The 3 Steps to Learning Any Power Skill
Learning soft skills like communication and empathy, then taking positive action, often ensures success.
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If you want to improve your soft skills, you need to commit to a process of honest self-reflection. Then, practice to identify what areas of yourself you need to work on without worrying about being outside of your comfort zone. Reframe your brain to enjoy the practice rather than worrying about the outcome.
Get feedback from everyone around you. And, be open to feedback identifying your blind-spots and improving your weak areas. When I worked as a surgeon, every six months all doctors needed to do is what's called a 360 degree appraisal. This is where a selection of people you worked with, including patients, were invited to offer feedback on your performance. We're happy to critique and coach on technical performance, like exam scores or sales quotas. We're less inclined to look for feedback on things like communication or empathy.
This is about building frameworks to help bring structure to your power skills and diving into the theory a little more. I mentioned earlier the way we learned this in medicine. We used a conversation structure that began with open questions to ask the patient how they were doing. We then discussed their ideas, expectations and concerns about the treatment plan to ensure they felt included. For most power skills, breaking them down into thinking, feeling and doing often ensures success. So too using our example of learning empathy. You can demonstrate empathy in two ways. First, you can consider someone else's thoughts through cognitive empathy or thinking (If I were in his/her position, what would I be thinking right now?). You can also focus on a person's feelings using emotional empathy (Being in his/her position would make me feel like this).
But you'll be most successful not just when you personally consider others. When you take positive action that is thoughtful, based on how you think they are thinking or feeling. And you can put this into practice right now to upgrade your own EQ. Next time you have a conversation, or speak with your parents or get into an argument, try and take a step back. Consider what the other person might be thinking about. What do they want, what's driving their actions, and how are they feeling? Then think about how you can offer value with your actions, even if that is just listening.
Other practical frameworks you can apply would be things like simply remembering to start a conversation by asking the other person how they are feeling. And, taking the time to listen and thoughtfully respond. If you're a leader, you could even start every meeting with a quick five-minute check-in to see how your people are doing. Also, schedule regular one to one catch-ups with your team.
This then brings us to step 3, which is to turn everything into deliberate practice. And this is where things get really fun. By committing to improving your power skills, your brain will naturally start to analyze other people's behavior in the workplace and in your personal life. You can then start to build an understanding of what good and what poor power skills look like and really see the matrix. In your social circle, do you have that one friend who captivates everyone when they tell a story? Or, is there someone you know who is just so confident at speaking to strangers. What do they say, how do they structure what they are saying, what is their body language like, how do they make you feel? You can start building up a picture of what good looks like to you. Equally, when you are in a meeting or any social environment, start putting into practice some of the feedback you have received.
One of the great things about medicine is that you get to work with many amazing leaders, all with slightly different styles. You also get to interact with a hugely diverse range of patients. You can start to take some of their best leadership skills, or how they communicate and apply phrases or body language or ways of communicating, into your own practice.
If you want to supercharge this learning feedback loop, you might also want to record your zoom calls or live power skills like public speaking. Then sit down with a coach and analyze your performance in detail. There are also some amazing ways that technology can really accelerate this. For example, the company that I left surgery to found actually uses virtual reality and AI-powered avatars. You can practice your power skills in a safe, repeatable environment while collecting data on your performance. So right now, the future is looking pretty bright for learning power skills.