What are Soft Skills

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Soft skills are the personal attributes that allows us to effectively relate to others. These skills enhance our personal interactions and lead to greater job performance and satisfaction. Unlike hard skills, which are the technical and knowledge skill set we bring to our work, soft skills are interpersonal and can be applied in a broad array of situations.  Soft skills encompass both personality traits, such as optimism, and abilities which can be practiced, such as empathy. Like all skills, soft skills can be learned.

Definition of Soft Skills

Soft skills are personal attributes that allow us to effectively relate to others. Applying these skills helps us build stronger work relationships, work more productively, and maximize our career prospects. Often we place the focus of our career development efforts on hard skills – technology skills, knowledge, and other skills that specifically relate to our ability to get work-related tasks done. This means we neglect to develop our soft skills. However, soft skills are directly transferable to any job, organization, or industry. As a result, they are an investment worth making.

Soft skills include:

  • Communication
  • Listening
  • Showing Empathy
  • Work Ethic
  • Adaptability
  • Networking
  • Self-confidence
  • Giving and receiving feedback

Learned vs. Inborn Traits

Because soft skills are talked about as traits of a person’s personality, it may seem as though you have to born with them. While some soft skills come more easily to one person than they might to another, soft skills are not inborn. Like all skills, they can be learned.

Because we all have our own preferences and ways of moving through the world, some soft skills may be more difficult to learn than others. But if we think back, there are also aspects of our hard skill set that were difficult at first, though they now seem to come quite naturally to us. We develop soft skills in the same way we develop hard skills – we practice!

Spending time with people who seem to be able to effortlessly demonstrate a soft skill that you find challenging is one way to build your soft skill set. Another way is to seek opportunities to practice in which the risk of failure is low, until you feel confident in your ability. You don’t have to be born a networker or an empathetic person – you can learn and build these skills throughout your career.

“Experience is not what happens to you – it’s how you interpret what happens to you.”

Aldous Huxley

List of Soft Skills

1. Empathy and the Emotional Intelligence Quotient

Empathy is perhaps the most important soft skill we can develop for better interpersonal interactions. Empathy is the ability to identify with another person’s experience. While we often think of empathy in terms only of identifying with someone’s pain or negative experience, we can apply empathy in a variety of situations.

Developing empathy allows us to imagine ourselves in another person’s shoes, to respond to others, and even to vicariously experience others’ feelings of emotions. When we demonstrate empathy, we create connections with others, which can help to build teamwork or otherwise create shared goals. Empathy also helps to forge stronger interpersonal connections between team members and colleagues, which is as important as shared goals or complementary skills when it comes to accomplishing work.

Empathy is one component of what is known as Emotional Intelligence, or EI. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage our feelings so that they are expressed appropriately. Exercising emotional intelligence helps to create harmonious, productive relationships. There are four key components to Emotional Intelligence:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to recognize our own feelings and motivations
  • Self-management: The ability to appropriate express (or not express) feelings
  • Social awareness: Our ability to recognize the feelings and needs of others, and the norms of a given situation
  • Relationship management: Our ability to relate effectively to others

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence is a part of you that affects every aspect of your life. Understanding the root causes of your emotions and how to use them can help you to effectively identify who you are and how you interact with others.

With Emotional Intelligence being a fairly new branch of psychology, its definition can be found in various theories and models. We are presenting a definition influenced by a few theories, and mainly popularized by Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book Emotional Intelligence.

Taken together, these skills make up our Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQI). The EQI is a measure of your ability to exercise soft skills such as empathy.

Benefits of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is “the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth (Mayer-Salovey, Four Branch Model of Emotional Intelligence).

Focusing on the importance of Emotional Intelligence and developing EI skills serves many benefits. Specifically, it affects one decision-making ability, relationships, and health.

  • Decision-making. Having an awareness of your emotions, where they come from and what they mean, can allow you to take a more rational, well-planned approach to how you are going to make a specific decision.
  • Relationships. When one is able to understand why they are the way they are and why they react to things the way they do, they tend to gain more of an appreciation for others and who they are, which can in turn lead to stronger relationships, business and personal.
  • Health. Many times, internal turmoil expresses itself as physical illnesses. Always harboring negative emotions can lead to higher stress levels in the body, which can temporarily or fatally damage it.

How to Accurately Perceive Emotions

The words that people say are only half of the message they are trying to get across. The tone in which they say it, or the emotion tied to their words, is the other half. For example, if your boss says, “We’re going to have to let you go” with the look of concern or in a caring tone of voice, he /she are actually saying, “Unfortunately, we are going to have to let you go.” On the other hand, if your boss makes that statement, trying hard to keep from laughing, he / she could be saying, “Fortunately, we are going to have to let you go.”

The ability to decide the manner, in which things are being said, lies in your knack of being able to decode the message by looking beyond the words themselves. It is important that you do not allow your emotional state of being to cloud your judgment of what is being said. Focus on the message (verbally and non-verbally) itself in order to accurately perceive the emotions of others.

Articulate your Emotions Using Language

As a child, it may be acceptable to ‘act out your emotions’ to get your point across, but when you become an adult it is frowned upon and certainly not appropriate in the work place. Emotions will never go away, but that is not an excuse to say, do and behave anyway we want to. It is important to understand your emotions, what they are, and why you feel that way, and then share your feelings via positive and constructive conversation.

When in a leadership role, you may encounter several opportunities to express yourself, whether it is praising a worker for a job well done, or reprimanding an employee for not meeting deadline. But the key to making sure you articulate your emotions in an effective and efficient manner is to channel those emotions so that your message comes across as firm but professional.

Use Emotions to Facilitate Thinking

Use emotions to facilitate thinking’ is such a profound statement. How one feels will determine how he/she views situations. If you are in a happy mood, everyday events don’t seem so bad. On the contrary, if you are not in a happy mood, even the smallest of situations can seem major to you.

When it comes to the workplace, regardless of your mood, your boss expects you to be a high performer. Make it easy on yourself and ‘choose’ to be in a good mood.

Understand Emotional Meanings

The underlying reason for why you feel the way you do is very important to understand. If you know why you are unhappy, you can either alter the thing that is making you unhappy or consciously tell yourself that ‘thing’ is not worth allowing you to be upset, which can ultimately turn your negative mood into a positive one. Having this understanding can not only be used to internally gauge yourself, but can also help with how you interact with co-workers.

Tools to Regulate Your Emotions

The ability to keep your emotions under control requires more than a willing heart. Understanding a situation through the eyes of another and strengthening self-management and self-awareness skills are tools that can be used in your quest to regulate your emotions.

Seeing the Other Side

If you ever want to understand the type of person you are and how you behave, ask other people. It is easy to justify the things you do, so much so that it seems like everything you do is perfect. If you take an honest look at yourself, you would probably say not only is this perfection untrue for you, but it is unattainable for all.

Talk to your boss, co-workers or friends about how they view you. If someone says, ‘When everything is good you are a nice person, but if something doesn’t go your way, you have an explosive temper’, don’t get upset and don’t automatically say that it is untrue. Gaining this insight is a valuable tool for you to help regulate your emotions. Your emotions and how you express them is your responsibility. If you don’t like it, fix it.

Manage Emotions

Knowing what emotion you are exhibiting or understanding the reason for that emotion is not enough to manage your emotions. Managing your emotions is a conscious and active task. This can be done in several ways. The overall goal is to establish strategies that utilize your emotions to help accomplish a goal rather than allowing your emotions to use you to create a futile outcome.

It is important to remember that your emotions are not the ‘enemy’. They contain valuable information that if used properly, can help you make sound decisions.

Self-Management and Self-Awareness

Self-management can sometimes be a hard quality to tame when self-awareness produces a very arrogant and self-centered result. The strength to self-management and self-awareness lies in the balance between the two. Understanding who you are, the role you play, authority you possess are all very important, but when these things overshadow your ability to be consistent and accountable, this could cause a poor outcome. By the same token, if one lacks understanding of whom they are and their importance, this could also hinder their ability to be consistent and accountable. People who are aware of their methods of dealing with conflict and understand the bearing of their way of doing things aren’t as likely to make matters worse than those who are not aware of themselves.

Giving in Without Giving Up

Compromise is an unavoidable part of dealing with others in both the business world and in personal relationships. The ideal situation would be that everyone agrees with everything you say, but that is highly unlikely. Unless you live in a society that does not value diplomacy, this is a skill that will present plenty of opportunities for you to master it.

This can be even more of an issue when you are in a position of less influence. You may be expected to compromise at a greater level or even expected to follow the lead of your superiors, without regard to your own feelings or opinions. In either case, learning how to have your beliefs, while accepting the ideas of others and not causing tension in the relationship is crucial to your success in the work place.

Gaining Control

Just by the very nature of the word, control is a very powerful thing to have. Having control causes companies to become multi-billion dollar entities and nations to crumble. This is no less important when it comes to having control over yourself, your thoughts, and emotions. Having control or the lack thereof could be the difference between building a successful career and no career at all. If you have control over these aspects of your life, pat yourself on the back. If you do not, read the following to obtain the necessary tools to become the master of your fate.

Using Coping Thoughts

The power of the mind is amazing. Every day, you will encounter at least one situation that requires you to use the calming forces of your mind, to overcome the potential anxiety of the issue at hand. In order to use these forces, you must have a reservoir that consists of them. When you find yourself in a situation that requires coping skills, do the following:

  • Take a deep breath. Deep breathing has an amazingly calming effect on the brain. By taking a deep breath or two, you can easily avoid your first, natural reaction to a stressful situation. This can prevent you from saying something or physically acting out in a manner that is inappropriate and may require you to apologize later on.
  • Step away from the issue. Mentally take yourself away from the situation and analyze the issue itself. Ask yourself if it is something worth using your emotions on. Does it truly impact you? Will your emotions bring forth a resolution to the problem or just internal conflict for you?
  • Use positive thinking. Even if the situation requires you to physically act, you do not want to approach it with thoughts of anger, sadness or other negative emotions. Consciously tell your mind to think ‘happy thoughts’. Thinking happy thoughts is not a way to avoid the problem, but rather a way to prepare you to tackle it in a productive manner.

Using Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques are not just used to help you ‘feel better’; they actually play a major role in reducing the stress on your body and mind that comes from the experiences of everyday life.

According to the Mayo Clinic, relaxation techniques can reduce stress symptoms by:

  • Slowing your heart rate
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Slowing your breathing rate
  • Increasing blood flow to major muscles
  • Reducing muscle tension and chronic pain
  • Improving concentration
  • Reducing anger and frustration
  • Boosting confidence to handle problems

There are several common types of relaxation techniques, with three of them being:

  1. Autogenic: This technique uses the senses to promote relaxation. For example one may think about a peaceful place and then use relaxed breathing. Or they might repeat words in their mind to do away with muscle tension.
  2. Progressive muscle: In this technique, individuals purposely tense and then relax each muscle group.
  3. Visualization: With visualization, the individual imagines a calming place and tries to utilize his or her senses to feel like they are really at that place.

Understand Emotions and How to Manage Them in the Workplace

As previously stated, having emotions is an inherent part of all human beings. Understanding one’s emotions and learning how to use them is the responsibility of each person. Many times, it may feel like the workplace is no place for emotions, whether good or bad. But the truth is, emotions must be utilized!

For example, if you are the manager and your team is about to miss an important deadline, it is up to you to stress how necessary it is for you to meet the deadline. The approach you take is determined by your natural tendencies as well as level of professionalism. One level-headed approach may be to call the team to a meeting and explain the ramifications of not meeting the deadline. This would also be a good time to listen to the team members to find out if there is something out of their control that is preventing them from doing their job.

A less calm and volatile method would be to yell at everyone and tell them to get to work.

Deciding which style is best can be done by weighing the pros and cons of each as well as which would result in the most positive outcome. Do not rely solely on how you feel, but what makes logical sense.

Role of Emotional Intelligence at Work

Emotional Intelligence plays a vital role in the workplace. How one feels about himself, interacts with others, and handles conflict is directly reflected in the quality of work produced. Both social and personal proficiencies are developed as a result of Emotional Intelligence.

Social Proficiencies

  • Empathy – Being aware of others’ feelings and exhibiting compassion.
  • Intuition – An inner sense of the feelings of others’.
  • Political Acumen – Ability to communicate, strong influence and leadership skills, and conflict-resolution.

Personal Proficiencies

  • Self-Awareness – Understanding one’s own emotions. The ability to asses one’s self as well as display confidence.
  • Self-Regulation – Managing one’s emotions. Maintaining trustworthiness and flexibility.
  • Motivation – Being optimistic about situations. Having the drive to take initiative and commit until completion.

Disagreeing Constructively

To disagree constructively means to do so in a positive, productive manner. Its purpose is not to disagree for the sake of disagreeing or getting your point across. It is also not used to be negative or destructive of another’s thoughts. The workplace is a place where disagreeing is a common occurrence. Companies look for the most effective ways to carry out operations and therefore invest in process improvement strategies, which opens the floor for discussion and compromise.

What does constructively disagreeing look like in practice, you may ask. Well, it is acknowledging and confirming someone else’s ideas before presenting your own.


Ted: Because of the nature of their duties, I feel the customer service phone team should arrive 30 minutes before their shift to bring up their systems and test their equipment to make sure it is properly working so they are ready to take the first call as soon as their shift starts.Michael: I understand your point, Ted and I agree the phone team should arrive early to prepare themselves for the start of their shift. However, I feel 15 minutes is sufficient time for them to get everything in place.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”

Peter Drucker

2. Communication

When we say the word, “communication,” what do you think of? Many people will think of the spoken word. People who are hearing impaired, however, might think of sign language. People who are visually impaired might think of Braille as well as sounds.

Communication is the most important soft skill, because all other soft skills are built on the ability to communicate clearly and professionally. Communication is more than just sending a message – it is also the ability to receive messages, listen actively, and “hear” what isn’t being said. Many times we focus on learning to speak or write clearly, but this is only one component of communication – and perhaps not even the most important!

What is Communication?

The dictionary defines communication as, “the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.”

It is also defined as, “means of sending messages, orders, etc., including telephone, telegraph, radio, and television,” and in biology as an, “activity by one organism that changes or has the potential to change the behavior of other organisms.”

The effectiveness of your communication can have many different effects on your life, including items such as:

  • Level of stress
  • Relationships with others
  • Level of satisfaction with your life
  • Productivity
  • Ability to meet your goals and achieve your dreams
  • Ability to solve problems

Ways We Communicate

Human communication is complex. The first thing that comes to mind when we hear the word “communication” is often words – either spoken or written.  But the words we speak and hear are just one way we communicate, and some studies show that most of our communication takes place through other means. Humans communicate in many different ways:

  • Nonverbal communication: Communication without words, such as eye contact or posture
  • Verbal communication: Communication with words, both written and spoken
  • Body language: Communication through gestures, personal space, and touching
  • Artistic communication: Communication  through images and other creative media
  • Musical communication: Communication through music, whether with lyrics or without

Most of us have a preferred method of communication, but all of use these different forms at one point or another. Learning to communicate effectively in many forms helps not only when you craft your own messages, but when you receive messages as well.

Other Factors in Communication

Other communication factors that we need to consider.

  • Method: The method in which the communicator shares his or her message is important as it has an effect on the message itself. Communication methods include person-to-person, telephone, e-mail, fax, radio, public presentation, television broadcast, and many more!
  • Mass: The number of people receiving the message.
  • Audience: The person or people receiving the message affect the message, too. Their understanding of the topic and the way in which they receive the message can affect how it is interpreted and understood.

Understanding Communication Barriers

On the surface, communication seems pretty simple. I talk, you listen. You send me an e-mail, I read it. Larry King makes a TV show, we watch it.

Like most things in life, however, communication is far more complicated than it seems. Let’s look at some of the most common barriers and how to reduce their impact on communication.

An Overview of Common Barriers

Many things can impede communication. Common things that people list as barriers include:

  • I can’t explain the message to the other person in words that they understand.
  • I can’t show the other person what I mean.
  • I don’t have enough time to communicate effectively.
  • The person I am trying to communicate with doesn’t have the same background as me, and is missing the bigger picture of my message.

These barriers typically break down into three categories: language, culture, and location.

Language Barriers

Of course, one of the biggest barriers to written and spoken communication is language. This can appear in three main forms:

  • The people communicating speak different languages.
  • The language being used is not the first language for one or more people involved in the communication.
  • The people communicating speak the same language, but are from different regions and therefore have different dialects and or unique subtleties.

There are a few ways to reduce the impact of these barriers.

  • As a group, identify that the barrier exists. Identify things that the group can do to minimize it.
  • Pictures speak a thousand words, and can communicate across languages.
  • If you are going to be communicating with this person on a long-term basis, try to find a common language. You may also consider hiring a translator.

Cultural Barriers

There can also be times when people speak the same language, but are from a different culture, where different words or gestures can mean different things. Or, perhaps the person you are communicating with is from a different class from you, or has a very different lifestyle. All of these things can hinder your ability to get your message across effectively.

If you have the opportunity to prepare, find out as much as you can about the other person’s culture and background, and how it differs from yours. Try to identify possible areas of misunderstanding and how to prevent or resolve those problems.

An example: A British restaurant owner needs to talk to a culinary specialist in Australia. Although they speak the same language, their words could mean very different things.

If you don’t have time to prepare, and find yourself in an awkward situation, use the cultural differences to your advantage. Ask about the differences that you notice, and encourage questions about your culture. Ensure that your questions are curious, not judgmental, resentful, or otherwise negative.

Differences in Time and Place

The last barrier that we will look at is location, definable by time and by place. These barriers often occur when people are in different time zones, or different places.

Take this scenario as an example. Bill works on the east coast, while his colleague, Joe, works on the west coast. Four hours separate their offices. One day, right after lunch, Bill calls Joe to ask for help with a question. Bill has been at work for over four hours already; he is bright, chipper, and in the groove.

Joe, however, has just gotten to the office and is, in fact, running late. He does not feel awake and chipper, and is therefore perhaps not as responsive and helpful in answering Bill’s question as he normally is.

Bill thinks, “Geez, what did I do to make Joe cranky?” In response to the way he perceives Joe’s behavior, he, too, stops communicating. Their effort to solve a problem together has failed.

So how can you get over the challenges of time and place? First, identify that there is a difference in time and place. Next, try these tips to reduce its impact.

  • Make small talk about the weather in your respective regions. This will help you get a picture of the person’s physical environment.
  • Try to set up phone calls and meetings at a time that is convenient for you both.
  • If appropriate, e-mail can be an “anytime, anywhere” bridge. For example, if Bill had sent Joe an e-mail describing the problem, Joe could have addressed it at a better time for him, such as later on in the day. Clearly, this is not always practical (for example, if the problem is urgent, or if it is a complicated issue that requires extensive explanation), but this option should be considered.

Another thing to watch out for is rushed communication. The pressure of time can cause either party to make assumptions and leaps of faith. Always make sure you communicate as clearly as possible, and ask for playback. The listening and questioning skills that you will learn in this workshop will help you make the most of the communication time that you do have.

Two monologues do not make a dialogue.”

Jeff Daly

Verbal Communication

When communicating verbally, it’s important look at the actual message you are sending. You can ensure any message is clear, complete, correct, and concise, with the STAR acronym.

Let’s explore the STAR acronym in conjunction with the six roots of open questions (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?), which will be explored in more detail later on in the workshop.

S = Situation

First, state what the situation is. Try to make this no longer than one sentence. If you are having trouble, ask yourself, “Where?”, “Who?”, and, “When?”. This will provide a base for message so it can be clear and concise.

Example: “On Tuesday, I was in a director’s meeting at the main plant.”

T = Task

Next, briefly state what your task was. Again, this should be no longer than one sentence. Use the question, “What?” to frame your sentence, and add the “Why?” if appropriate.

Example: “I was asked to present last year’s sales figures to the group.”

A = Action

Now, state what you did to resolve the problem in one sentence. Use the question, “How?” to frame this part of the statement. The Action part will provide a solid description and state the precise actions that will resolve any issues.

Example: “I pulled out my laptop, fired up PowerPoint, and presented my slide show.”

R = Result

Last, state what the result was. This will often use a combination of the six roots. Again, a precise short description of the results that come about from your previous steps will finish on a strong definite note.

Example: “Everyone was wowed by my prep work, and by our great figures!”


Let’s look at a complete example using STAR. Let’s say you’re out with friends on the weekend. Someone asks you what the highlight of your week at work was. As it happens, you had a great week, and there is a lot to talk about. You use STAR to focus your answer so you don’t bore your friends, and so that you send a clear message.

You respond: “On Tuesday, I was in a director’s meeting at the main plant. I was asked to present last year’s sales figures to the group. I pulled out my laptop, fired up PowerPoint, and presented my slide show. Everyone was wowed by my prep work, and by our great figures!”

This format can be compressed for quick conversations, or expanded for lengthy presentations. We encourage you to try framing statements with STAR, and see how much more confident you feel when communicating.

Mastering the Art of Conversation

Engaging in interesting, memorable small talk is a daunting task for most people. How do you know what to share and when to share it? How do you know what topics to avoid? How do you become an engaging converser?

Most experts propose a simple three-level framework that you can use to master the art of conversation. Identifying where you are and where you should be is not always easy, but having an objective outline can help you stay out of sticky situations. We will also share some handy networking tips that will help you get conversations started.

Level One: Discussing General Topics

At the most basic level, stick to general topics: the weather, sports, non-controversial world events, movies, and books. This is typically what people refer to when they say, “small talk.”

At this stage, you will focus on facts rather than feelings, ideas, and perspectives. Death, religion, and politics are absolute no-no’s. (The exception is when you know someone has had an illness or death in the family and wish to express condolences. In this situation, keep your condolences sincere, brief, and to the point.)

If someone shares a fact that you feel is not true, try to refrain from pointing out the discrepancy. If you are asked about the fact, it’s OK simply to say, “I wasn’t aware of that,” or make some other neutral comment.

Right now, you are simply getting to know the other party. Keep an eye out for common ground while you are communicating. Use open-ended questions and listening skills to get as much out of the conversation as possible.

Level Two: Sharing Ideas and Perspectives

If the first level of conversation goes well, the parties should feel comfortable with each other and have identified some common ground. Now it’s time to move a bit beyond general facts and share different ideas and perspectives.

It is important to note that not all personal experiences are appropriate to share at this level. For example, it is fine to share that you like cross-country skiing and went to Europe, but you may not want to share the fact that you took out a personal loan to do so.

Although this level of conversation is the one most often used, and is the most conducive to relationship building and opening communication channels, make sure that you don’t limit yourself to one person in a large social gathering. We’ll offer some ways to mingle successfully in a few moments.

Level Three: Sharing Personal Experiences

This is the most personal level of conversation. This is where everything is on the table and personal details are being shared. This level is typically not appropriate for a social, casual meeting. However, all of the skills that we have learned today are crucial at this stage in particular: when people are talking about matters of the heart, they require our complete attention, excellent listening skills, and skilled probing with appropriate questions.

Non-Verbal Communication

When you are communicating, your body is sending a message that is as powerful as your words.

In our following discussions, remember that our interpretations are just that – common interpretations. (For example, the person sitting with his or her legs crossed may simply be more comfortable that way, and not feeling closed-minded towards the discussion. Body language can also mean different things across different genders and cultures.) However, it is good to understand how various behaviors are often seen, so that we can make sure our body is sending the same message as our mouth.

Think about these scenarios for a moment. What non-verbal messages might you receive in each scenario? How might these non-verbal messages affect the verbal message?

  • Your boss asks you to come into his office to discuss a new project. He looks stern and his arms are crossed.
  • A team member tells you they have bad news, but they are smiling as they say it.
  • You tell a co-worker that you cannot help them with a project. They say that it’s OK, but they slam your office door on their way out.

This is the first goal of this module: to help you understand how to use body language to become a more effective communicator. Another goal, one which you will achieve with time and practice, is to be able to interpret body language, add it to the message you are receiving, and understand the message being sent appropriately.

With this in mind, let’s look at the components of non-verbal communication.

Understanding the Mehrabian Study

In 1971, psychologist Albert Mehrabian published a famous study called Silent Messages. In it, he made several conclusions about the way the spoken word is received. Although this study has been misquoted often throughout the years, its basic conclusion is that 7% of our message is verbal, 38% is paraverbal, and 55% is from body language.

Now, we know this is not true in all situations. If someone is speaking to you in a foreign language, you cannot understand 93% of what they are saying. Or, if you are reading a written letter, you are likely getting more than 7% of the sender’s message.

What this study does tell us is that body language is a vital part of our communication with others. With this in mind, let’s look at the messages that our body can send.

Body Language

The saying, ‘Actions speak louder than words’ is so true in the world of business. It is easy to shower someone with promises, but when it is time to perform, if the actions do not measure up to the words spoken, the words spoken will be forgotten.

The use of body language can have both positive and negative effects. The thing to remember about body language is that if you are not conscious of what your body is doing while you are talking, the wrong message could be conveyed. For example, if you are smiling while giving someone condolences on the loss of their loved one, that could be construed as inappropriate and your words insincere. On the other hand, if you are congratulating someone on a job well done, but do so with a frown on your face, you could appear to be unhappy for the person.

The signals you send to others.

Sending non-verbal signals to someone can be a great way to reinforce that which you’ve verbally spoken. It can also be used as a tool to further explain what you’re trying to say. However, it can be a way of confusing the listener.  So, this can be a valuable skill as long as you are conscious of it and have trained it to have a positive effect rather than using it as an uncertain form of communication.

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

The manner in which you say something could be the factor that determines what the listener hears. It is important to be aware of your emotions, body language, tone, speed, and pitch when you speak. It may sound like a lot of work and until it becomes second nature, it may be, but consistently doing so can produce a favorable outcome. It is possible to send the wrong message without intentionally doing it, so be careful. An innocent request such as ‘Please shred that document’ can sound like a rude command.

Body Language Examples

Body language is a very broad term that simply means the way in which our body speaks to others. We have included an overview of three major categories below; we will discuss a fourth category, gestures, in a moment.

The way that we are standing or sitting

Think for a moment about different types of posture and the message that they relay.

  • Sitting hunched over typically indicates stress or discomfort.
  • Leaning back when standing or sitting indicates a casual and relaxed demeanor.
  • Standing ramrod straight typically indicates stiffness and anxiety.

The position of our arms, legs, feet, and hands

  • Crossed arms and legs often indicate a closed mind.
  • Fidgeting is usually a sign of boredom or nervousness.

Facial expressions

  • Smiles and frowns speak a million words.
  • A raised eyebrow can mean inquisitiveness, curiosity, or disbelief.

Chewing one’s lips can indicate thinking, or it can be a sign of boredom, anxiety, or nervousness.

Interpreting Gestures

A gesture is a non-verbal message that is made with a specific part of the body. Gestures differ greatly from region to region, and from culture to culture. Below we have included a brief list of gestures and their common interpretation in North America.

Gesture Interpretation
Nodding head Yes
Shaking head No
Moving head from side to side Maybe
Shrugging shoulders Not sure; I don’t know
Crossed arms Defensive
Tapping hands or fingers Bored, anxious, nervous
Shaking index finger Angry
Thumbs up Agreement, OK
Thumbs down Disagreement, not OK
Pointing index finger at someone/something Indicating, blaming
Pointing middle finger (vertically) Vulgar expression
Handshake Welcome, introduction
Flap of the hand Doesn’t matter, go ahead
Waving hand Hello
Waving both hands over head Help, attention
Crossed legs or ankles Defensive
Tapping toes or feet Bored, anxious, nervous

What other gestures can you add to the list?

Improving Nonverbal Communication

Studies show that up to 70% of the information we communicate comes through nonverbal communication – gestures, eye contact, posture, personal space, and all the other ways we use our bodies to send messages. Other studies show that if a person’s nonverbal communication and verbal communication don’t match in terms of message, the listener is more likely to doubt what he or she is saying. Improving your nonverbal communication can help improve your overall ability to both send and receive messages.

Improving your nonverbal communication starts with awareness. Pay attention to how you use your body when you are talking or listening to someone. An open stance, frequent (but not continuous eye contact), nods, and a relaxed posture help to communicate that you are open and approachable, and that you are communicating honestly. A closed stance, folding your arms across your chest, staring at the floor, or refusing to make eye contact all indicate that you are not listening, or that you are not communicating openly. Shifting from foot to foot, pacing, or otherwise moving continuously indicate impatience. We do many things without thinking about them, especially when we are otherwise busy. Take time to notice both your own nonverbal communication and others’, and especially your reaction to others.


The ability to receive messages is as important, if not more important, than the ability to send them. Listening is more than just hearing the words someone speaks. It is a total way of receiving verbal and nonverbal messages, processing them, and communicating that understanding back to the speaker. Many of us listen in order to respond – we are formulating our next message while another is still talking. We should instead listen to understand – to fully take in, process, and comprehend the message that is being sent.

“Active listening” is sometimes thrown around as a buzzword, but it’s a valuable soft skill to develop. Active listening is a form of listening where you listen to the speaker and reflect back what you understand the speaker to have said. You may also give the speaker nonverbal feedback through nods of agreement or other techniques which indicate you are listening and understanding.  Active listening involves staying focused on the present, both by giving the speaker your full attention and by keeping the discussion to the issue at hand. Reflect back to the speaker what you understand him or her to have said by carefully rephrasing the message, such as, “So, I hear you saying that….” Check for understanding and use “I” statements rather than “you” statements.

Understanding Active Listening

Although hearing is a passive activity, one must listen actively to listen effectively, and to actually hear what is being said.

There are three basic steps to actively listening.

  1. Try to identify where the other person is coming from. This concept is also called the frame of reference. For example, your reaction to a bear will be very different if you’re viewing it in a zoo, or from your tent at a campsite. Your approach to someone talking about a sick relative will differ depending on their relationship with that person.
  2. Listen to what is being said closely and attentively.
  3. Respond appropriately, either non-verbally (such as a nod to indicate you are listening), with a question (to ask for clarification), or by paraphrasing. Note that paraphrasing does not mean repeating the speaker’s words back to them like a parrot. It does mean repeating what you think the speaker said in your own words. Some examples: “It sounds like that made you angry,” or, “It sounds like that cashier wasn’t very nice to you.” (Using the “It sounds like…” precursor, or something similar, gives the speaker the opportunity to correct you if your interpretation is wrong.”

Ways to Listen Better Today

Hearing is easy! For most of us, our body does the work by interpreting the sounds that we hear into words. Listening, however, is far more difficult. Listening is the process of looking at the words and the other factors around the words (such as our non-verbal communication), and then interpreting the entire message.

Let’s start out slowly. Here are seven things that you can do to start becoming a better listener right now. Pick a few of them and write them in your action plan.

  1. When you’re listening, listen. Don’t talk on the phone, text message, clean off your desk, or do anything else.
  2. Avoid interruptions. If you think of something that needs to be done, make a mental or written note of it and forget about it until the conversation is over.
  3. Aim to spend at least 90% of your time listening and less than 10% of your time talking.
  4. When you do talk, make sure it’s related to what the other person is saying. Questions to clarify expand, and probe for more information will be key tools. (We’ll look at questioning skills later on in the workshop.)
  5. Do not offer advice unless the other person asks you for it. If you are not sure what they want, ask!
  6. Make sure the physical environment is conducive to listening. Try to reduce noise and distractions. (“Would you mind stepping into my office where I can hear you better?” is a great line to use.) If possible, be seated comfortably. Be close enough to the person so that you can hear them, but not too close to make them uncomfortable.
  7. If it is a conversation where you are required to take notes, try not to let the note-taking disturb the flow of the conversation. If you need a moment to catch up, choose an appropriate moment to ask for a break.

Sending Good Signals to Others

When we are listening to others speak, there are three kinds of cues that we can give the other person. Using the right kind of cue at the right time is crucial for keeping good communication going.

  • Non-Verbal: As shown in the Mehrabian study, body language plays an important part in our communications with others. Head nods and an interested facial expression will show the speaker that you are listening.
  • Quasi-Verbal: Fillers words like, “uh-huh,” and “mm-hmmm,” show the speaker that you are awake and interested in the conversation.
  • Verbal: Asking open questions using the six roots discussed earlier (who, what, where, when, why, how), paraphrasing, and asking summary questions, are all key tools for active listening. (We will look at questioning skills in a moment.)

These cues should be used as part of active listening. Inserting an occasional, “uh-huh,” during a conversation may fool the person that you are communicating with in the short term, but you’re fooling yourself if you feel that this is an effective communication approach.

Asking Questions

Asking probing questions is a component that goes hand-in-hand with focused listening. Rarely does someone truly understand everything another is saying without at least asking a couple of probing questions. The key is to not ask questions for the sake of asking questions, or ask questions that do not relate to the conversation. For example, Amy talks to Michelle about a project they are going to work on together. The goal of the project is to create a high school lesson plan for a literature teacher. Michelle has never created a lesson plan and has no idea of what is included in one. The conversation is as follows:

Amy:  Hi Michelle. Today we are going to prepare a lesson plan for a high school literature teacher. This lesson is for the book, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. It is not necessary for you to read the book. We have a summary and analysis for each chapter, which is sufficient to develop the plan. There are several sections of the lesson plan that we have to write and it has a non-negotiable deadline.

Michelle:  Great, Amy. I look forward to writing the lesson plan with you; however, I have several questions:

  • Specifically, what are the sections that we must create?
  • Is there a template or certain grammatical rules that we must follow?
  • In what format do we complete the lesson plan?
  • What is the final due date?

Amy felt like she adequately described the assignment and how it should be bone, but because Michelle was listening carefully, she had the opportunity to ask several probing questions to gain a better understanding of what was to be done.

Open Questions

Open questions get their name because the response is open-ended; the answerer has a wide range of options to choose from when answering it.

Open questions use one of six words as a root:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?

Open questions are like going fishing with a net – you never know what you’re going to get! Open questions are great conversation starters, fact finders, and communication enhancers. Use them whenever possible.

Closed Questions

Closed questions are the opposite of open questions; their very structure limits the answer to yes or no, or a specific piece of information. Some examples include:

  • Do you like chocolate?
  • Were you born in December?
  • Is it five o’clock yet?

Although closed questions tend to shut down communication, they can be useful if you are searching for a particular piece of information, or winding a conversation down.

If you use a closed question and it shuts down the conversation, simply use an open-ended question to get things started again. Here is an example:

  • Do you like the Flaming Ducks hockey team?
  • Yes.
  • Who is your favorite player?

Probing Questions

In addition to the basic open and closed questions, there is also a toolbox of probing questions that we can use. These questions can be open or closed, but each type serves a specific purpose.


By probing for clarification, you invite the other person to share more information so that you can fully understand their message. Clarification questions often look like this:

  • “Please tell me more about…”
  • “What did you mean by…”
  • “What does … look like?” (Any of the five senses can be used here)

Completeness and Correctness

These types of questions can help you ensure you have the full, true story. Having all the facts, in turn, can protect you from assuming and jumping to conclusions – two fatal barriers to communication.

Some examples of these questions include:

  • “What else happened after that?”
  • “Did that end the …”

Determining Relevance

This category will help you determine how or if a particular point is related to the conversation at hand. It can also help you get the speaker back on track from a tangent.

Some good ways to frame relevance questions are:

  • “How is that like…”
  • “How does that relate to…”

Drilling Down

Use these types of questions to nail down vague statements. Useful helpers include:

  • “Describe…”
  • “What do you mean by…?”
  • “Could you please give an example?”


These questions are framed more like a statement. They pull together all the relevant points. They can be used to confirm to the listener that you heard what was said, and to give them an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings.

Example: “So you picked out a dress, had to get it fitted three times, and missed the wedding in the end?”

Be careful not to avoid repeating the speaker’s words back to them like a parrot. Remember, paraphrasing means repeating what you think the speaker said in your own words.

Appreciative Inquiry

Traditional communication often focuses on what is wrong and how we can fix it. Think back to your last performance review, visit to the doctor, or your latest disagreement with a friend or spouse.

Appreciative inquiry does the opposite: it focuses on what is right and how we can make it better. Many organizations have found it to be a refreshing, energizing way of approaching problems and revitalizing their people.

Although we could spend a whole day talking about appreciative inquiry, this module will give you a brief taste of what AI is all about.

The Purpose of Appreciative Inquiry

To understand the purpose of Appreciative Inquiry, let’s look at each of its parts.

  • Appreciate is defined by the Random House dictionary as, “to value or regard highly; to be fully conscious of; be aware of; detect; to rise in value.”
  • In the same dictionary, inquiry is defined as, “the act of inquiring or of seeking information by questioning.”

Therefore, appreciative inquiry can be defined as, “the act of seeking information about the things that we value.”

The Four Stages of Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry includes four basic stages. Note that these stages are viewed as a cycle – AI allows people and organizations to grow and evolve through the continuous use of the process.

Examples and Case Studies

Appreciative inquiry has been used in many different ways in many different organizations. Some projects where it has been a key tool include:

  • Creation of learning network for organizational psychologists at the California School of Professional Psychology
  • Process improvement at John Deere that resulted in millions of dollars in savings
  • Relief efforts for children orphaned by AIDS in Zimbabwe.
  • Integration of mental health services in England.

For detailed case studies, please visit the Appreciate Inquiry Commons.

Paraverbal Communication Skills

Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”? It’s true!

Try saying these three sentences out loud, placing the emphasis on the underlined word.

  • “I didn’t say you were wrong.” (Implying it wasn’t me)
  • “I didn’t say you were wrong.” (Implying I communicated it in another way)
  • “I didn’t say you were wrong.” (Implying I said something else)

Now, let’s look at the three parts of paraverbal communication; which is the message told through the pitch, tone, and speed of our words when we communicate.

The Power of Pitch

Pitch can be most simply defined as the key of your voice. A high pitch is often interpreted as anxious or upset. A low pitch sounds more serious and authoritative. People will pick up on the pitch of your voice and react to it. As well, variation in the pitch of your voice is important to keep the other party interested.

If you naturally speak in a very high-pitched or low-pitched voice, work on varying your pitch to encompass all ranges of your vocal cords. (One easy way to do this is to relax your throat when speaking.) Make sure to pay attention to your body when doing this – you don’t want to damage your vocal cords.

The Truth about Tone

Did your mother ever say to you, “I don’t like that tone!” She was referring to the combination of various pitches to create a mood. (Speed, which we will discuss in the next module, can also have an effect on your tone.)

Here are some tips on creating a positive, authoritative tone.

  • Try lowering the pitch of your voice a bit.
  • Smile! This will warm up anyone’s voice.
  • Sit up straight and listen.
  • Monitor your inner monologue. Negative thinking will seep into the tone of your voice.

The Strength of Speed

The pace at which you speak also has a tremendous effect on your communication ability. From a practical perspective, someone who speaks quickly is harder to understand than someone who speaks at a moderate pace. Conversely, someone who speaks v-e—r—-y s—l—–o—w—l—y will probably lose their audience’s interest before they get very far!

Speed also has an effect on the tone and emotional quality of your message. A hurried pace can make the listener feel anxious and rushed. A slow pace can make the listener feel as though your message is not important. A moderate pace will seem natural, and will help the listener focus on your message.

One easy way to check your pitch, tone, and speed is to record yourself speaking. Think of how you would feel listening to your own voice. Work on speaking the way you would like to be spoken to.

Advanced Communication Skills

Let’s have a brief discussion on a few advanced communication topics. Adding these skills to your toolbox and using them regularly will make you a more efficient, effective, communicator.

Understanding Precipitating Factors

For many people, life is like a snowball. On a particularly good day, everything may go your way and make you feel like you’re on top of the world. But on a bad day, unfortunate events can likewise snowball, increasing their negative effect exponentially.

For example, imagine how each of these events would make you feel if they happened to you first thing in the morning.

  • You encounter construction on the way to work.
  • Your alarm clock doesn’t go off and you wake up late.
  • You are out of coffee.
  • The cafeteria line is very long.

Each of those things is potentially responsible for creating a crummy morning. Now, imagine this scenario:

You wake up and realize your alarm clock hasn’t gone off and you’re already late. You get up and go to turn the coffee pot on, but you realize that there is no coffee left in your house. Then, you shower and head out the door – only to encounter construction and massive traffic back-ups on the way to work. Now you’re 15 minutes late instead of five. You get to work and head to the cafeteria for some much-needed coffee, but the line stretches out the door.

With the addition of each event, your morning just gets worse and worse. For most people, this is a recipe for disaster – the first person that crosses them is likely to get an earful!

Successful communicators are excellent at identifying precipitating factors and adjusting their approach before the communication starts, or during it. Understanding the power of precipitating factors can also help you de-personalize negative comments. This does not mean that someone having a bad day gets to dump on everyone around them; it does mean, however, that the person being dumped on can take it less personally and help the other person work through their problems.

Establishing Common Ground

Finding common ties can be a powerful communication tool. Think of those times when a stranger turns out not to be a stranger – that the person next to you on the train grew up in the same town that you did, or that the co-worker you never really liked enjoys woodworking as much as you do.

Whenever you are communicating with someone, whether it is a basic conversation, a problem-solving session, or a team meeting, try to find ways in which you are alike. Focusing on positive connections will help you build stronger relationships and better communication.

Using “I” Messages

Framing your message appropriately can greatly increase the power of your communication.

How would you react to these statements?

  • Your outfit is too casual for this meeting.
  • You mumble all the time.
  • You’re really disorganized.

Most people would feel insulted and criticized by these statements – and rightly so! They are framed in a way that puts blame on the receiver. These statements can even give the impression that the speaker feels superior to the receiver.

Instead of starting a sentence with “you,” try using the “I message” instead for feedback. This format places the responsibility with the speaker, makes a clear statement, and offers constructive feedback.

The format has three basic parts:

  • Objective description of the behavior
  • Effect that the behavior is causing on the speaker
  • The speaker’s feelings

Here is an example: “Sometimes, you speak in a very low voice. I often have difficulty hearing you when you speak at that volume. It often makes me feel frustrated.”

Be careful not to start the sentence with some form of, “When you…” This tends to create feelings of blame and injustice.

Openness and Honesty

Open, honest communication is the key to building workplace relationships and demonstrating professionalism. While you do not need to discuss personal or private topics in the workplace, being transparent and honest about work matters and generally being willing to communicate with others is vital. People can sense when someone is hiding something or withholding information, and tend not to trust him or her. This damages workplace trust and relationships, and may lead to lower productivity and morale.

Each of us has a different level of comfort with what we choose to disclose about ourselves, but being willing to share parts of yourself with your colleagues also helps to build rapport.

Communicating with Flexibility and Authenticity

When speaking to another, the one rule you want to always observe is that you are being honest about what you are saying. This can be somewhat of a challenge because we are taught to speak with diplomacy; being politically correct, especially in the business-world. While this is true, it is still necessary to make sure you are not sugar-coating or dancing around an issue, as this can cloud the meaning of what is being communicated. Effective communication does not require the speaker to repeat or continuously restate what is being said.

Even though sometimes one is as honest or clear as they could possibly be, it takes a little more work to relay the message. The ability to be flexible in your speech, whether to make your meaning more clear or to ‘show off’ that diplomacy you have been working so hard at, is significant for verbal communication success.

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.

Michael Jordan 

3. Teamwork

Even if you work fairly independently most of the time, inevitably you must also work with others. Finding ways to build teams that accomplish what needs to be done in the most efficient and accurate manner is often challenging, especially when bringing together team members with diverse sets of hard and soft skills. There are some basic techniques you can use when building, or working with, a team to help create a cohesive unit that leverages everyone’s talents and ensures that each person contributes.

What is a Team?

A team is a group of people formed to achieve a goal. Teams can be temporary, or indefinite. With individuals sharing responsibility, the group as a whole can take advantage of all of the collective talent, knowledge, and experience of each team member.

Team building is an organized effort to improve team effectiveness.

An Overview of Tuckman and Jensen’s Four-Phase Model

Educational psychologist Bruce Wayne Tuckman, Ph.D. was charged by his boss at the Naval Medical Research Institute, Bethesda MD with a review of 50 articles about team behavior. From this body of work, Dr. Tuckman conceived his theory of group developmental processes in 1965.

  • The Forming Stage:  Groups initially concern themselves with orientation accomplished primarily through testing. Such testing serves to identify the boundaries of both interpersonal and task behaviors. Coincident with testing in the interpersonal realm is the establishment of dependency relationships with leaders, other group members, or pre‑existing standards. It may be said that orientation, testing, and dependence constitute the group process of forming.
  • The Storming Stage: The second point in the sequence is characterized by conflict and polarization around interpersonal issues, with concomitant emotional responding in the task sphere. These behaviors serve as resistance to group influence and task requirements and may be labeled as storming.
  • The Norming Stage: Resistance is overcome in the third stage in which in-group feeling and cohesiveness develop, new standards evolve, and new roles are adopted. In the task realm, intimate, personal opinions are expressed. Thus, we have the stage of norming.
  • The Performing Stage: Finally, the group attains the fourth and final stage in which interpersonal structure becomes the tool of task activities. Roles become flexible and functional, and group energy is channeled into the task. Structural issues have been resolved, and structure can now become supportive of task performance. This stage can be labeled as performing.

In 1977 Dr. Tuckman, collaborating with Mary Ann Jensen, proposed an update to the model, termed Adjourning.  It describes the process for terminating group roles, task completion, and the reduction of dependencies.  This stage has also been called “mourning”, especially if the team’s dissolution is unplanned.  The first four stages are the most commonly used parts of the process.*

* Smith, M. K. (2005) ‘Bruce W. Tuckman – forming, storming, norming and performing in groups, the encyclopedia of informal education, www.infed.org/thinkers/tuckman.htm.   © Mark K. Smith 2005

Types of Teams

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a team as a number of persons associated together in work or activity.   Teams are formed for many purposes.  Examples include project teams, ad-hoc teams, quality improvement teams, and task forces.  Sometimes the team is formed to work on a goal as an adjunct to a traditional hierarchy in an organization.  At other times, the team is designed to replace the hierarchy.

Several roles help to keep a team operating smoothly.

Role Responsibilities
Team Leader Moves the team to accomplish its task Provides a conducive environment for getting the work done (location, resources) Communicates with the team
Team Facilitator Makes things happen with ease Helps the group with the process Enables the group to produce the “how” decisions Note:  Facilitators may be members or non-members of the team.
Team Recorder Writes down the team’s key points, ideas and decisions Documents the team’s process, discussions, and decisions
Time Keeper Monitors how long the team is taking to accomplish its tasks Provides regular updates to the team on how well or poorly they are using their time Collaborates with the team leader, facilitator and others to determine new time schedules if the agenda has to be adjusted
Team Members Displays enthusiasm and commitment to the team’s purpose Behaves honestly; maintain confidential information behind closed doors Shares responsibility to rotate through other team roles Shares knowledge and expertise and not withhold information Asks questions Respects the opinions and positions of others on the team, even if the person has an opposing view or different opinion

The Traditional Team

There are several characteristics common to traditional teams.

  • A team gains a shared understanding and purpose among team members, as distinguished from a group.
  • Teams require mutually agreed-upon operating principles such as agendas, procedures, and decision-making processes.
  • A team is interdependent; everyone works for the good of the team, not for oneself.
  • Effective teams distinguish task from process. How they do things (the process) is just as important, if not more important, than what they do (the task).

Self-Directed Teams

A self-directed team is a team that is responsible for a whole product or process.  The team plans the work and performs it, managing many of the tasks supervision or management might have done in the past.  A facilitator (selected by the team or an outside individual) helps the group get started and stay on track.  The facilitator’s role decreases as the team increases its ability to work together effectively.


An e-team is a group of individuals who work across space and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technology. Members have complementary skills and are committed to a common purpose, have interdependent performance goals, and share an approach to work for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

Geographically dispersed teams allow organizations to hire and retain the best people regardless of location.  An e-team does not always imply telecommuters, individuals who work from home. Many virtual teams in today’s organizations consist of employees both working at home and in small groups in the office, but in different geographic locations.

The benefits of an e-team approach are:

  • Workers can be located anywhere in the world
  • Virtual environments can give shy participants a new voice
  • Members have less commuting and travel time, so they tend to be more productive
  • Companies gain an increasingly horizontal organization structure, characterized by structurally, and geographically distributed human resources.

There are a few caveats when using e-teams.  They frequently operate from multiple time zones, so it is important to make sure that there is some overlapping work time.  In addition, unless a camera is used for meetings, working virtually means that there is no face to face body language to enhance communications.  Therefore, intra-team communications must be more formal than with a team whose members meet physically.  Care also needs to be taken to make sure no one is left out of the communications loop just because he or she is not visible.  E-teams demand a high trust culture.

Identifying Capabilities

Einstein said that everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life thinking it is stupid. When building a team, it is key to identify the different talents, skills, and capabilities each team member brings. Identifying what each team member does well and can contribute helps ensure that work is allocated in a way that takes full advantage of the talent resources on the team. Assigning a team member work that is completely outside his or her skill set is a recipe for failure! On the other hand, leveraging all the diverse capabilities, skills, and talents on your team helps you achieve the maximum results.

When you build or join a team, take the time at the outset to ask each member what he or she brings to the team. What skills, abilities, and relationships does each team member have that can enhance the project? What does each person feel he or she does well? How can the team use all these talents and capabilities to achieve the best outcome?

Get Into Your Role

When you are given a role on a team, it’s important to get into it! Be sure you know what is expected of you, and what you can expect of others. Even if the role is a new one, or a stretch for you, it is key to step into it. This also means stepping out of others’ roles, even if they are roles you have played before. Use your communication skills to create open, honest dialogues with your other team members so that you are all on the same page. Be clear about where your role begins and ends, and be willing to assert those boundaries. Teamwork can be challenging in the best of circumstances, but it is even more so when roles are unclear. A key step in creating a team is clearly outlining what each person’s role is (and is not).

Learn the Whole Process

Knowing your role and stepping fully into it is a vital part of effective teamwork. At the same time, it’s important not to get isolated in your own piece of the project. Learning the whole process not only ensures that you understand your own role and accountabilities, but helps you know what to expect of and from others. When you take the time to learn the whole process, it puts your work and your relationships with team members into a larger context. Knowing the whole process also means that you can help a colleague troubleshoot if problems arise, and that your colleagues can be of assistance should you need it. In the worst case scenario, having every member of the team know the whole process means that others can step in if there is a crisis or breakdown in the project.

The best way to learn the whole process is to talk to team members who are working parts of a project different from your own. Take the time to ask questions and to listen actively to the answers. This not only demonstrates that you care about the outcome of the project, but that you are interested and invested in each of your teammates’ work and success. Learning the whole process helps to build collaborative relationships among team members, which helps to enhance communication and overall productivity.

The Power of Flow

Psychologists define “flow” as a mental state that occurs when we are fully immersed in an activity. When we are a flow state, we are completely absorbed in what we are doing, and this produces a feeling of energized focus and enjoyment. Tapping into flow is a powerful way to increase your own productivity, and the productivity of your team. We are most likely to achieve flow when we are engaged in a task to which our skills are well matched – another reason to identify the capabilities of each person on a team. Flow also comes about more easily when we have clear goals and can focus on the process rather than the end product. Perhaps the most important key to achieving flow is to minimize interruptions when you are working.

When we can find the flow state, time seems to pass quickly without our noticing. We are also more likely to create accurate, high quality work with fewer errors. Because we are focused totally on what we are doing, a flow state may be a key aspect of mastering a new set of skills – stretching your skill set and cultivating flow can be a great tool for professional development.

Solving Problems as a Team

One of the most common objectives of a team is to solve a certain problem. It is usually why a team is created. Team members bring a diverse set of skills to the team and this provides a great scenario and the best chance in finding a solution. Because the team is comprised of individuals that bring a unique skill set, it provides the team with a “the whole is greater than its parts” setup which is a valuable tool.

The Six Thinking Hats

In 1999, Dr. Edward de Bono published a book entitled Six Thinking Hats.  He theorizes that the human brain thinks in a number of distinct ways — or states — which can be identified, deliberately accessed, and therefore planned for use in a structured way, allowing team members to develop strategies for thinking about particular issues.

Six Thinking Hats is a powerful technique that helps teams look at important decisions from a number of different perspectives. It helps them make better decisions by pushing members to move outside their habitual ways of thinking. It helps them understand the full complexity of a decision, and identify issues and opportunities which they might not otherwise notice.

In order to make it easier to clearly identify and work with these states, colored hats are used as metaphors for them.  The act of putting on a colored hat allows individuals to symbolically think in terms of the state, either actually or imaginatively.

White Hat:  Neutrality: Participants make statements of fact, including identifying information that is absent — and presenting the views of people who are not present — in a factual manner.  Examples of this the results of this thinking are:

Red Hat:  Feeling: Participants state their feelings, exercising their gut instincts. In many cases this is a method for harvesting ideas; it is not a question of recording statements, but rather getting everyone to identify their top two or three choices from a list of ideas or items identified under another hat. This is done to help reducing lists of many options into a few to focus on by allowing each participant to vote for the ones they prefer. It is applied more quickly than the other hats to ensure it is a gut reaction feeling that is recorded. This method can use post-it notes to allow a quick system of voting, and creates a clear visual cue that creates rapid if incomplete agreement around an issue.

Alternatively it may be used to state ones gut reaction or feelings on an issue under discussion – this is more common when using the hats to review personal progress or deal with issues where there is high emotional content that is relevant to discussion.  Finally, this hat can be used to request an aesthetic response to a particular design or object.

Black Hat:  Negative Judgment: Participants identify barriers, hazards, risks, and other negative connotations. This is critical thinking, looking for problems and mismatches. This hat is usually natural for people to use, the issues with it are that people will tend to use it when it is not requested and when it is not appropriate, thus stopping the flow of others. Preventing inappropriate use of the black hat is a common obstacle and vital step to effective group thinking. Another difficulty faced is that some people will naturally start to look for the solutions to raised problems – they start practicing green on black thinking before it is requested.

Yellow hat – Positive Judgment: Participants identify benefits associated with an idea or issue. This is the opposite of black hat thinking and looks for the reasons in favor of something. This is still a matter of judgment; it is an analytical process, not just blind optimism. One is looking to create justified statements in favor. It is encapsulated in the idea of “undecided positive” (whereas the black hat would be skeptical – undecided negative).  The outputs may be statements of the benefits that could be created with a given idea, or positive statements about the likelihood of achieving it or identifying the key supports available that will benefit this course of action

Green Hat:  Creative Thinking: This is the hat of thinking new thoughts. It is based around the idea of provocation and thinking for the sake of identifying new possibilities. Things are said for the sake of seeing what they might mean, rather than to form a judgment. This is often carried out on black hat statements in order to identify how to get past the barriers or failings identified there (green on black thinking). Because green hat thinking covers the full spectrum of creativity, it can take many forms.

Blue Hat: The Big Picture: This is the hat under which all participants discuss the thinking process. The facilitator will generally wear it throughout and each member of the team will put it on from time to time to think about directing their work together. This hat should be used at the start and end of each thinking session, to set objectives, to define the route to take to get to them, to evaluate where the group has got to, and where the thinking process is going. Having a facilitator maintain this role throughout helps ensure that the group remains focused on task and improves their chances of achieving their objectives.

Encouraging Brainstorming

Brainstorms are a simple and effective method for generating ideas and suggestions.  They allow group members to use each other as creative resources and are effective when a subject is being introduced. The goal is to rapidly generate a large quantity of ideas. Subsequent sorting and prioritizing of the ideas is usually needed to refine the results.

Building Consensus

Consensus is a point of maximum agreement so action can follow. It is a win-win situation in which everyone feels that he or she has one solution that does not compromise any strong convictions or needs. To reach consensus, group members share ideas, discuss, evaluate, organize, and prioritize ideas, and struggle to reach the best conclusions together.

A good test for consensus is to ask the question “can you support this decision?” If everyone can support it, the group has achieved 100% consensus.

Consensus is not always the best strategy. In some cases, reaching consensus does not result in a better decision or outcome. For example, group members are capable of unanimously agreeing on a completely incorrect solution to a problem. But generally, reaching consensus remains a highly desirable goal.

To make consensus work, the leader must become skilled at separating the content of the team’s work (the task) from the process (how the team goes about doing the task). But the process should get the most attention.  A facilitative leader helps a team to solve its own problem.  The problem-solving process is as follows:

  1. Identify the problem or goal.
  2. Generate alternative solutions.
  3. Establish objective criteria.
  4. Decide on a solution that best fits the criteria.
  5. Proceed with the solution.
  6. Evaluate the solution.

Everyone involved in the process should understand exactly which step is being worked on at any given point. When team members sense a problem, they are usually reacting to symptoms of the problem. But they are side effects of the real problem which usually lies below the surface.

Encouraging Teamwork

For every team member that believes and works for the team the chances of success go up exponentially. That is the reason why it is so important in teamwork and team building, as it provides the greats chance of success.

Some Things to Do

  • Promote an active learning climate for the team
  • Try to relate the team building strategies to the team’s work
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with new strategies
  • Constantly evaluate both your output and your process. In short, ask regularly, “How are we doing?”

Some Things to Avoid

  • Being aggressive — instead of assertive
  • Failing to let others express their opinions
  • Inadequate planning

Some Things to Consider

Encouraging teamwork means making a commitment, and requires practice. The process is not instant and take some time, so be patient. Do not be discouraged by mistakes, learn from them.

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Albert Einstein

4. Problem-Solving

No matter what your industry or your role, problem-solving is part of your job. Whether the problems you encounter are big or small, you solve problems every day. Learning how to apply problem-solving skills helps not only to enhance productivity, but also helps to cultivate relationships by focusing on shared goals and solutions.

What is a Problem?

The Random House Unabridged Dictionary includes several definitions for the word “problem.” The definitions that we are most concerned with while learning about the creative problem solving process are:

  • “any question or matter involving doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty,” and
  • “a question proposed for solution or discussion.”

A problem can be defined as a scenario in which the current situation does not match the desired situation, or anytime actual performance does not match expectations. Other labels for a problem include challenges or opportunities, or any situation or circumstance for which there is room for improvement.

Steps in the Creative Solving Process

The Creative Problem Solving Process uses six major steps to implement solutions to almost any kind of problem. The steps are:

  1. Information Gathering, or understanding more about the problem before proceeding
  2. Problem Definition, or making sure you understand the correct problem before proceeding
  3. Generating Possible Solutions using various tools
  4. Analyzing Possible Solutions, or determining the effectiveness of possible solutions before proceeding
  5. Selecting the Best Solution(s)
  6. Planning the Next Course of Action (Next Steps), or implementing the solution(s)

Information Gathering

The first step in the creative problem solving process is to gather information about the problem. In order to effectively solve the correct problem, you need to know as much about it as possible. In this module, we will explore different types of information, key questions, and different methods used to gather information.

Understanding Types of Information

There are many different types of information. The following list includes information you will need to consider when beginning the creative problem solving process:

  • Fact
  • Opinion
  • Opinionated Fact
  • Concept
  • Assumption
  • Procedure
  • Process
  • Principle

Facts are small pieces of well-known data. Facts are based on objective details and experience. Opinions are also based on observation and experience, but they are subjective and can be self-serving. When a fact and opinion are presented together, it is an opinionated fact, which may try to indicate the significance of a fact, suggest generalization, or attach value to it. Opinionated facts are often meant to sway the listener to a particular point of view using the factual data.

Concepts are general ideas or categories of items or ideas that share common features. Concepts are important pieces of information to help make connections or to develop theories or hypotheses. Assumptions are a type of concept or hypothesis in which something is taken for granted.

Procedures are a type of information that tells how to do something with specific steps. Processes are slightly different, describing continuous actions or operations to explain how something works or operates. Principles are accepted rules or fundamental laws or doctrines, often describing actions or conduct.

Identifying Key Questions

When tackling a new problem, it is important to talk to anyone who might be familiar with the problem. You can gather a great deal of information by asking questions of different people who might be affected by or know about the problem. Remember to ask people with years of experience in the organization, and lower-level employees. Sometimes their insights can provide valuable information about a problem.

What questions should you ask? The key questions will be different for every situation. Questions that begin with the following are always a good starting point:

Who? When?
What? Why?
Which? How?

Here are some examples of more specific questions:

  • Who initially defined the problem?
  • What is the desired state?
  • What extent is the roof being damaged?
  • Where is the water coming from?
  • When did the employee finish his training?
  • How can we increase our market share?
  • Which equipment is working?

Here are some examples of more specific questions:

  • Who initially defined the problem?
  • What is the desired state?
  • What extent is the roof being damaged?
  • Where is the water coming from?
  • When did the employee finish his training?
  • How can we increase our market share?
  • Which equipment is working?

One important source of information on a problem is to ask if it has been solved before. Find out if anyone in your company or network has had the same problem. This can generate great information about the problem and potential solutions.

Methods of Gathering Information

When gathering information about a problem, there are several different methods you can use. No one method is better than another. The method depends on the problem and other circumstances. Here are some of the ways you can collect information about a problem:

  • Conduct interviews.
  • Identify and study statistics.
  • Send questionnaires out to employees, customers, or other people concerned with the problem.
  • Conduct technical experiments.
  • Observe the procedures or processes in question first hand.
  • Create focus groups to discuss the problem.

Define the Problem

You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what it is! The first step in solving any problem should be to define the problem itself. Oftentimes what we think is a problem is only a symptom of a larger issue. Take time to define the problem clearly, whether it’s an interpersonal conflict or a hitch in a supply line. Figuring out what the problem is exactly and clearly defining it means you can move forward with solutions that will actually solve it, rather than just resolve the symptoms or temporarily stop the chaos.  Taking time to define the problem is especially important if emotions are running high or interactions are getting heated – it puts the focus back on shared goals and allows for everyone to be heard.

When a problem comes to light, it may not be clear exactly what the problem is. You must understand the problem before you spend time or money implementing a solution.

It is important to take care in defining the problem. The way that you define your problem influences the solution or solutions that are available. Problems often can be defined in many different ways. You must address the true problem when continuing the creative problem solving process in order to achieve a successful solution. You may come up with a terrific solution, but if it is a solution to the wrong problem, it will not be a success.

In some cases, taking action to address a problem before adequately identifying the problem is worse than doing nothing. It can be a difficult task to sort out the symptoms of the problem from the problem itself. However, it is important to identify the underlying problem in order to generate the right solutions. Problem solvers can go down the wrong path with possible solutions if they do not understand the true problem. These possible solutions often only treat the symptoms of the problem, and not the real problem itself.

Four tools to use in defining the problem are:

  • Determining where the problem originated
  • Defining the present state and the desired state
  • Stating and restating the problem
  • Analyzing the problem

You may not use all of these tools to help define a problem. Different tools lend themselves to some kinds of problems better than other kinds.

Determining Where the Problem Originated

Successful problem solvers get to the root of the problem by interviewing or questioning anyone who might know something useful about the problem. Ask questions about the problem, including questions that:

  • Clarify the situation
  • Challenge assumptions about the problem
  • Determine possible reasons and evidence
  • Explore different perspectives concerning the problem
  • Ask more about the original question

If you did not define the problem, find out who did. Think about that person’s motivations. Challenge their assumptions to dig deeper into the problem.

Defining the Present State and the Desired State

When using this tool, you write a statement of the situation as it currently exists. Then you write a statement of what you would like the situation to look like. The desired state should include concrete details and should not contain any information about possible causes or solutions. Refine the descriptions for each state until the concerns and needs identified in the present state are addressed in the desired state.

Stating and Restating the Problem

The problem statement and restatement technique also helps evolve the understanding of the problem. First write a statement of the problem, no matter how vague. Then use various triggers to help identify the true problem. The triggers are:

  • Place emphasis on different words in the statement and ask questions about each emphasis.
  • Replace one word in the statement with a substitute that explicitly defines the word to reframe the problem.
  • Rephrase the statement with positives instead of negatives or negatives instead of positives to obtain an opposite problem.
  • Add or change words that indicate quantity or time, such as always, never, sometimes, every, none or some.
  • Identify any persuasive or opinionated words in the statement. Replace or eliminate them.
  • Try drawing a picture of the problem or writing the problem as an equation.

Analyzing the Problem

When the cause of the problem is not known, such as in troubleshooting operations, you can look at the what, where, who, and extent of the problem to help define it.

What? – “What” questions help to identify the problem. Use “what” questions both to identify what the problem is, as well as what the problem is not. “What” questions can also help identify a possible cause.

Where? – “Where” questions help to locate the problem. Use “where” questions to distinguish the difference between locations where the problem exists and where it does not exist.

When? – “When” questions help discover the timing of the problem. Use “when” questions to distinguish the difference between when the problem occurs and when it does not, or when the problem was first observed and when it was last observed.

Extent? – Questions that explore the magnitude of the problem include:

  • How far vs. how localized?
  • How many units are affected vs. how many units are not affected?
  • How much of something is affected vs. how much is not affected?

Examining the distinctions between what, where, when, and to what extent the problem is and what, where, when and to what extent it is not can lead to helpful insights about the problem. Remember to sharpen the statements as the problem becomes clearer.

Writing the Problem Statement

Writing an accurate problem statement can help accurately represent the problem. This helps clarify unclear problems. The problem statement may evolve through the use of the four problem definition tools and any additional information gathered about the problem. As the statement becomes more refined, the types and effectiveness of potential solutions are improved.

The problem statement should:

  • Include specific details about the problem, including who, what, when, where, and how
  • Address the scope of the problem to identify boundaries of what you can reasonably solve

The problem statement should not include:

  • Any mention of possible causes
  • Any potential solutions

A detailed, clear, and concise problem statement will provide clear-cut goals for focus and direction for coming up with solutions.

Generate Alternative Solutions

Once you’ve defined a problem, you can move on to solutions. It is important not to just choose the first solution that presents itself. Nor should you push your own preferred solution the exclusion of others. Instead, take the time to generate alternative solutions. Ask the others involved what ideas they have for solving the problem. Discuss the ways in which the alternative solutions might play out, problems they might encounter, and how any obstacles can be overcome. Apply active listening and clear communication throughout. When the group has generated many solutions, discuss which one(s) you would all like to move forward with.

Generating possibilities for solutions to the defined problem comes next in the process. It is important to generate as many solutions as possible before analyzing the solutions or trying to implement them. There are many different methods for generating solutions. This module begins with some ground rules for brainstorming sessions. Then it presents several idea-generating techniques, including free-association style brainstorming, brain-writing, mind mapping, and Duncker Diagrams.

Brainstorming Basics

In order to come up with a good idea, you must come up with many ideas. The first rule of brainstorming is to come up with as many ideas as you possibly can.

Some of the ideas will not be good. If you start analyzing the ideas while you are generating them, the creative process will quickly come to a halt, and you may miss out on some great ideas. Therefore, the second rule for brainstorming sessions is to defer judgment.

Allow creativity and imagination to take over in this phase of the process. The next rule for brainstorming is to come up with the wildest, most imaginative solutions to your problem that you can. Often we might not consider a solution because of assumptions or associational constraints. However, sometimes those solutions, even if you do not end up implementing them, can lead you to a successful solution. So along with deferring judgment, allow those ideas that might be considered crazy to flow. One of those crazy ideas might just contain the seeds of the perfect solution.

Finally, use early ideas as springboards to other ideas. This is called “piggybacking” and is the next rule for brainstorming.


Basic brainstorming is a free-association session of coming up with ideas. Use the other group member’s ideas to trigger additional ideas. One member of the group should make a list of all of the ideas.

Brainwriting and Mind Mapping

Brainwriting and Mind Mapping are two additional tools to generate ideas.


Brainwriting is similar to free-association brainstorming, except that it is conducted in silence. This method encourages participants to pay closer attention to the ideas of others and piggyback on those ideas.

Before a brainwriting session, create sheets of paper with a grid of nine squares on each sheet. You will need as many sheets as there are participants in the brainwriting session with one or two extra sheets. Plan to sit participants in a circle or around a table. Determine how long the session will last, and remind participants that there is no talking. Remind participants of the other rules for brainstorming, especially deferring judgment.

For the session itself, state the problem or challenge to be solved. Each participant fills out three ideas on a brainwriting grid. Then he or she places that brainwriting sheet in the center of the table and selects a new sheet. Before writing additional ideas, the participant reads the three ideas at the top (generated by a different participant). The hope is that these items will suggest additional ideas to the participants. The participants should not write down the same ideas they have written on other sheets. This activity continues until all of the grids are full or the time runs out. At the end of the activity, there should be many ideas to consider and discuss.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is another method of generating ideas on paper, but can be conducted alone.

The problem solver starts by writing one main idea in the center of the paper. Write additional ideas around the sheet of paper, circling the idea and connecting the ideas with lines. This technique allows for representing non-linear relationships between ideas.

Duncker Diagrams

Duncker Diagrams are used with the present state and desired state statements discussed in module four. A Duncker diagram generates solutions by creating possible pathways from the present state to the desired state. However, the Duncker diagram also addresses an additional pathway of solving the problem by making it okay not to reach the desired state.

Duncker diagrams can help with refining the problem as well as generating ideas for solutions. The diagram begins with general solutions. Then it suggests functional solutions that give more specifics on what to do. The diagram can also include specific solutions of how to complete each item in the functional solutions.

For example, Michael wanted to address the problem of his job being too stressful. He is responsible for managing up to 1500 work hours per month. He cannot find a way to complete all of his tasks within a desired work week of no more than 45-50 hours per week. He has over 10 years’ experience in public account and is interested in moving into industry. However, he is so busy, that he does not even have time to look for a new job.

The present state and desired state statements are:

  • Present State: Job requires more demands on my time than I am willing to dedicate to a job I do not really care about.
  • Desired State: Work a job I care about with adequate free time to spend with family and pursuing personal interests.

The Morphological Matrix


Fritz Zwicky developed a method for general morphological analysis in the 1960s. The method has since been applied to many different fields. It is a method of listing examples of different attributes or issues to an item (or problem), and randomly combining the different examples to form a solution. Depending on the number of issues or attributes identified, there can be quite a large number of possible combinations.

The Morphological Matrix is a grid with several different columns. The problem solvers enter a specific attribute or issue about the item or problem at the top of each column. Then for each column, problem solvers generate a list of examples for that attribute. Once there are many different ideas in the columns, the solutions can be combined strategically or randomly. While some combinations naturally are incompatible, problem solvers should not rule out ideas until they reach the analysis phase of the problem-solving process.

For complex problems, computer-assisted morphological assessment can be done. However, for the scope of this course, we will look a simple example that can be done by hand.

As an example, let’s look at the traffic problems experienced at a new elementary school. The administrative staff of the school has identified the problem statement as: “Get approximately 500 students to class safely, on time, and with no more than a five minute wait for parents and drivers in the neighborhood.” A few sample attributes to this problem are safety, timeliness, pedestrians, and drivers.

A sample chart might look like this:

Safety Timeliness Pedestrians Drivers
Extra cross guards Stagger arrival time by grade Cross only at crosswalks with crossing guard Students being dropped off from cars or buses enter at north entrance
Policeman giving tickets for rule breakers Provide incentives for dropping off early Pedestrians enter at south entrance Lane for drop off; lane for passing

This matrix can help identify different considerations of the problem. It can also help formulate comprehensive solutions to complex problems.

The Blink Method

Malcolm Gladwell popularizes scientific research about the power of the adaptive unconscious in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Gladwell’s premise is that in an age of information overload, our decisions based on limited information are often as good as or better than decisions made with ample critical thinking.

In the examples and research Gladwell presents, experts and average subjects alike are better able and happier with choices made through what he calls “thin-slicing,” or coming to a conclusion with limited information. An example presented is the case in which many experts identify a statue as a fake, when the museum that spent money on the statue did not identify it as such with weeks of research.

Gladwell also presents the cautions of the adaptive unconscious. Our power to make effective decisions by tapping into this power can be corrupted by personal likes and dislikes and stereotypes. Rapid, intuitive judgment can have disastrous consequences, as presented in his example of an innocent man shot on his own doorstep 41 times by New York policemen.

Gladwell summarizes the dilemma between when to tap into our unconscious, and when to use a more critical approach as thus: “On straightforward choices, deliberate analysis is best. When questions of analysis and personal choice start to get complicated – when we have to juggle many different variables – then our unconscious thought process may be superior.”

Evaluate the Plans

With your list of alternative solutions generated, it is time to make plans and evaluate them. Give all alternative solutions equally fair treatment. Ask the group to brainstorm potential benefits to each alternative solution or plan. Then work with the group to anticipate potential obstacles or problems with each plan. Based on these discussions, evaluate which plan or plans seem to offer the greatest benefit with the fewest drawbacks. Also consider whether the necessary resources – people, time, materials, funding – are available for each proposed plan. As the plans are evaluated, it will quickly become clear which are entirely unworkable. Narrow the list until the most workable plans are found.

Developing Criteria

Return to the information generated when defining the problem. Consider who, what, when, where, and how that the potential solution should meet to be an effective solution to the problem.

When developing criteria that possible solutions to the problem should meet, also consider the following:

  • Ask questions such as “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” or “Wouldn’t it be terrible if…” to isolate the necessary outcome for the problem resolution.
  • Think about what you want the solution to do or not do.
  • Think about what values should be considered.

Use the answers to these questions as the starting point for your goals or problem-solving criteria.

Additionally, the criteria for an effective solution to the problem should consider the following:

  • Timing – Is the problem urgent? What are the consequences for delaying action?
  • Trend – What direction is the problem heading? Is the problem getting worse? Or does the problem have a low degree of concern when considering the future of the circumstances?
  • Impact – Is the problem serious?

It is important to think about what the circumstances will look like after a successful solution has been implemented. Use your imagination to explore the possibilities for identifying goals or criteria related to the problem.

Analyzing Wants and Needs

The creative problem solving process is a fluid process, with some steps overlapping each other. Sometimes as the process provides additional information, problem solvers need to go back and refine the problem statement or gather additional information in order to effectively solve the problem.

Wants and needs seem like a fundamental aspect of defining the problem. However, in order to analyze the potential solutions, the wants and needs for the desired state after the problem is solved must be very clear.

Needs are items the potential solution absolutely must meet. If the potential solution does not meet a need requirement, you can disregard it from further analyzing.

Wants are nice to have items. You can provide a weight to each item to indicate its importance. For each potential solution, you can provide a rating for how well the solution addresses the selected want. Multiply the rating by the weight of the want to score the potential solution.

With scores for each item, it is an easy matter to rank the potential solutions in order of preference.

Using Cost/Benefit Analysis

Cost – benefit analysis is a method of assigning a monetary value to the potential benefits of a solution and weighing those against the costs of implementing that solution.

It is important to include ALL of the benefits and costs. This can be tricky, especially with intangible benefits (or costs). Some benefits or costs may be obvious, but others may take a little digging to uncover. For example, imagine you want to replace three employees with a machine that makes stamps. A hidden benefit is that you may be able to use large feed stock instead of individual sheets, saving materials costs. In the same example, you would not only consider the salaries of the employees, but the total cost for those employees, including benefits and overhead.

The value assigned to the costs and benefits must be the same unit, which is why monetary value is suggested. The valuations assigned should represent what the involved parties would actually spend on the benefit or cost. For example, if people are always willing to save five minutes and spend an extra 50 cents on parking closer, they are demonstrating that time is worth more than 10 cents per minute. The considerations should also include the time value of money, or the value of money spent or earned now versus money spent or earned at some future point.

Selecting a Solution

The next step in the process is to select one or more solutions from the possibilities. In the previous step, you will have eliminated many of the possibilities. With a short list of possibilities, you can do a final analysis to come up with one or more of the best solutions to the problem. This module discusses that final analysis, as well as a tool for selecting a solution called Paired Comparison Analysis. It also discusses analyzing potential problems that may arise with a selected solution.

Doing a Final Analysis

In the previous stage of the process, you performed a cost/benefit analysis. However, since we cannot always know all of the potential variables, this analysis should not be the only one you perform.

For each potential solution, you must weigh the potential advantages and disadvantages. Consider the compatibility with your priorities and values. Consider how much risk the solution involves. Finally, consider the practicality of the solution. It may be helpful to create a map for each solution that addresses all of the relevant issues.

Consider the potential results of each solution, both the immediate results and the long-term possibilities.

In the final analysis, you will refine your shortlist and keep re-refining it until you determine the most effective solution.

Analyzing Potential Problems

Think forward to the solution implementation. Ask how, when, who, what, and where in relation to implementing the solution. Does the imagined future state with this problem solution match the desired state developed earlier in the process?

Brainstorm for potential problems related to the solution. Consider how likely potential problems might occur and how serious they are. These potential issues can then be evaluated as needs and wants along with the other criteria for evaluating the solution.

Sometimes this analysis can uncover a potential hardship or opportunity that changes the criteria, problem definition, or other aspects of the problem solving process. Remember to be flexible and revisit the other stages of the process when necessary.

Implementation and Re-Evaluation

Once the most workable plan has been chosen, it’s time to implement it. It is important to communicate clearly about how the plan will be implemented, what each person’s role will be, and what the goals and expected outcomes are. The other soft skills you are developing – communication and teamwork – are vital here. People must feel as though they are part of the solution if you want them to buy in to it. Also provide a timeline for the plan, including the point at which the plan will be re-evaluated.

Re-evaluation of the plan is a step that often gets missed. Sometimes what appears to be the most workable plan on paper does not play out when put into action. It is important to take the time to re-evaluate the plan once it has been implemented so you can gauge how well it’s working. Depending on the results, you may need to make some changes to the plan, or implement a new plan altogether. Re-evaluation helps to determine whether the original problem has, in fact, been solved!

“Priority management is the answer we have to maximizing the time we have.”

John C. Maxwell

5. Time Management

We all have the same number of hours in the day, so why is it that some people seem to get so much more done? The ability to effectively manage your time is key to productivity. You may not be able to create more time in your day, but applying time management skills can help you make the most of the time you do have!

Prioritizing Your Time

Time management is about more than just managing our time; it is about managing ourselves, in relation to time. It is about setting priorities and taking charge. It means changing habits or activities that cause us to waste time. It means being willing to experiment with different methods and ideas to enable you to find the best way to make maximum use of time.

The 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 rule, also known as Pareto’s Principle, states that 80% of your results come from only 20% of your actions. Across the board, you will find that the 80/20 principle is pretty much right on with most things in your life. For most people, it really comes down to analyzing what you are spending your time on. Are you focusing in on the 20% of activities that produce 80% of the results in your life?

The Urgent/Important Matrix

Great time management means being effective as well as efficient. Managing time effectively, and achieving the things that you want to achieve, means spending your time on things that are important and not just urgent. To do this, you need to distinguish clearly between what is urgent and what is important:

  • Important: These are activities that lead to the achieving your goals and have the greatest impact on your life.
  • Urgent: These activities demand immediate attention, but are often associated with someone else’s goals rather than our own.

This concept, coined the Eisenhower Principle, is said to be how former US President Dwight Eisenhower organized his tasks. It was rediscovered and brought into the mainstream as the Urgent/Important Matrix by Stephen Covey in his 1994 business classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The Urgent/Important Matrix is a powerful way of organizing tasks based on priorities. Using it helps you overcome the natural tendency to focus on urgent activities, so that you can have time to focus on what’s truly important.

The Urgent/Important Matrix:


  • Urgent And Important: Activities in this area relate to dealing with critical issues as they arise and meeting significant commitments. Perform these duties now.
  • Important, But Not Urgent: These success-oriented tasks are critical to achieving goals. Plan to do these tasks next.
  • Urgent, But Not Important: These chores do not move you forward toward your own goals.Manage by delaying them, cutting them short, and rejecting requests from others. Postpone these chores.
  • Not Urgent And Not Important: These trivial interruptions are just a distraction, and should be avoided if possible. However, be careful not to mislabel things like time with family and recreational activities as not important. Avoid these distractions altogether.

The Art of Scheduling

We know that if we want to have a meeting, get a haircut, or see our healthcare provider, we need to make an appointment. We schedule our errands and vacations. But when it comes to our own time and work we do independently, too often we take a piecemeal approach and just do whatever comes to hand first.

Taking the time to schedule work tasks, even those you do independently, helps you make better use of your time. Instead of doing work as it comes to you, take the time to slot in a block of time on your schedule for each tasks. Don’t forget to schedule in breaks, too! Scheduling tasks makes them a priority – after all, you wouldn’t just skip a doctor’s appointment or other scheduled obligation. Seeing something on your schedule also helps you remember that it needs to get done!

Scheduling can take some time to master – you may discover that tasks take much more (or much less) time than you plan for. Spend a week or so keeping track of how you spend you work time so that you can better plan ahead for how much time to schedule a given task or project.

Setting SMART Goals

Goal setting is critical to effective time management strategies. It is the single most important life skill that, unfortunately, most people never learn how to do properly. Goal setting can be used in every single area of your life, including financial, physical, personal development, relationships, or even spiritual. According to Brian Tracy’s book Goals, fewer than 3% of people have clear, written goals, and a plan for getting there. Setting goals puts you ahead of the pack!

Some people blame everything that goes wrong in their life on something or someone else. They take the role of a victim and they give all their power and control away. Successful people instead dedicate themselves towards taking responsibility for their lives, no matter what the unforeseen or uncontrollable events. Live in the present: the past cannot be changed, and the future is the direct result of what you do right now!

The Three P’s

Setting meaningful, long-term goals is a giant step toward achieving your dreams. In turn, setting and achieving short-term goals can help you accomplish the tasks you’ll need to achieve the long-term ones. It is also important to make sure that all of your goals unleash the power of the three P’s:

  • POSITIVE: Who could get fired up about a goal such as “Find a career that’s not boring”? Goals should be phrased positively, so they help you feel good about yourself and what you’re trying to accomplish. A better alternative might be this: “Enroll in pre-law classes so I can help people with legal problems someday.”
  • PERSONAL: Goals must be personal. They must reflect your own dreams and values, not those of friends, family, or the media. When crafting your goal statement, always use the word “I” in the sentence to brand it as your own. When your goals are personal, you’ll be more motivated to succeed and take greater pride in your accomplishments.
  • POSSIBLE: When setting goals, be sure to consider what’s possible and within your control. Getting into an Ivy League university may be possible if you are earning good grades but unrealistic if you’re struggling. In the latter case, a more reasonable goal might be to attend a university or trade school that offers courses related to your chosen career. You might also pursue volunteer work that would strengthen your college applications.


SMART is a convenient acronym for the set of criteria that a goal must have in order for it to be realized by the goal achiever.

  • Specific: Success coach Jack Canfield states in his book The Success Principles that, “Vague goals produce vague results.” In order for you to achieve a goal, you must be very clear about what exactly you want. Often creating a list of benefits that the accomplishment of your goal will bring to your life, will you give your mind a compelling reason to pursue that goal.
  • Measurable: It’s crucial for goal achievement that you are able to track your progress towards your goal. That’s why all goals need some form of objective measuring system so that you can stay on track and become motivated when you enjoy the sweet taste of quantifiable progress.
  • Achievable: Setting big goals is great, but setting unrealistic goals will just de-motivate you. A good goal is one that challenges, but is not so unrealistic that you have virtually no chance of accomplishing it.
  • Relevant: Before you even set goals, it’s a good idea to sit down and define your core values and your life purpose because it’s these tools which ultimately decide how and what goals you choose for your life. Goals, in and of themselves, do not provide any happiness. Goals that are in harmony with our life purpose do have the power to make us happy.
  • Timed: Without setting deadlines for your goals, you have no real compelling reason or motivation to start working on them. By setting a deadline, your subconscious mind begins to work on that goal, night and day, to bring you closer to achievement.

Prioritizing Your Goals

Achieving challenging goals requires a lot of mental energy. Instead of spreading yourself thin by focusing on several goals at once, invest your mental focus on one goal, the most important goal right now. When you are prioritizing, choose a goal that will have the greatest impact on your life compared to how long it will take to achieve. A large part of goal setting is not just identifying what you want, but also identifying what you must give up in your life in order to get it. Most people are unwilling to make a conscious decision to give up the things in their life necessary to achieve their goals.


Managing your priorities is key to managing your time. Taking the time to determine what is most important, whether in terms of value or in terms of completion, is the first step.

Take time each day and week to determine what your priorities for the coming days are. Slot these into your schedule first. This allows you to ensure that time is blocked off and resources allocated for the most important tasks and projects. When we don’t take time to set priorities, everything becomes equally urgent – which means that we move from task to task in a way that is haphazard and does not make the best use of our time or energy. Setting priorities helps ensure that you take care of the things that are most pressing or which deliver the most value.

Prioritizing is especially key when working with others. If people who must work together have differing senses of what the priorities are, this can lead to miscommunication, conflict, and reduced productivity.

Managing Distractions

A major key to productivity, especially if you want to find a flow state, is to manage your distractions. Distractions happen – we can minimize them and manage them, but never eliminate them altogether. Creating a plan for managing distractions is a key time management skill. The first step is to determine what your major distractions are. Is it colleagues popping into your office? Is it your email or voicemail? Do you get bored with routine tasks if you have to focus on them too long? Figuring out what your major distractions are can help you brainstorm solutions and better manage them.

Some common distractions are:

  • Colleagues stopping by to chat
  • Checking email or voicemail
  • Noise in the environment
  • Clutter in your workspace
  • Boredom after spending too long on one task

You can solve these by:

  • Establishing “open door” hours
  • Closing your door or otherwise indicating “Please Do Not Disturb”
  • Using noise canceling headphones
  • Setting a regular time to check voicemail and email
  • Letting calls go to voicemail
  • De-cluttering your workspace
  • Building in breaks

The Multitasking Myth

Multitasking is exactly what it sounds like – trying to do more than one thing at a time. Many of us multitask throughout our day – listening to a colleague while checking email, working on a document while talking on the phone.

We have the idea that we get more done when we multitask or that this is the best way to maximize our time. However, studies show that 30-40% more time is spent when you multitask rather than when you mono-task (work on one thing at a time). Multitasking also means your attention is divided, which can lead to miscommunication and errors. Multitasking can also damage relationships, as it may convey that we are not really interested in what another is saying.

It can be difficult to break the multitasking habit, but it is key if we are be the best we can be.

Planning Wisely

The hallmark of successful time management is being consistently productive each day. Many people use a daily plan to motivate themselves. Having a daily plan and committing to it can help you stay focused on the priorities of that particular day. As well, you are more likely to get things accomplished if you write down your plans for the day.

Creating Your Productivity Journal

Essentially, planning is nothing more than taking a piece of paper and a pen and writing down the tasks and associated steps that you need to take throughout the day to ensure that your goal is completed.

To start, get yourself a spiral notebook and label it as your Personal Productivity Journal or your Professional Productivity Journal. (We recommend keeping a separate journal for work and for your personal life, so you can focus on them at separate times, thus maintaining your optimal work/life balance.) Label each page with the day and the date and what needs to be done that particular day. Next, prioritize each task in order of importance. Highlight the top three items and focus on those first. Cross off items as you complete them. Items that are not completed should be carried over to the next page.

Maximizing the Power of Your Productivity Journal

Personal development expert Brian Tracy believes that when you write down your action list the night before, your subconscious mind focuses on that plan while you sleep. By planning the night before, you will also start fresh and focused on the most important tasks for the day. Of course, you will want to review your list in the morning, but you will have a head start on your day.

Always have your productivity journal with you during the day to avoid becoming sidetracked. Crossing off completed tasks will give your subconscious mind a tremendous amount of satisfaction. This will also help to maintain your motivation to complete the remaining items on your action list.

If you find yourself moving uncompleted tasks over into the following day, and the day after that, then you need to ask yourself why that task is on your list in the first place and what value it has in your life. If you postpone a task three times, it does not belong on your action list.

Tackling Procrastination

Procrastination means delaying a task (or even several tasks) that should be a priority. The ability to overcome procrastination and tackle the important actions that have the biggest positive impact in your life is a hallmark of the most successful people out there.

Why We Procrastinate

There are many reasons why we tend to procrastinate, including:

  • No clear deadline
  • Inadequate resources available (time, money, information, etc.)
  • Don’t know where to begin
  • Task feels overwhelming
  • No passion for doing the work
  • Fear of failure or success

Nine Ways to Overcome Procrastination


Your ability to select your most important task at any given moment, and then to start on that task and get it done both quickly and well, will probably have greatest impact on your success than any other quality or skill you can develop! If you nurture the habit of setting clear priorities and getting important tasks quickly finished, the majority of your time management issues will simply fade away.

Here are some ways to get moving on those tough tasks.

  • Delete it. What are the consequences of not doing the task at all? Consider the 80/20 rule; maybe it doesn’t need to be done in the first place.
  • Delegate. If the task is important, ask yourself if it’s really something that you are responsible for doing in the first place. Know your job description and ask if the task is part of your responsibilities. Can the task be given to someone else?
  • Do it now. Postponing an important task that needs to be done only creates feelings of anxiety and stress. Do it as early in the day as you can.

Ask for advice. Asking for help from a trusted mentor, supervisor, coach, or expert can give you some great insight on where to start and the steps for completing a project.

Chop it up. Break large projects into milestones, and then into actionable steps. As Bob Proctor says, “Break it down into the ridiculous.” Huge things don’t look as big when you break it down as small as you can.

  • Obey the 15 minute rule. To reduce the temptation of procrastination, each actionable step on a project should take no more than 15 minutes to complete.
  • Have clear deadlines. Assign yourself a deadline for projects and milestones and write it down in your day planner or calendar. Make your deadlines known to other people who will hold you accountable.
  • Give yourself a reward. Celebrate the completion of project milestones and reward yourself for getting projects done on time. It will provide positive reinforcement and motivate you toward your goals.
  • Remove distractions. You need to establish a positive working environment that is conducive to getting your work done. Remove any distractions.

Organizing Your Workspace

In order to effectively manage your time and to be productive each day, you must create an appropriate environment. By eliminating clutter, setting up an effective filing system, gathering essential tools, and managing workflow, you will be well on your way to creating an effective workspace.


Removing clutter is itself a time-consuming task, but a cluttered workspace significantly impairs your ability to find things, and you will get the time back that you invest – and more! To retrieve materials quickly, you’ll need an effective filing system that includes three basic kinds of files:

  • Working files: Materials used frequently and needed close at hand.
  • Reference files: Information needed only occasionally.
  • Archival files: Materials seldom retrieved but that must be kept. For ease of retrieval, organize files in the simplest way possible. For example, you could label files with a one or two word tag and arrange the files alphabetically.

Once clutter has been eliminated and other materials have been filed, the effective workspace includes only what is essential: a set of three trays to control the workflow on your desk (see the next topic), standard office supplies, a computer, and a telephone. Everything else, except for what you are working on at the moment, can and should be filed where it can be retrieved as needed.

Managing Workflow

How do you process the mountain of material that collects in your paper and electronic in-baskets? The answer is one piece of paper, one electronic message at a time. Many time management experts agree that the most effective people act on an item the first time it is touched.

Although difficult at first, the practice can become habitual, and is made easier with the four Ds:

  • DO: If a task can be completed in two minutes or less, do it immediately.
  • DELETE: If the material is trash or junk, delete it. Or, if it’s something that you might use later on, file it, and move on.
  • DEFER: If the task is one that can’t be completed quickly and is not a high priority item, simply defer it.
  • DELEGATE: If a task is not yours to do, then delegate it.

Remember, to take the S.T.I.N.G. out of feeling overwhelmed about a task, follow these steps:

  • Select one task to do at a time.
  • Time yourself using a clock for no more than one hour.
  • Ignore everything else during that time.
  • No breaks or interruptions should be permitted.
  • Give yourself a reward when the time is up.

Dealing with E-mail

Electronic communication can be managed just as easily and as quickly as paper with the four D’s that we just discussed. However, there are some other key ideas that will help you maximize your e-mail time.

  • Like other routine tasks (such as returning phone calls, handling paper mail, and checking voice mail), e-mail is best handled in batches at regularly scheduled times of the day.
  • Ask your e-mail contacts to use specific subject lines, and make sure to use them yourself. This will help you to determine whether your incoming mail is business or personal, urgent or trivial.
  • Once you know the subject of the message, open and read urgent e-mails, and respond accordingly. Non-urgent e-mails, like jokes, can be read later. Delete advertising-related e-mail that you have no interest in, or which you consider spam.
  • Use your e-mail system to its fullest potential. Create folders for different topics or projects, or by senders. Most e-mail systems also allow you to create folders and add keywords or categories to messages, which makes information retrieval much easier.
  • Many e-mail programs allow you to create rules that automatically move messages to the appropriate folder. This can help you follow your e-mail plan.
  • Finally, don’t forget to delete e-mail from your trash can and junk folder on a regular basis.

Using Calendars

To manage all of the things that you have to do, it’s important to organize your reminders into a small number of calendars and lists that can be reviewed regularly. A calendar (paper or electronic) is the obvious place to record meetings, appointments, and due dates.

People with multiple responsibilities, an annual calendar organized by areas of responsibility (e.g., budget, personnel, schedule, planning, and miscellaneous) may be especially valuable. For each of these areas, one can list the major responsibilities month by month and thereby see glance what tasks must be completed in a given month of the year.

Don’t forget the Productivity Journal that we discussed earlier. This can be a valuable tool for organizing tasks, identifying patterns, improving workflow, and recording work completed.

Meeting Management

Meetings are often seen as a necessary evil of office life. Few people look forward to meetings, and with good reason. Too many meetings lack purpose and structure. However, with just a few tools, you can make any meeting a much better use of everyone’s time.

Deciding if a Meeting is Necessary

The first thing you need to decide is if a formal meeting is necessary. Perhaps those morning staff meetings could be reduced to a few times a week instead of every day, or maybe they could take place over morning coffee and be more informal. (In the next module, we’ll talk about some alternatives to meetings, too.)

If a formal meeting is necessary, divide your attendees into two groups: participants and observers. Let people know what group they belong in so that they can decide whether they want to attend. If you send out a report after the meeting, that may be enough for some people.

Using the PAT Approach

We use the PAT approach to prepare for and schedule meetings.

  • Purpose: What is the purpose of the meeting? We usually state this in one short sentence. Example: “This meeting is to review the new invoice signing policy.” This helps people evaluate if they need to be there. It will also help you build the agenda and determine if the meeting was successful.
  • Agenda: This is the backbone of the meeting. It should be created well in advance of the meeting, sent to all participants and observers, and be used during the meeting to keep things on track.
  • Time frame: How long will the meeting be? Typically, meetings should not exceed one hour. (In fact, we recommend a fifty minute meeting, starting at five past the hour and ending five minutes before the hour.) If the meeting needs to be longer, make sure you include breaks, or divide it into two or more sessions.

Building the Agenda

Before the meeting, make a list of what needs to be discussed, how long you believe it will take, and the person who will be presenting the item. Here is an example.

Once the agenda is complete, send it to all participants and observers, preferably with the meeting request, and preferably two to three days before the meeting. Make sure you ask for everyone’s approval, including additions or deletions. If you do make changes, send out a single updated copy 24 hours before the meeting.

2:05-2:10 Agenda and Meeting Purpose   Jill Smith
2:10-2:20 Review of Current Invoice Signing Process   Joe King
2:20-2:40 Review of New Invoice Signing Process   Joe King
2:40-2:50 Questions and Answers   Joe King
2:50-2:55 Wrap-Up   Jill Smith

Keeping Things on Track

Before the meeting, post the agenda on a flip chart, whiteboard, or PowerPoint slide. Spend the first five minutes of the meeting going over the agenda and getting approval. During the meeting, take minutes with the agenda as a framework.

Item Action Item Presenter Due
Agenda  and Meeting Purpose N/A   Chairperson N/A
Review of Current Invoice Signing Process Current process needs to be archived Jane Smith June 5
Review of New Invoice Signing Process New process needs to be posted to SharePoint Joe King June 5
Questions and Answers Answer Sam’s question about impact on server Jane Smith June 1
Wrap-Up N/A   Chairperson N/A

(Although this informal structure will be sufficient for most meetings, more formal meetings may require more formal minutes.)

Your job as chairperson is to keep the meeting running according to the agenda. If an item runs past its scheduled time, ask the group if they think more time is needed to discuss the item. If so, how do they want to handle it? They can reduce the time for other items, remove other items altogether, schedule an offline follow-up session, or schedule another meeting. No matter what the group agrees to, make sure that they stick to their decision.

At the end of the meeting, get agreement that all items on the agenda were sufficiently covered. This will identify any gaps that may require follow-up and it will give people a positive sense of accomplishment about the meeting.

Making Sure the Meeting Was Worthwhile

After the meeting, send out a summary of the meeting, including action items, to all participants and observers, and anyone else who requires a copy. Action items should be clearly indicated, with start and end dates, and progress dates if applicable. If follow-up meetings were scheduled, these should also be communicated.

“Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.”

Albert Einstein

6. Attitude and Work Ethic

Creating a positive attitude is one of the best things you can do for your productivity and your workplace happiness. People who have a consistently positive attitude are seen as approachable and can build more effective workplace relationships. A positive attitude also serves you well when you face challenges or setbacks – it breeds resilience. Coupled with a positive attitude, a strong work ethic helps you build strong relationships with team mates and superiors.

A solid work ethic also helps you find reward in the work you do, and shows a dedication not just to goals and outcomes but to your overall professional development.

What Are You Working For?

Being clear about what you’re working for is a key part of building a positive attitude and strong work ethic. If you are not sure what you are working for, it can be difficult or even impossible to fully invest in a project or in developing your skills. Take time to clarify what your personal goals are, both in terms of specific projects and in terms of your overall career. Set specific goals and then create plans to achieve them. Tie these goals to your day to day tasks and responsibilities so that you can keep them in sight.

When working with a team, it is also vital that you outline clear group goals. Know what each member of the group is working for, and what the group is collectively working for. Find ways to consistently tie individual tasks or steps to the overarching group goals and to individual members’ personal goals.

Caring for Others vs Caring for Self

Is there really a difference between caring for others and caring for yourself? Too often, we assume that to show care and concern for others and their needs, we have to put ourselves and our needs at the bottom of the list. We may believe that we can either practice self-care of be a good colleague and team member who demonstrates compassion for others, but that we cannot be both. However, when we come to the realization that we have shared goals with those we work with, we can find a way to both care for ourselves and care for others. We may also realize that caring for ourselves is in itself a way of demonstrating care for others  — that by taking good care of ourselves, we become the best colleague we can be, which demonstrates care for others.

Even more, we may hold the false belief that there can only be one “winner” in any given situation. As a result, we may believe that we can pursue our own goals or help others pursue theirs, but never do both. Seeing the ways in which everyone is interconnected, and the way in which everyone’s success benefits the entire group is an important attitude shift. When we can find a way to care for others and ourselves, we develop a more positive, productive workplace.

Building Trust

Nothing undermines productivity and morale in a workplace like lack of trust. If people don’t trust you, they find it hard to work with you, invest in you, or pursue shared goals. Take the time to build trust with those you work with, and everyone will thrive. Many of the soft skills help to build trust – effective communication, openness and honesty, a positive attitude and a strong work ethic.

Continuously demonstrating that you are trustworthy helps not only to build persona relationships, but also to create buy in for your initiatives and projects. People who are deemed trustworthy by colleagues share some characteristics:

  • They are skilled at their jobs
  • They are passionate about their work , with a strong work ethic
  • They communicate honestly and value transparency
  • They have others’ best interests at heart
  • They care about people and demonstrate this
  • They are self-aware

Work Is Its Own Reward

One result of adopting a positive attitude and strong work ethic is that you begin to see work as its own reward. When we operate from this standpoint, we are no longer working with others or completing tasks based on what we will gain financially or professionally from doing so, and this makes us seem more engaged and trustworthy.

There is nothing wrong with valuing our salaries and other compensation – they are a vital part of why we work. However, when we take the focus off the material rewards for work and instead focus on the satisfaction we derive from the work itself, we are better able to grow and thrive.

A person who clearly loves what they do and considers it a reward in itself is also more trustworthy, as others do not question his or her motives. If it is difficult for you to consider your work as anything other than the source of a paycheck or path to advancement, it may be time for you to consider why you do the work you do.  

Learning to practice gratitude around your work is one way to learn to see it as its own reward. What does your work provide you in terms of satisfaction, contentment, excitement, and other nonmaterial benefits? Are you excited to do the work you do? Why or why not? Do you feel content at the end of the day with what you’ve accomplished?

Every day won’t be a dream come true – there are always rough days! – but if you can find a way to love the work you do the majority of the time, you are on the path to greater professional and personal happiness.

Why People Do Not Take Initiative

Not everyone is comfortable with taking the initiative, or even knows how to do so. It is something that is developed mentally and takes strength to do. Some individuals have a bounded rationality. These individuals are unable to see past what they currently know. They cannot see the benefits of stepping up. Typically, the individual has never thought about it. Also, individuals do not take the initiative due to a lack of capability. Outside their general knowledge, some individuals do not possess the expertise to take the initiative for a more difficult task. Execution over innovation is also another popular reason that individuals do not take initiative. These individuals only focus on their own work, and do not have concern for any new tasks.  Finally, some individuals are too busy to take the initiative. There is already too much on their plate, and they physically and mentally cannot process anymore work.

Reasons for not taking initiative:

  • Bounded rationality
  • Lack of capability
  • Execution over Innovation
  • Task overload

Make Initiative a Priority

It is our duty to make initiative a priority in both our professional and personal lives.  To make initiative a priority, we must first understand what it is and what its benefits are. Once we understand this, we can take the leap forward. To make taking initiative a priority, we must watch for opportunities. We must be aware of our surroundings, and what can potentially be a fantastic opportunity to do so.  In your professional career, if you see that your boss needs help with something, offer it! Show that you are a go-getter.  Take the extra step when you can! People will take notice of your initiative, and you will be rewarded positively.

Making Decisions

All jobs typically involve making decisions. It is your duty to determine if it is a good decision or bad decision. Making good and successful decisions not only will help your workplace, but it will also make you look good. Supervisors appreciate employees who take the initiative and make good decisions.

Bad decisions do not make you look good to your superiors. Making bad decisions can limit upward mobility in your career.  To help avoid making bad decisions, it is important to think about your decisions before you make them. Think about the possible outcomes and determine the best route from there. 

When making decisions in the workplace:

  • Get perspective on how important the decision is
  • Consider a variety of options
  • Ensure you have all the facts
  • Include the right people in the decision making process

Take Responsibility

When you take initiative, you must take the responsibility for your actions. For the most part, taking initiative brings positive outcomes.  Remember that you cannot make excuses for your actions. If you make a decision, take responsibility for it. You need to eliminate blame in your actions, and eliminate excuses. If you do not do this, it means you are shifting responsibility for your decisions to others.  Taking responsibility can be difficult, but in the long run it will be beneficial to you and others in the workplace.

Go the Extra Mile

Part of initiative is going the extra mile. Take the step of going above and beyond your usual tasks. This will make you stand out, and show motivation. Going the extra mile can be as simple as offering another employee help. Every little bit helps in the workplace, so if you can help out, you should. It will not go unnoticed. Going the extra mile will motivate you and make you feel good about yourself. A little initiative goes a long way.

Ways employees are motivated:

  • Getting work benefits for performing well
  • Building relationships among staff members
  • Knowing why they matter
  • Having  clear goals set

Reasons why employees may choose not to go the extra mile:

  • Lack of recognition
  • Lack of progress on tasks
  • Being micromanaged
  • Lack of growth opportunities
  • No trust in leadership

Listen Carefully

Take the initiative and be an active listener. Never be a passive listener, it will only make you a passive person. Part of effective communication is listening. A conversation cannot carry on if the parties involved do not hear each other. It is important to listen to the words being spoken, and think about them. Effective listening occurs so we can obtain information. We do it to understand and learn. Effective listening should not only occur in the professional setting, but also personal/home setting.

Ways to be a more effective active listener:

  • Face the speaker/Maintain eye contact
  • Be attentive
  • Keep an open mind
  • Do not interrupt
  • Ask questions only to ensure understanding
  • Being able to experience changes in a positive manner

Fill in the Gaps

As an effective employee, you want to step in when you can and help out the workplace. At times you may notice gaps that need to be filled. Gaps can be in a group that needs an extra person to help out to an employee being absent from work and you need to step up and help out with their duties for the day. Helping fill in the gaps shows initiative. Do what you can when you can. It will show your co-workers and superiors that you are an effective worker. It will make a positive difference in the workplace and in your personal life.

Recognize When You Can Go Outside the Normal

Are you in a rut in life or at work? Snap out of it! Although normal is easy and part of our routines, stepping out of our box can make a world of difference. Now the important step is realizing when we can go outside the normal. We need to take the time to figure out when it is appropriate and when it is not. Consider yours and others’ cultures and values and see how stepping outside of the normal will be affected by those. Also determine your scope of authority. It may not always be appropriate for you to step outside of the normal. Now, make proper and well-thought out decisions before taking action!

Act on Solutions

When deciding to act, it is important that you have the proper solution for a cause. Think out your idea. Do not act impulsively. Do not act, just to act. Do your research on the matter and be well-prepared. Once you are ready to act, make sure you put effort into your action. Do not limit yourself. Act so there is a solution. Take the initiative and make a difference.   

Before acting on solutions, think about:

  • Fixing what you can
  • Never blaming others
  • Fixing the right problem
  • If the problem reoccurs, determine why, and fix it
  • Listening to occurs

“You must always be able to predict what’s next and have the flexibility to evolve.”

Marc Benioff

7. Adaptability/Flexibility

Two of the most important skills you can have are adaptability and  flexibility. Some people mistakenly think that the ability to change according to the needs of a situation or a willingness to compromise show weakness of a lack of conviction. In reality, the ability to compromise, change in response to changing situations and changing needs, and thrive  are key to success in the fast-pace workplaces most of us find ourselves in. Change can be scary, but learning to adapt and flex as needed is an investment worth making.

Take a Chance

Life is about chances. Even if you are not ready to take a chance, just do it. It may change your personal and professional life in a positive way. Taking chances is what life is all about, and to get ahead you need to take that risk. Step outside of your box, and take that chance.

Be Open Minded

One of the most important tools you have for taking the initiative is being open- minded. A closed mind limits your productivity, but an open mind gives you limitless opportunities. To grow successfully, you should always be open to learning. Learning new things can never harm you, it will only benefit you. Once you are able to let go, and be open-minded, you will be able to change your life for the better.

There are many benefits of having an open mind in the workplace. They include:

  • Being able to let go of control
  • Being able to experience changes in a positive manner
  • Strengthening yourself
  • Gaining confidence

Be Adaptable

When taking initiative, it is important to be adaptable to any situation you may come across. When you can adapt to various situations, you can accomplish more.  Adaptability is the ability to change to the given circumstance.  All people have the basic capability to be able to adapt. It is part of human nature.

Examples of being adaptable at work:

  • Able to follow new policies and procedures.
  • Being able to adjust workload based on new, high priority assignments

Benefits of being adaptable at work:

  • More valuable to your employer
  • Makes you a better leader
  • Better equipped to handle career transitions
  • Bounce back quicker from adversity

Getting Over the Good Old Days Syndrome

“But that’s how we’ve always done it.”

“Things were better back when we…..”

Do you find yourself saying these things? Most of us fall prey to the “good old days” syndrome, where we look back at the past and believe that everything was better. This can pose a serious obstacle to our ability to adapt to change. If we are convinced that the good old days were best, we are unlikely to give a new way of doing things a fair try. When you find yourself thinking back to the good old days, give yourself a reality check. Ask yourself if things were really as good as you think you remember.

Most of us romanticize the past. Be honest with yourself. Try to recall obstacles, problems, or difficulties you had with the thing you are remembering as so good. (And remember, there were people in the good old days who were wishing for their own good old days!)

Changing to Manage Process

One of the most common situations in which we will need to change, flex, and adapt is when processes change. In order to navigate the new process, and help others to do the same, we need to change not only what we do but how we approach it. New technology, globalizing businesses, and changing needs all lead to changes in our work processes. If we hold on to the old way of doing things, we risk reduced productivity (and revenue), as well as conflict and other challenges.

When we adapt to a new process, we are not just learning a new way of doing a specific task – we are demonstrating our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, learn new skills, and work with others.

Changing to Manage People

Managing people is not a one-size-fit-all ability. People need different things from a manager. Some need lots of feedback and guidance. Others prefer to work independently most of the time and to get feedback only at regularly scheduled intervals. Some people needs a great deal of hands-on training with technology or equipment, while others will come into your organization as experts.

Taking the time to learn what your people need, and then changing your management style to meet those needs, is hugely important to workplace success. When you adapt your management style to meet the specific needs of the people you manage, this demonstrates that you care for others – that rather than expecting them to conform to your preferred way of doing things, you want to invest in them and help them grow.

Take the time to ask the people you manage what they need from you, what their goals are, and how you can be a better manager, supervisor, and colleague. Then take steps to make the changes that you feel will be most helpful.

Showing You’re Worth Your Weight in Adaptability

How can you showcase your adaptability at work? Studies show that people who are highly adaptable may be more highly valued at work than those who are highly skilled but less willing to adapt, flex, and change. Take the time to show how adaptable you are, and your workplace is likely to see you as a worthwhile investment. Some ways to demonstrate adaptability on the job are:

  • Be open to alternative solutions when your first suggestion does not go over well or succeed
  • Be willing to take on new roles, even when they are a stretch for your skills
  • Be willing to help others generate alternative solutions or plans
  • Be willing to accept the unexpected
  • Keep your calm, even when things are moving fast or are stressful
  • Demonstrate confidence in your ability to complete the job even when you’ve had to adapt or flex

“Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.”

Samuel Johnson

8. Self-Confidence (Owning It)

The single greatest thing you can do for your own success is build and learn to show self-confidence. Self-confidence is not egotistic or acting like you are better than others. Self-confidence is simply the belief that you know what to do and how to do it, that you are good at what you do, and that you can handle whatever comes your way. Demonstrating self-confidence helps to engender trust in you, and demonstrates that you are skilled and adaptable.


Confidence is important to have in the workplace. It is a feeling of self-assurance. A confident person appreciates their own abilities and qualities. Confidence demands attention, and usually gets it. Having confidence in the workplace is a value tool that can help you get ahead and get you what you want.

Are You Confident?

Confidence is different for everyone. People are confident in different aspects of their lives, and people lack confidence in different areas as well. There are two things that contribute to self-confidence. They are self-efficacy and self-esteem. A person can gain a sense of self-efficacy by visualizing oneself mastering skills or achieving certain goals. This attribute of confidence is associated with working hard to succeed. Self-esteem also contributes to confidence. It is directly related with how we feel about ourselves and how we think others view us.  

Examples of confident behavior:

  • Doing what you believe to be right
  • Admitting your mistakes and learning from them
  • Accepting compliments graciously

Examples of behavior associated with low self-confidence:

  • Working hard to cover up mistakes before anyone notices
  • Dismissing compliments
  • Never leaving one’s comfort zone

Build Confidence

It is important to understand that confidence is not something learned, it is a state of mind.  Confidence is increased with positive thinking, training, knowledge, and practice. Do not expect to become confident overnight. It takes time and acceptance of one’s self.

To help build confidence, it is important to stay away from negativity. You want to have a positive mind set, and negativity in your life will only destroy confidence. It is best to surround yourself with people who build you up and not tear you down.

It is also helpful to change your body language and image to help build confidence. Make sure you have good posture, smile, and make eye contact. It not only will show that you are a confident person, but it will also make you feel better about yourself.

Lastly, never accept failure. Get rid of all the negativity in your head. Work towards meeting your goal. It is a huge confidence builder.

Positive Thinking

Positive thinking can make all the difference in your life. Without positivity, it is very difficult to be a confident person. Positive thinking can increase one’s self- esteem. There are two key components of self-esteem. These components are self-image and self-talk. To help with positive thinking, positive affirmations can be used. Tell yourself, “I can do it!”  When speaking to yourself with internal dialogue, use the present and personal tenses. Also to help with positive thinking, use positive visualization. Imagine yourself where you want to be. Do not think negatively or like you cannot do something. Positive thinking will make all the difference in your life, and make you a more confident person.


You can raise your confidence with visualization. If you can visualize an accomplishment, then you can do it. If you plan on using visualization to increase your confidence, you will have to improve your self-image. This is done form the inside out. Low self-esteem is usually accompanied by negative visualization, so you must ensure you are working to create a positive self-image. When you are visualizing yourself in a positive way, make sure the view is done from the first person point of you. You need to see yourself through your own eyes and not others.

Confident Traits

What does it mean to be confident? Studies show that confident people share many of the same traits, even across cultures and industries. Cultivating those traits you already have, and developing those that you do not yet have, will build your overall self-confidence. Remember – self-confidence is about building yourself up, not tearing others down. When you confident, you make others around you feel confident too. Some common traits of confident people include:

  • They are not afraid to be wrong
  • They are willing to take a stand, even if they end up being wrong
  • They value finding out what is right more than they value being right
  • They listen more than they speak
  • They do not seek the spotlight, and they share the spotlight with others
  • They ask for help when they need it
  • They think in possibilities, not obstacles – they ask “Why not?”
  • They don’t put others down
  • They aren’t afraid to look silly or foolish
  • They acknowledge their mistakes
  • They seek feedback from only those who matter
  • They accept compliments
  • They “walk their talk”


How confident are you? It can be hard to assess our own self-confidence. Taking some time to ask a few questions and answer them honestly can help you gauge the areas where your confidence is high and the areas in which you can develop greater self-confidence. Ask yourself if you agree with these statements:

  • I intuitively know what’s right for me
  • I walk my talk
  • I am honest with others
  • I am honest with myself
  • I feel comfortable being wrong
  • I am more interested in finding out what is right than being right
  • It is not important to me that I be right all the time
  • I feel like I can meet any challenge
  • I operate well under pressure
  • I do not put others down
  • I like to share the spotlight with others
  • I have a clear vision for my life

Surefire Self-Confidence Building Tactics

Self-confidence is a trait that can be built. In fact, a few very simple tactics can help you quickly build your self-confidence. And as you become more confident, you will have experiences that will build your confidence even more! Here are ten sure-fire tips for building self-confidence:

  • Dress your best! Knowing you look good is a key to feeling good about yourself. When you know you look good, you project confidence. Take the time to choose clothes that fit well and which you feel good in. A good haircut that is easy for you to style is also key. If you enjoy make-up, jewelry, or other types of adornment, find pieces you love that make you feel like a million.
  • Stand up straight! Good posture is a quick, free way to build your confidence. Stand up straight and keep your shoulders back. Don’t be afraid to take up space. A bonus of good posture is that you breathe more deeply and get more oxygen, which may mean you have more focus!
  • Practice gratitude! When you take the time each day to practice gratitude, you see how many blessings you have in your life. This builds your confidence and appreciation for your life.
  • Compliment others! Confident people take the time to compliment others. When you compliment others, you project that you have concern and appreciation for others.
  • Accept compliments! When someone compliments you, accept it. Too often we say “Yes, but…” instead of just saying “Thank you.”
  •  Spend time with people who build you up. This helps keeping you focused on the positive.

Build Up Others

One key trait of people who have high self-confidence is that they build up others rather than tearing them down. Having self-confidence means that you do not feel competitive with others – their success doesn’t take away from your own. Find ways to build up others. Compliment others. Acknowledge their contributions, and express your gratitude. Being a mentor can also help to build others up by helping them develop skills, which will help them develop their own self-confident.

“I like criticism. It makes you strong.”

LeBron James

9. Ability to Learn from Criticism

No one likes criticism, but the ability to learn from it is key to professional and personal development. Learning to accept and learn from criticism is a valuable investment in yourself. The ability to listen to and accept criticism is a key component of self-confidence. It also demonstrates that you value what others have to say, and helps develop a sense that you are committed to what you do and to your own growth.

Wow, You Mean I’m Not Perfect?

It can come as a shock when we get feedback that we’re not as perfect as we might like to think. However, one of the hallmarks of a confident person is the willingness to recognize mistakes and accept that sometimes we are wrong. The key is to keep the focus on improvement, not on defending ourselves or on the reasons why we did the thing we are being criticized for. When you accept that you’re not perfect, but that that imperfection doesn’t mean you are a bad person, you have gained a valuable skill.

Remember that no one expects you to be perfect – they just expect you to be the best you can. And criticism is offered in the spirit of helping you achieve excellence, not to make you feel bad.

Listen with an Open Mind

Your active listening skills come in very hand when you’re learning to accept and learn from criticism. It is tempting to defend ourselves when we receive criticism, but it is vital to resist this. When someone offers you feedback or criticism, listen with an open mind. You may not agree with all (or any) of what he or she has to say, but it is important to hear the person out. Reflect back what you understand the person to have said, and check for understanding. Answer any questions non-defensively, and do not interrupt. Listen to understand, not to respond.

Analyze and Learn

After someone has given you feedback or criticism, it is fine to ask for time to consider what he or she has said. Always thank the person for the feedback. Take time to analyze the feedback and decide what items you want to act on. Give yourself time, especially if you feel defensive. Even if you do not agree with everything the person said, see what you can draw out of the feedback that you can learn from.

When you have analyzed the feedback, choose some action items that you can use going forward. You should then investigate training, courses, mentoring, or other ways in which you can act on the areas of feedback that you agree with or think are valid. If you have difficulty analyzing the feedback, seek out the help of a mentor, supervisor, or trusted colleague.

Clear the Air and Don’t Hold Any Grudges

Even when it’s not meant to be, criticism and feedback can feel extremely personal. When someone gives you feedback, it’s important to clear the air and not hold onto any bad feelings or grudges. Take the time to thank the person for his or her time, and for caring enough to give you feedback. Affirm the relationship, especially if the criticism has been harsh or difficult to hear. Remember that, when people give you feedback, they are doing so with your best interests at heart.

If you find yourself feeling defensive or holding on to negative feelings even after the feedback session, make sure to find a way to clear the air as soon as possible. This demonstrates not only that you are committed to your own growth, but that you value the relationship with the person who gave you the feedback.

“Networking is an essential part of building wealth.”

Armstrong Williams

10. Networking

Networking is more than just a buzzword. Taking the time to network and build relationships is a key soft skill. Networking helps you create connections with others, which expands your circle of learning and support. Networking is more than meeting people or connecting with them on the Internet. It involves building mutually beneficial links where you can learn from and benefit from each other and the relationship.

Redefine Need

When many people think of networking, they think of it terms of what they need or what they can get from the networking relationship. Networking can be more beneficial if we instead think of what we can give in our networking relationships.

Think about what you have to offer people instead only of what you need from them. When you think in terms of what you can offer as well as what you need from others, it expands your network. You begin to seek out people to whom you can offer yourself, your expertise, and talents rather than just those who have something to offer you. Seeing yourself as someone with much to offer also helps to boost your self-confidence.

Identifying Others’ Interests

When you network with others, it’s key to identify others’ interests. This helps you identify common interests and goals, as well as areas in which you can offer of yourself. When you meet a new person, ask about his or her goals and interests. Ask yourself how they mesh with your own goals and interests. How do they line up with the goals and interests of your organization? How can you integrate your interests with others’ to find common ground? What common goals do you have? How can you offer of yourself to help others reach their goals? How can they help you reach your goals?

Focusing on ways in which your goals and interests integrate with others’ helps create a strong, powerful network that goes beyond simple friendship.

Reach Out

To be able to network, you have to reach out. There are many ways to do this, both online and in person. One of the easiest ways to reach out is to join professional social networking sites such as LinkedIn, and look for people in your industry or who share your interest. Join groups, both online and in person – professional groups and associations, groups which promote skills you want to develop (such as Toastmasters), and groups that work for causes you value are all good choices.  No matter what you choose as a method of meeting people, the key part of networking is to talk to people.

Approach people and start a conversation, and cultivate a presence that makes you approachable. Be responsive when people contact you via email or phone. Make time in your schedule each week to work on networking – schedule it as you would any other important task. Use your soft skills – listening actively, projecting self-confidence, building others up – as you network.

When to Back Off

As important as knowing how and when to reach out is knowing when to back off. If it becomes clear that the person you are trying to connect with is not responding, it is time to move on. The last thing you want is for someone to feel pursued! Be willing to back off if a person appears to be trying to distance him or herself. Also be aware of being too self-promoting – this can be off putting. Know that you have much to offer to others, and that someone not wanting to build a networking relationship with you is not a reflection of your worth as a person.

Our Top Networking Tips

Understanding how to converse and how to make small talk are great skills, but how do you get to that point? The answer is simple, but far from easy: you walk up, shake their hand, and say hello!

If you’re in the middle of a social gathering, try these networking tips to maximize your impact and minimize your nerves.

  • Before the gathering, imagine the absolute worst that could happen and how likely it is. For example, you may fear that people will laugh at you when you try to join their group or introduce yourself. Is this likely? At most business gatherings, it’s very unlikely!
  • Remember that everyone is as nervous as you are. Focus on turning that energy into a positive force.
  • To increase your confidence, prepare a great introduction. The best format is to say your name, your organization and/or position title (if appropriate), and something interesting about yourself, or something positive about the gathering. Example: “I’m Tim from Accounting. I think I recognize some of you from the IT conference last month.”
  • Just do it! The longer you think about meeting new people, the harder it will be. Get out there, introduce yourself, and meet new people.
  • Act as the host or hostess. By asking others if they need food or drink, you are shifting the attention from you to them.
  • Start a competition with a friend: see how many people each of you can meet before the gathering is over. Make sure your meetings are worthwhile!
  • Join a group of odd-numbered people.
  • Try to mingle as much as possible. When you get comfortable with a group of people, move on to a new group.
  • When you hear someone’s name, repeat the introduction in your head. Then, when someone new joins the group, introduce them to everyone.
  • Mnemonics are a great way to remember names. Just remember to keep them to yourself! Some examples:
    • Mr. Singh likes to sing.
    • Sue sues people for a living.
    • How funny – Amy Pipes is a plumber!

11. Professionalism

The word “professionalism” often conjures up images of a cold, distant, brusque person in a nondescript navy blue suit. In fact, many people have the sense that to be “professional” is exactly the opposite of demonstrating empathy and emotional intelligence! However, professionalism is a key soft skill, and it doesn’t require you to be inauthentic, distant, or detached. Professionalism is simply the ability to conduct yourself with responsibility, integrity, accountability, and excellence. Acting with professionalism also means seeking to communicate effectively with others and finding a way to be productive. Professionalism involves what may seem to be small acts, such:

  • Always reporting to work on time and returning promptly from breaks
  • Dressing appropriately
  • Being clean and neat
  • Speaking clearly and politely to colleagues, customers, and clients
  • Striving to meet high standards for one’s own work

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