Recently, I was asked to write about soft skills because I excel in that area. Oddly enough, I had never heard of soft skills and had no idea what it meant when they said I was good at them. So I did some research, and it turns out that yes, I am good at soft skills. They just come naturally to me, and are not something that I would necessarily define about myself. So, I want to share what soft skills are, and try to give some helpful tips on how to further develop them. They do not come naturally to everyone, but everyone can benefit from learning how to utilize them.
The definition I found says that soft skills are a set of skills that are valuable in the work place. They include traits such as: positive and flexible attitude, common sense, and the ability to interact well with others. They are basically a combination of social, interpersonal, and communication skills that help in the job market, and in everyday life.
There are many different categories of soft skills, and they are different depending on which source you use. But they are all very closely related, and in some cases, to have one, you must have them all. I am going to focus on, and separate, the soft skills that I am particularly adept at, and that I think will help most with finding a job, and navigating life as a blind person.
Positive and Flexible Attitude
This is one of the most important skills in my opinion. It is a sturdy base, and trickles through all of the other soft skills. If you have a negative attitude, it will trickle through to your social and communication skills. So what does a positive and flexible attitude look like? And how can you change the negative to a positive?
I am a big advocate in being yourself. You be you! That being said, some people are just more negative than others. And that is okay. Would it help if you were more positive? Yes it would. But I don’t think that necessarily means that you need to change who you are. The simplest way to appear positive, even if that is not how you feel, is in your word choices. For example: if your boss asks you to do something that you particularly don’t want to do, but you know you have to, instead of saying, “I guess,” say, “Absolutely!” If your friend or coworker is having a baby, and you are not excited because you don’t care for babies, instead of saying, “Good for you,” you could say, “That’s wonderful. You must be so excited!”
The words you use are extremely important. Some words are just more negative in nature. The way we, as humans perceive those words, really makes an impact on how we view people. Not only is it important to use the more positive words, you should also try to use a positive uplift in your voice. For example, people who are more monotone, tend to come across as more negative in nature. So trying to put that happy lift into your tone of voice can even turn negative word choices into positive ones. If someone asks you if you need help, instead of saying “no thank you” short and clipped, give your voice a lift and slow it down a bit. This will help it appear light hearted and friendly instead of cold and angry.
This may also vary depending on culture. The way we as humans perceive things is so engrained into us from birth, that it is important to try and match your cultural norm. Unfortunately, if you don’t adapt the way you speak to what is socially accepted in your culture, than you can come across as very negative even if you’re not.
Keeping a positive attitude helps in flexibility as well. Things change. They cannot always go 100% according to plan. Having that negative attitude will make things harder and more stressful on you. And if you are super stressed about it, it could make the situation worse.
Keeping that positive attitude, or appearing to, will carry through into that flexibility. Instead of thinking or saying, “no! That sounds awful, and it’s not going to work,” try thinking or saying, “That might work. Let’s try it!”
Positive attitude is everything when speaking to the public, friends, future employers, or coworkers. Being positive will help you get farther in life. If you’re negative, that promotion you’ve been waiting for could go to your more positive counterpart instead. If you are lost and need directions, and you have a reputation for being rude and negative, you might not get the help you need, as people may steer clear of you to avoid a negative interaction. Always be who you are, but don’t let negativity stand in your way. Positivity will take you so much farther.
Social skills are a complex topic. What is acceptable socially can be different from region to region, and culture to culture. For instance, in some of the southern regions in the United States, it is polite to refer to people as sir or ma’am. Whereas in some parts of the Midwest United States, where I live, some are offended by being referred to as sir or ma’am. I have often heard women in the Midwest complain that they are not old enough to be a Ma’am. So how then, are we supposed to successfully develop our social skills if the social norms change from area to area?
In my opinion, there are a couple of different things you can do, if you are not sure what is socially acceptable in a certain area. Firstly, you could do some research on that regions social etiquette. Look it up online, or ask people. There is no harm in asking. It will make you appear interested in local culture, and help you out in the future.
The second thing you can do, which tends to be my fall back, is to be positive. It sounds silly, and simple, but I have found that it gets me farther socially than anything else. I do still ask a lot of questions about etiquette, and own what I don’t know, but I do still make social faux pas. But because, I am positive, and put that positive uplift into my voice, I find that people forgive those faux pas. People are receptive to positivity, and will be more likely to give you some slack for making a social blunder.
This is not to say however, that social skills are not important if you can just be positive. Aside from research and being positive, here are a few social tips that will be relevant in most places:
People are very receptive to smiles. When you greet someone, smile. It makes you appear friendly and positive. If you’re going to a job interview, smile. Employers want friendly employees with good social skills. If you smile, they might think, “hey, they are pretty friendly and positive. They might be a great employee!”
- Hand Shakes
When meeting someone new, it is generally a good idea to shake their hand. Especially if it is in an interview. It shows confidence, and that you understand and have social skills, despite having a disability.
- Eye Contact
In the sighted world, eye contact is huge! It shows that you are listening and interested to what someone is saying. So how does a blind person make eye contact? Easy … you look towards their voice. Always look towards the voice of whoever is speaking, and they will unconsciously make the eye contact. It makes me laugh when people tell me that I am really good at making eye contact. I am not the one who is making the contact, I am just looking towards their voice.
And last but not least, being punctual! If you show up a few minutes late for an interview, or on your first day at the job, the employer may think: “oh, they are blind; they must not be able to get around well.” Or, “Maybe they got lost on the way, how would they find their way around the work place?”
We need to be able to give the employers confidence that we can do the job. That we can be there on time, and that we are a better hire than our sighted counterpart. Unfortunately blind people have to work harder at proving ourselves than sighted people. And one way to do that is to show up a little bit early.
And lastly, the most important soft skill to attain is communication! Good communication skills are the foundation of success. As cliche as it sounds, it is the main contributing factor in almost every matter in life. You must be able to effectively communicate what you need, how you feel, your opinions, your questions, your ideas, etc. It is in general, a well-covered topic, and it is accepted that it is one of the most important life skills. But how can you put it into play? What can you do to actually better your communication skills, rather than just being told that you need to acquire them?
First, it is important to note, that a positive attitude and good social skills, will trickle down and help with acquiring good communication skills. Effective communication skills may be the foundation to a successful life, but positivity and interacting well with others, are the stepping stones to a solid foundation. Miscommunications tend to be more easily forgiven if someone has a good attitude and interacts well with others. And people are more likely to want to communicate with you if you have those skills.
One thing I utilize a lot when communicating, is questions. I tend to ask a lot of questions. Not too many, but enough that I know what I need to do. Sometimes you need clarification on a task, and it is better to ask, and make it known that you need more information. If you don’t completely understand what is wanted of you, and you decide not to get it clarified, then you run the risk of doing it wrong and having to start all over. Or worse, you could cause some sort of minor to major disaster. Mistakes happen, but if you can prevent making them by asking and clarifying what it is that you need to do, then what’s the harm? Not being afraid to ask, is a step towards becoming an effective communicator.
Another thing you can do to improve your communication skills, is to speak up. Let’s say that your boss asks you to do a task that you have no idea how to do; or maybe they ask you to do something that makes you extremely uncomfortable. It is okay to say, “I’m not sure how to do that.” Or, “that makes me very uncomfortable.” If you don’t tell them, they won’t know. No One can read your mind, so speak up. If you have requested a day off that has been approved, and your boss forgets, instead of letting them continue with their plans for you that day you are supposed to be gone, remind them that you will not be there that day. It will be much worse if you don’t tell them. They will expect you to be there, and when you don’t show upp, it will reflect very badly on you. There is no harm in speaking up, as long as you do it in a positive appropriate manner.
And finally, take a break. If you get frustrated or angry, take a break. Frustration and anger are natural emotions, but are less than helpful in a professional, or public setting. These emotions cause people to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t. And they often lead to regrettable behaviors.
So if you feel yourself growing frustrated or angry, don’t hesitate to take a break. Instead of yelling at your coworker because they don’t understand what you want, take a breather for a few minutes. It will not only help you to cool down, but it will also help you collect your thoughts and determine your next course of action. It may not seem very productive, but it will lead to an increase of productivity in the future. By doing this, you can avoid anger driven reactions that could potentially be detrimental to your situation.
If for some reason, you are unable to get away and take a break, I find it helpful to pause. Pause for a second, take a deep breath, and relax your body. Though not as effective as taking a break, it will help dampen your urge to yell and throw things. If you’re in a meeting, and you get frustrated, most of the time you cannot just walk away and take a break. So in those moments, it is helpful to pause, and settle your mind a bit.
If you can utilize the skills I talked about:positivity, social skills questions and speaking up when communicating, most times you can avoid getting to the point where you are angry and need a break. The Beauty of effective communication skills, is that if used properly, it minimizes frustrations. As with diseases, prevention is the best treatment. Develop your soft skills so you can prevent getting to the point of anger. Your life might not be completely smooth sailing, but it will definitely have calmer waters, and lead to more success in the long run.
To sum it up, positivity leads to good social skills which in turn leads to good communication skills. These soft skills are extremely important on the path to a successful life. And there are loads more soft skills to be learned about. I hope to return to this topic in the future. And in the meantime, if you have any soft skills that you would like to hear about, don’t hesitate to let us know here at Blind Abilities. We love hearing from you, and would love to hear more about your thoughts and opinions on this topic!
This is me! Hope you enjoyed the read. I love questions, so if you
have any, or just a comment, feel free to email them to