People skills in studies and in working life
I am that type of a student who in principle doesn’t enjoy working in groups and making group assignments. There’s a good reason for that: the different levels of motivation to study that students seem to be having. The differences in motivation most definitely have impacts on how the work progresses and I just can’t stand that. On the other hand, whenever I’ve happened to find motivated team members, working in groups has been an absolute pleasure.
In other words, I am not against working in groups and I do see the benefits of group work – when the group is actually working well together and everyone is participating actively. But I do find it strange how much emphasis group work can have in a university of applied sciences and to my understanding, in universities as well.
Lecturers and professors are saying that group work is important because it prepares us for working life and that in today’s world it’s nearly impossible to find a job where you don’t – one way or another – work in groups. Based on my personal experiences, and by looking at my friends in various professions in working life, I have to say I disagree. But this is a topic I will address better in another post, so let’s leave it for now.
This time I would like to turn the focus from the much highlighted teamwork skills into people skills. Why is that? Because at least in my experience in working life (+20 years and from different occupations, titles, industries, cities and countries) I’d say that people skills are the ones you should work on – not just focus on group work skills.
Group work skills are in fact just a fracture of all the skills that you need to be successful in working life, no matter what your industry, title or the size of the organization you are working for.
What are people skills?
Generally speaking, people skills can be defined as the ability to communicate, listen and relate to others on a professional or personal level. Abilities like empathy for others and problem-solving can be included here as well. (McQuerrey 2019) If we want to dig a little deeper, people skills can be divided into three parts that are personal effectiveness, intercession skills and interaction skills. Each of these three aspects has a part to play in the big picture: they help you build professional relationships that are pleasant, productive and rewarding at the same time. (Indeed 2021)
Personal effectiveness in this context means how you present yourself to others. This includes things like your honesty and confidence. To be effective in this area, you need to understand your own skills and limitations. You also need to be able to make sound decisions based primarily on reason, not emotion. (Indeed 2021) As you recognise and communicate your own limits and skills, you will learn to recognise the same in others around you. This applies also in personal life: the more you learn about yourself, know your limits, set boundaries etc, the more you start seeing these – or the lack of these – in other people as well.
Interaction skills are a mixture of things. To have positive interactions with others, it requires listening skills, respect for others and empathy. (Indeed 2021) So make it clear to your colleagues and schoolmates that they have been heard and that their boundaries and needs are respected.
Intercession skills are closely tied to interaction skills. However, these skills are needed in situations where people have different perspectives or interests, since sometimes it can be very difficult to get them to meet in a meaningful way. When resolving these situations, patience, negotiation skills and, again – empathy – are needed. (Indeed 2021)
10 Important Skills For Group Work in Study Projects and Work Places
Based on my own experiences in both working and student life (both BBA and Master’s studies), I see ten skills in particular as the most important ones. Many of them are closely linked with another, as you can soon see.
In my opinion, what is extremely important is to understand that you shouldn’t start forcing any of these. If these things do not come out naturally, don’t worry. These can all be learned and all of these will also evolve with time. Forcing these all at once can come across as a behaviour that seems ungenuine, so don’t overdo it.
- Understanding boundaries
- Ability to delegate
- Good manners
- Leadership skills
- Active listening
Self confidence, assertiveness and understanding boundaries
When it comes to assertiveness, determination and decisiveness are important qualities when you are given tasks or asked questions. It can be difficult for you to say no, and much easier to say yes to all suggestions. However, it is better to learn to limit what you do from the outset, as you cannot possibly perform at your best on every extra task you are given. Don’t be afraid to say no: it’s smarter to let your boss (or whoever is asking) find someone who actually has time for the task. (Indeed 2021)
This on the other hand is easier said than done: especially in the beginning of your career it’s tempting to say yes to everything. You want to prove your abilities and make sure the company knows you are a valuable member of the team. Also, even with years of experience, when starting in a new company it might in the beginning feel like a better option to just say yes to everything: that’s the most effective way to signal that hiring you was indeed a clever choice.
But as said, there’s no way you can deliver your best work with every task if you take in more than you can actually handle.
Assertiveness works both ways: when you yourself assign tasks to others, you need to be able to state clearly and firmly from the outset what your expectations of the task are in reality. (Indeed 2021) This is linked to boundaries, too. In my experience, when you know your own boundaries you learn how to see your team member’s boundaries clearer, too. When you learn to see and respect boundaries of other people, it indicates that you respect and understand them.
To achieve certain goals, it is important that you have the qualifications and skills to do so. If you don’t have the self-esteem to match, a team mate or a supervisor may hesitate to give you certain tasks. So, it’s important to believe in your own abilities and try to avoid language that makes you sound incompetent or indecisive. (Indeed 2021)
Here I would add that being overly self-confident might get you into trouble, too. It’s best to learn to be realistic about your skills and expertise and most importantly, how to communicate this to others clearly. You can have self confidence and stay humble at the same time.
Good manners, active listening and empathy
Active listening is an important skill that you can – and definitely should – practise. It is different from other styles of listening. When you actively listen to someone, the aim is to really understand what they are saying, rather than trying to figure out how to respond. In practice, this means that you should take the time to ask questions and not just react directly to what you hear. (Indeed 2021) When you are actively listening, you don’t interrupt the speaker. Instead, you think about what you have heard, process it and reply only after you have a clear response. (Smith 2013)
This will help you to identify details and avoid misunderstandings that can, in the worst case, interrupt your workflow (Indeed 2021) If you have ever worked in a group or even with just one other person besides yourself, you already know that working in teams and with people requires understanding and patience.
When you respond with compassion and empathy you can diffuse heated situations that can come from people feeling preoccupied or overwhelmed. (Indeed 2021) Having empathy is also the ability to relate to others. It can be sometimes even as simple as willing to disagree or agree with someone and do that with mutual respect. It’s important to let the others know that you do understand where they are coming from and why. (Smith 2013)
Good manners are about being polite. When you are polite it shows others that you respect them. Sometimes, when there’s a lot of work piling up and deadlines stressing, you might forget to say things like “thank you” and “please”, but try to remember to say these things, no matter what. These are demonstrating to your team members that you appreciate them. (Indeed 2021)
Even if you are working remotely, as I am and have been for the past 4 years now, good manners are important. When I send my first Skype messages to my team members around Europe, the very first message always starts with a “good morning, how are you”.
On the other hand, people, especially in international companies, can easily overdo this, too. People can get fixated on being as polite as possible. This can lead to an office environment where you are constantly asking your colleagues how they are, how have they been, how has their day been going and so on. It can get very tiring and ridiculous easily, believe me.
Find the balance.
Leadership skills and the ability to delegate
Leadership skills are useful for every employee, whatever your position in the workplace. These skills will help you at every stage of your career. A strong leader is one who can motivate people and recognise the weaknesses and strengths of each team member. Delegating is an integral part of being a good leader. When you recognise your own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of others, it is easier to share different tasks in a fruitful way. (Indeed 2021)
In my experience, the inability to delegate is the worst characteristic of a leader – no matter the size of the team. I would add micromanaging to this category, too. When you don’t delegate and you keep micromanaging everything, your team members will start to lose their motivation and self confidence.
This is something that you should consider in group assignments in your studies, too. I for instance, am that type of a person that I take the charge pretty quickly, if no one else does that. Once I’ve taken charge of a group assignment, I start pushing people to start working so that we will meet the deadline.
If I get a feeling that someone is not doing what they are supposed to be doing, I can start micromanaging. It might help the group to reach targets within the deadlines, but at the same time it can affect the person I was micromanaging, negatively. They might for instance feel that they weren’t even given a chance. Maybe I should write about leadership skills in a separate post even, what do you think?
Communication and negotiation skills
Last but certainly not least, communication and negotiation skills.
Proactive, clear communication is one of the most important people skills you need in the world of work, whatever your field. Misunderstandings and problematic situations can be prevented with excellent communication skills. However, this requires you as a communicator to actively think about what needs to be made clear and to whom this information is being given to. You should not assume that someone already has bits and pieces of the information you are talking about. It is also important that you actively ensure that everyone knows what they should do. (Indeed 2021)
On the other hand, this is another place to step on a mine. If you’re too active in making sure people know what they’re doing and so on, you run the risk of being seen as a micromanager. In other words, finding the balance is important here, too.
Negotiation skills can help you achieve good results in situations where different sides of the table come to the table with different objectives. Negotiation skills are useful in practical situations such as salary, strategic meetings and conflict resolution. Successful negotiators are able to balance their own needs with those of others. (Indeed 2021)
Negotiation skills are important in any type of job. In fact, these skills will benefit you both in your professional and personal life. The best thing about negotiation skills is that they are easy to practise – and you can do this continuously. Situations where negotiation skills are needed, come up almost every day, you just need to know how to spot them.
People skills are needed in all areas of life
As you can see, all of these ten skills that were mentioned here, are valuable in business life but during your studies and even in your personal life, too. Also, remember that these ten skills that were listed here, are the ones I find the most important ones. They are not not set in stone and you might find some other skills more valuable.
In the end, at least in my experience, the most important thing when working with people, be it face-to-face or remotely, is to remember good manners and respect for one another.
Indeed Editorial Team. 8 September 2021. Indeed.com. 18 People Skills To Help You To Succeed At Work. Available at: https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/people-skills. [Accessed 21 February 2022].
McQuerrey, L. 28 January 2019. What Are Good People Skills?. Available at: https://smallbusiness.chron.com/good-people-skills-54765.html. [Accessed 21 February 2022].
Smith, J. 15 November 2013. The 20 People Skills You Need To Succeed At Work. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/11/15/the-20-people-skills-you-need-to-succeed-at-work/. [Accessed 21 February 2022].
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