Improving your so-called “soft” skills can not only improve your chances of communicating the things you need from your bosses and co-workers to do your job, they can also make you a more valuable employee. And the more valuable you are, the more likely you are to be rewarded in the long run.
With this in mind, here are several admittedly unusual ways you can improve your soft skills, and in the process, give your career a boost. And guess what — you just might have some fun in the process.
1. Take Acting Lessons
Acting classes are a great way to break out of your comfort zone. They’ll teach you to try new things, be comfortable in front of an audience, and to get into a character’s head. This in particular is a great tool; role-playing helps you to understand the needs of your audience (a salesperson or your boss, for example), and the needs of the people you are trying to communicate with on your job.
Acting classes also teach you to use your voice and project it off-stage to an audience. While based in old-school theatrical forms, this can help you when it comes time to give a presentation, bringing confidence and authority to your voice. Learn to own the material and it won’t own you.
2. Read and Write Poetry
There’s nothing like poetry to give you a better understanding of language. Reading and writing poetry will give you a chance to learn about word play, timing, rhythm, pace and style. Writing verse also allows you to practice putting words together in a clear, concise manner — an especially valuable business tool.
By the way, when reading poetry, try to do it out loud. You’ll gain an even better understanding of the poem’s inner rhythm.
3. Join a Local Club
Contrary to what you may believe, service organizations like the Rotary or Lions aren’t just for older men. The clubs in your area are looking for bright, eager young members, too. And joining can provide a number of benefits. For one, membership in a non-technology group puts you in front of people that are not in your field. This gives you a chance to learn to speak to people who aren’t already intimately familiar with your subject. Every conversation is a learning experience and a chance to practice your interpersonal skills.
For another thing, service clubs provide great opportunities for volunteering, getting involved, organizing events, and individual growth. They offer leadership training without the pressure of a corporate promotion. You can then bring this leadership experience to your job when it’s needed, and maybe surprise your boss in the process.
4. Crack a Joke
Similar to acting lessons, stand-up comedy can teach you timing, presence and, most importantly, how to make people laugh. Good stand-ups listen to their audience, learn from its reactions, and adapt their material. Understanding what makes people laugh is one step closer to understanding what makes them tick. A good sense of humor will always benefit you in your career, so find a local club with an open-mic night or take a class and see what happens.
5. Videotape Yourself
Just about every new laptop these days seems to come with a built-in webcam. So put it to good use. Point it at yourself and record your practice sessions. Then play them back and see how you look. You’ll be amazed what you notice when you look at yourself from the outside. You can do this in front of a mirror, too, but the real learning comes during playback, so go high-tech if you can.