You may have heard the term “soft skills” before, but perhaps you aren’t sure what they are or whether you have them. Soft skills are non-technical and relate to your personality and disposition. They are how you engage with others. Even though soft skills are harder to measure than hard skills such as coding or data processing, they are just as vital to business success. Think of soft skills as your “bedside manner” – a doctor may be the very best in their specialty, but what patient wants to be treated by someone who is always late or only speaks in medical terms?
Here are 9 soft skills you can work on identifying in yourself and building up as you set out in the world.
Empathy means you have a strong sense of what others are feeling, can understand that feeling, and can express the best response for the other person’s needs. When you have empathy, you are better able to see where your investors, teammates, and customers are coming from. Therefore, you’ll come across as much more likable and approachable as a young entrepreneur.
You’ll also be able to read a room better so you can avoid being tone-deaf or offensive. When you express empathy, you’re telling the people around you that you are focused on more than yourself and you care about their needs and desires.
2. Curiosity & Observation
These two go hand-in-hand. Observing data means more than simply looking at numbers; it means going beyond the numbers to spot trends. Curiosity then prompts you to ask why the numbers are going a certain way.
Observation means interpreting the feedback you get from customers, investors, and anyone else vital to your business. Curiosity means a desire to ask why, how, and what else can be done.
3. Active Listening & Conflict Resolution
Being a good helper means being a good listener. If you spend your time bulldozing your way through everyone else’s ideas and questions, you will miss out on crucial feedback. Active listening means turning away from whatever might be distracting you and giving your full attention to whoever is talking. Look that person in the eye, angle your body in their direction, focus on their words as well as their tone, facial expression, and body language.
Active listening is a vital part of conflict resolution. As a teen, you are probably no stranger to conflict – with your parents, your siblings, your teachers, or your friends. So you already know how emotions can flare, hurtful words can be thrown around, and everyone involved, as well as those close to them, can be left feeling awful. As a young entrepreneur, you need to be able to maintain a calm presence in the face of conflict. Learn how to keep a level head, actively listen to those involved, and try to come up with a solution that will benefit all parties involved (including yourself).
4. Problem-Solving & Adaptability
Without adaptability, you may miss out on many opportunities to help your business succeed. While it’s important to stay true to your vision and goals, adaptability means you are open to new ideas of how to get there. Adaptability is the ability to pivot and learn from the ever-changing landscape around you; just think of all the companies that adapted to the pandemic.
Adding adaptability to your repertoire of soft skills will boost your problem-solving acumen. This opens you up to creative solutions. Those solutions may be just the thing your company needs to jump a certain hurdle and get on the fast-track to success.
We’ve discussed resilience on this blog before, including how to build it up in yourself. Resilience is vital in business, school, friendships…life in general. Everyone has roadblocks, setbacks, and failures. When life knocks you down, resilience gives you the drive and strength to pull yourself up and try again. Look at successful entrepreneurs throughout history: the reason you know their names isn’t because they never failed, it’s because they had the resilience to face their failures and keep going.
6. The Courage to Speak Up
This one can be tough for anyone, but especially for young people. It’s easy to become intimidated when faced with the pros and adults in your field. However, as the young entrepreneur in charge of your business (and your life), you need to learn how to speak up for yourself. You know that phrase, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t make?” Remember that when you feel yourself getting tongue-tied around others. Don’t assume someone else’s response.
Ask questions if you need clarity so you are less likely to make a silly mistake. Speak up when you have a good idea so others know you are paying attention.
Very few people on this earth become hugely successful entirely on their own. Whatever field you are going into and whatever the nature of your business, you 100% need help from others. This is where networking skills come in handy.
Networking means building relationships with others. You need to be able to look for, identify, and approach potential investors and convince them to provide financing for your business. For businesses that require a team, such as a social media director or website builder, networking allows you to find exactly the right people. For young entrepreneurs, networking may be a new skill that takes time to learn and strengthen. Use some of the soft skills above, such as active listening and speaking up, to help you learn how to network effectively.
8. Clear Communication
You may know what you mean when you say, “Lawn-mowing services available all summer long,” but what will your customers understand? Will they assume you mean June 1 to August 31? From the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox? Clear communication helps you avoid mix-ups and disappointments. People, especially customers, don’t respond well to feeling like they missed a critical point. That’s on you, so make sure to be crystal clear in all your communications.
9. Work Ethic
This one includes things like punctuality, dependability, and stick-to-itiveness. Time management is a crucial skill for young entrepreneurs because you are juggling home life, friendships, school, homework, after-school activities, and your new business all at the same time.
It may take a great deal of practice, trial, and error, but anyone can learn how to prioritize deadlines and tasks. Be realistic with what you can accomplish within a certain timeframe, but also be forgiving with yourself when things pop up you could not possibly have foreseen. Honor your commitments, follow-through with promises, and show others that you can be relied upon to get the job done.
No one is perfect, and as a young entrepreneur, no one expects you to have mastered all nine of these skills before you’ve graduated high school. Now that you have some idea of what soft skills are and which ones can help you succeed, you can work on building them up in yourself.
The Kantner Foundation awards college scholarships to young entrepreneurs in Florida. Click here to learn more and apply.