvy. What are those skills, exactly? I’m so glad you asked! They’re your social skills.
What Are Social Skills?
Social skills refer to how you communicate with other people, with your words and actions. Stepping up your game in this area by choosing to be more intentional in your interactions will change both your personal and professional relationships. Here are more specifics and benefits to developing your social know-how: What are Social Skills?
Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills
Every employee (like you) has what employers refer to as “hard skills” and “soft skills”. Hard skills are the technical skills you have for the position. It’s your job-specific capability that allows you to complete the job you were hired to do. Especially for teen hires, employers don’t always require much in this area at first. They know you are young and building your work experience, so they are willing to teach you the hard skills you need for the job with onsite training.
Soft skills are different. Soft skills are largely your social skills. Most employers won’t keep you around for long, or maybe even hire you in the first place if you are sorely lacking in this department. Your behaviors and actions with different people and in different situations are crucial to maintaining that paycheck! Don’t hear me wrong – no one is perfect, and perfection isn’t the goal. We all have awkward moments and even seasons. The goal is to trend towards learning and improvement where needed.
Social Skills That Slay
1 – Develop Listening Skills
- Listen to comprehend. Resist the common urge to “listen” just long enough to respond to what the other person is saying.
- Listening is not a passive skill, it takes purposeful action, and probably more effort than you might think!
- Gleaning important information from your employer or co-workers is especially key to your ability to do your job correctly and well (the building of your hard skills).
2 – Be a Team Player
- Teamwork happens when you work with others to meet a common goal.
- You will naturally have responsibilities that are specific to you in the workplace, but just as naturally, you will participate in tasks that require two or more people to complete. Take, for example, a prep line in a restaurant. Several people complete their individual jobs with the collective goal of preparing a complete meal for the customer.
- Tasks are often easier and faster when workers unite their efforts, and not many employers will keep “lone wolves” around if the lack of cooperation impacts their bottom line.
3 – Learn to Resolve Conflicts
- It’s impressive and helpful to your employer when you take initiative to work out an issue with a coworker or customer on your own. This saves your employer the hassle of playing the referee and demonstrates both your maturity and social competence. No one wants to earn the company’s “tattle-tale” reputation.
- Check out these strategies for solving problems that may arise at work: Solving Problems at Work.
4 – Communicate Effectively
- Decide when and how to disclose your needs as a person who is blind or has low vision. Here are some considerations to weigh in your decision process: Disclosing a Visual Impairment.
- Speak clearly, with your face towards the person you are addressing. This also conveys confidence and is part of your non-verbal communication.
- Respond on-topic. This shouldn’t be a problem when you utilize those active listening skills! If your supervisor is talking about an issue with the register, don’t start talking to him about your scheduling issue for the following week. That’s a conversation for another time.
- Engage in reciprocal conversations with people, keeping both sides engaged in the discussion: Elements of a Conversation.
- Eye contact is part of the non-verbal skillset, and generally conveys active listening and interest in a conversation. Someone who makes little to no eye contact during an interaction may be seen as bored, distracted, nervous, or even untrustworthy.
- Whether you are a person who is blind or a person with low vision, you can offer the appearance of eye contact by facing your eyes towards the person you are speaking with.
- It’s also important to note, eye contact that remains fixed can seem too intense and make some feel uncomfortable.
- A research study at the University of Michigan suggests the 50/70 rule for striking the balance between aloof & extreme. Try to hold eye contact around 50 percent of the time when you’re talking and about 70 percent of the time when listening.
- Another trick is to try to hold eye contact for about 4-5 seconds at a time. Then, casually look off to the side for a moment before resuming eye contact. Don’t be too calculating with these numbers and percentages – they’re just a guideline.
Never Stop Learning
Ask your parents, teachers, or even co-workers you trust, for more information, tips, and ideas to help you succeed at the sometimes tricky, interpersonal parts of your work life. These five areas are just a small sampling of the skills that come together to build your social skill proficiency. A Teacher of Students Who Are Visually Impaired (TVI) is an invaluable resource for help in building up this area of expertise.
Another way to work on polishing your social skill smarts is to take a personal inventory. Here are some questions that can get your proverbial “wheels turning” in the right direction: Employability Skills.
If you take the time to instill some of these social, or “soft”, skills now, you will be well on your way to a more enjoyable, and long-lasting, work experience. Now go slay it!