The Hard Facts About Soft Skills in Construction
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An online business community learning platform known as Udemy, reports the top eight soft skills recommended for success in business in 2020 are the following:

A “growth mindset”, creativity, focus mastery, innovation, communication skills, storytelling, culture awareness and critical thinking. 

When I first read the list without the Udemy explanations, I immediately envisioned asking people in our industry if they felt they had these eight attributes, knowing most would answer in the affirmative irrespective of whether their explanation of what defines the attributes of the soft skills is a bit different than intended. A growth mindset explanation would assuredly be justified on the grounds that they do want to grow in title and make more money.  I can just imagine the comments about storytelling, as we often hear some really elaborate stories in construction to justify behaviors and mistakes.

Growth Mindset

Udemy uses Carol Dweck’s definition of a growth mindset, which is, “People with a growth mindset believe their talents can be developed through hard work and feedback , whereas people with fixed mindsets believe talents are innate and unchangeable”. Whether you believe it or not, you are still learning every day in construction, (in both technical and interpersonal knowledge), whether one is just starting in the industry, or has forty or more years of experience, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, and many others repeat often “Once you stop learning you start dying.”

Creativity

Next on the list is creativity. According to the article, creativity is a powerful weapon for driving “new ideas, competitive advantages, and fully engaged teams.”  The construction industry is a collaborative industry, and we hire design consultants to help with what we think of as the creative.  However, construction management professionals who look at a project from the perspective of time, cost, constructability, quality, pro forma restraints, carry costs, and other challenges when building a project create the best finished canvases of all.

Focus Mastery

Focus mastery may sound like a new age way of saying “meditation”.  But in reality, it is the ability to set aside time to create the needed space to properly concentrate on the people and work in front of you, in order to get the best productivity.  One of the ways I do this is by making a point to utilize a conference room to have a discussion with a colleague when the issue requires an in-depth conversation.  This takes me out of my office space, away from the computer screen, and enhances my focus, which ultimately makes the meeting time shorter and more effective. You can cover so many more issues when you are focused and not distracted.  Making time to meet others outside of the main office, on a jobsite trailer, or on the jobsite itself, may be the answer for you to improve your focus mastery for better results with people and work.

Innovation

Udemy offers a beginner course called “Design Thinking for Beginners”.  Developing an innovation mindset (design thinking) can help you discover and implement the best solutions to problems you encounter. Innovation allows you to look at the solution with all possible resources, including technological options.  The companies that are not innovatively thinking will eventually get squeezed out of our industry by the competition who embrace an innovative mindset.  Buildings are already being built innovatively. Should those who are building them be innovative thinkers as well?

Communication Skills

Communication Skills are always on the list and are a commonly addressed topic on this blog.  Most of the people who lose their jobs in construction do not lose them due to making technical errors.  They lose them as a result of how they communicate with others, verbally and in writing.

Who, what, where, when and why are important questions to ask yourself before delivering the message?  Making sure you understand what someone else is saying to you, and know their true intent.  Take a look at the Book of Proverbs and you pick up on some basics to start like.” A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” 15:1 NIV.  We can all improve in the area of communication.  You may get away with certain behaviors as a Project Engineer, but by the time you are a Project Manager, you need the communication skills to lead the Project Engineers, and not teach them bad habits.

Storytelling

The stories that come off jobsites are really good.  In this setting, the soft skill to which they are referring is the ability to tie a real story or example to what you are teaching, presenting or saying when trying to obtain and maintain the attention of your audience.  It should be genuine and real to build report, trust and add in explanation.  Just visit Ted Talks to listen to some speakers who are great coaches with the gift for storytelling from real experiences.

Cultural Awareness

Cultural Awareness is key in the workplace today. The Udemy author explains that “by learning about the varied dynamics of family, society, and workplace attitudes across cultures, you’ll be able to understand communication styles across different backgrounds. Strengthen your personal and professional relationships by understanding social norms on a global level.”   Cultural awareness does not ask you to sacrifice your values, it asks you to respect others in the workplace and understand they may have a different foundation than you.  In the workplace, the goal is to create a common view for the job without destroying the relationship that you may not ever carry beyond that moment.

Critical Thinking

The last of the top eight is Critical Thinking, described as “the ability to solve problems effectively by gathering information about an issue, generating ideas [with] a variety of perspectives, evaluating the information using logic, and making sure everyone involved is on board.”  Despite construction being a team-based collaborative environment, many of the top professionals in our industry are dominant personalities focused on action and results.  As a result, collaboration does not always come easily.  So oftentimes the lack of buy-in from one of the parties is what causes the breakdown along the way.  The ability to think through, combined with the ability to recognize if everyone agrees to the action, is what solves problems.  One without the other can create them.

Something is better than nothing.  What are you doing to improve your soft skills?  If you would like help with a personal plan for you, we are a call away.

The hard fact about soft skills is that without them, you may be the next one looking for a job.  Alternatively, you can utilize soft skills, and stay employed while enhancing your career choices and the path you take to get there.

Suzanne Breistol

 

 

 

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