In order to succeed and climb the ladder in your chosen career field, you’ll need to know how to handle the specific and specialized tasks that your work entails. You’ll need to program in the right languages, exercise the right technical skills, design a program, manage a budget, hire staff, or negotiate vendor contracts. But you’ll also need something else: a mastery of the general skills that help you interact and work well with other people.

Once called “soft skills,” these skills are now recognized as essential tools of business—any business. Here are the five most important.


Can you read your audience and then explain a complex concept or deliver a clear instruction in a way that’s tailored to that audience? Can you understand when someone is trying to explain a concept or deliver instruction to you? If you don’t fully understand, can you ask the right questions? Can you be direct, subtle, diplomatic, forceful, motivational, supportive, or inquisitive as the situation requires? Can you change gears when the situation changes? Can you display all of these qualities and abilities in both spoken and written formats? If so, great. If not, get some coaching.


Real teamwork means putting the needs of the team before your own. It means giving away credit for an idea that was originally yours. It means letting go of your roadmap and goals if the team wants to move in another direction. It means knowing when to make your voice heard and knowing when to listen and consider other options instead. Most of all, it means trusting those around you and recognizing that you are not the most important, knowledgeable or deserving person in the room. This can be hard for many of us. But if you master this skill, you’ll reap the rewards.


You were instructed to complete a task and arrive at a certain time at a specific place. You followed the instructions to the letter, but when you arrived, you discovered that the location and the task had both changed. In another scenario, you poured days of labor into a final product that wasn’t ultimately used for anything. In both cases, how do you react? Do you get upset, or do you bounce back and reset course quickly? Chose the second, and you’ll go far.

Problem Solving

You’re facing a tough situation, and you’re given minimal tools and no clear instructions on how to move forward. What will you do? Sit still and wait for better instructions? Or look around, gather your resources, and develop a solution on your own?

Critical Thinking

If you’re given a fact by a source you trust, but the information conflicts with previous information, your instincts, or the reality of your senses, what do you do? Do you wait for someone to explain everything to you, or do you gather the tools and research you need to find the truth?

For more on how to develop the skills and abilities, you need to succeed at work, turn to the career management pros at Extension.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)