Wednesday, March 24, 2021 9:14 am
By Bayo Adeyinka
The higher you progress in your career, the more you understand that your career is not all about your hard or technical skills. I usually tell people that any company or organization can buy hard skills- that’s not difficult to get as long as they can afford them. This is why I believe no staff is indispensable no matter how good they are. If anyone has their skills in the market, they can be ‘bought’. There is someone somewhere who can do what you do and maybe even better.
However, the higher you go, the more important your soft skills become. Some ‘sins’ may easily be forgiven if you’re a lower level staff but they become unpardonable when committed by senior people. A combination of hard skills and soft skills together with a good understanding of office etiquette will make you a toast to your company and also increase your relevance.
I’ll discuss a few:
When you work in a place, don’t keep to yourself. Get to know colleagues in other departments. Your ability to network and forge alliances may be the most important soft skill to have. You can’t make much progress without it no matter how good you are on the job. Sometimes, visit other units just to fraternize with the unit head or other colleagues. Do this wisely so you don’t spend company time to ‘gist’. People who network increase their value unconsciously. Networking is proof that you have good inter-personal skills. Don’t limit your network to your company- reach out within your sector. I’m a banker so I make sure that I have key contacts in all the other banks.
2. Watch Your Phone and Virtual Meetings Manners
We spend so much time on virtual meetings and telephone now. There are some unwritten rules you need to watch carefully. For instance, when you’re on virtual meetings with people who are senior to you, allow them to leave the meeting before you go off-except they expressly instruct you to do so. The same applies to phone calls. Don’t just cut off the phone because you have finished speaking when you’re on with a superior. Allow them to go off the line first-irrespective of whether you made the call or not. This is a measure of your business courtesy and an important measure of relationship management.
3. Your Communication Skills
If you ask me for the single most important soft skill that everyone should possess, this is it. You need to understand how to put your thoughts down and also pass same across in such a way that the intended response is elicited. To succeed, you need the ability to communicate effectively. To improve, read good books and watch videos that can help you. I watch the news and listen out for some words and how to pronounce them. I read the dictionary too. Sometimes, my wife helps me too as she’s a better speaker of the language. I listen over some of my speeches to see where I can correct myself. You don’t want to get to the big stage of your life and realize you can’t even hold the audience for a few minutes.
When speaking at a meeting-physical or virtual- there are certain protocols that must be observed. You start with mentioning your name and possibly your department if you have different units represented. You also acknowledge the Chairman of the meeting (maybe the MD or anyone leading the meeting) before you now make your contribution.
Practice how to write too. The more you write, the better you become. Everything can be learnt including how to write well. Most effective leaders are good writers. Your writing can show how well organized you are.
Don’t also forget some important things in the art of communication. Watch your tenses. Use spell checkers. If you write a memo and you need to sign off with another person, the more senior person signs on the right.
4. Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Communication
Understanding the mood of your superiors or organization and how you respond is a reflection of your emotional intelligence. There is a good time to ask for salary raise and a bad time. Look out for the positive non verbal communication and the negative ones. Your vocal tone should be positive at all times. Just listening to you on the phone tells me a lot about you. I can form an impression without ever meeting you. Many superiors form impressions about their subordinates this way.
5. Proper Grooming
Proper grooming becomes more important as you rise in your career. Perception is reality. Your sense of dress gives a perception of the kind of professional you are. You must take care of how you look in and out of office. You can’t wear floppy slippers all over the place and expect to be taken seriously. Sometimes, I’m tempted to just dash out of the house to a nearby restaurant in an outfit I wear indoors but when I remember I may chance upon someone I don’t expect and that may be an opportunity to form an impression, I quickly re-adjust myself. You may be brilliant and good on the job but a sloppy dress sense will limit you. Invest in your looks. Certain items should be in your wardrobe- a good bow tie, a nice evening wear for ladies, a good dinner jacket, etc.
Part of grooming is your hygiene. Visit the dentist and do scaling and polishing. You will be more confident and smile more. Use a breath freshener. Smell nice. You don’t need to have body odour before you use a nice cologne. I keep a small pack even in my car and I dab it before I step out for a meeting.
Put out your best picture in the public every time.
6. Understand the Office Culture
Every office has a culture. I got into a meeting upon resumption at an organization many years back and I almost made a mistake of sitting on the chair reserved for the MD. I didn’t know but thankfully, a colleague corrected me. Take your time to understand the culture of any organization you work for. Something as simple as a sitting arrangement can matter a lot in some places. Understand the values, ethics, work environment and leadership style. Culture is not written so you need to observe to understand it.
-Bayo Adeyinka, a banker and public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos