Tag: storytelling

Five soft skills employers are looking for: what they are and how to develop them

In an increasingly virtual world, soft skills have become essential to succeed in today’s workplace. So what are the most important soft skills and how can you go about developing them?

While hard skills are usually obtained through training programmes and formal education, soft skills are to do with who people are – their character traits and interpersonal skills – and how they relate to other people in the workplace. Soft skills are now prerequisites for employers looking to recruit their best teams. Indeed, the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2021-22 report on the State of the Workplace found that 77% of HR professionals cited the importance of developing managers’ soft skills to better meet current workforce expectation.

Read on for the top five soft skills and how you can start to cultivate them.

Communication

Photograph of yellow telephone set on yellow background

Let’s Talk

Successful communicators don’t just know what to say, they know how to say it; they understand the importance of non-verbal communication; and, crucially, they know how to listen. These are all critical skills to develop if you want to take an active role in the workplace, make an impact, and have a chance to progress within your chosen field.

Let’s talk

Being an effective communicator is not something we are born with. Fortunately you can get better at communicating by practising the skills required. First, take an inventory of the ways in which you interact with colleagues on any given day. What did you say? How did you say it? Did you give any nonverbal cues? How well were you really listening? Make notes and see where you were most effective and authentic and where you feel there is room for improvement. Once you know what your weaker areas are you can then start to work on building those skills.

City’s Presentation Skills short course is taught by Karen Glossop. Karen read Classics at Cambridge University and trained as an actor at Mountview. Since 1997, she has tutored groups and individuals in areas such as leadership, personal impact, presentation and speech-making, communication and influencing, writing for business and creativity. As Karen puts it:

“People often say they want to be more confident. I can’t snap my fingers and make that happen, but I can equip them with practical skills that will lead to confidence if they put in the work. This confidence is their success, not mine. My job is to make sure people have the techniques to relax in front of an audience; to encourage them to think analytically – and creatively – about how to structure a speech or presentation; and to nudge them to take positive risks in how they present themselves and their message. Everything I do is driven by the belief that the need to communicate is fundamental to our humanity.”

You might also find our Effective Communication and Interpersonal Skills course useful to help develop your communication skills.

Creativity

Photograph of lightbulb on beach against a sunset.

Lightbulb Moment

Creativity is vital for innovation and as important for mathematicians and scientists as it is for writers and artists. Linkedin’s 2022 Global Talent Report now puts creativity as one of the current top five in-demand skills for employers. And no wonder. Creative-minded colleagues make excellent problem-solvers; contribute energy and dynamism to their teams; and are able to see the bigger picture at work.

Light the Fuse

Not feeling particularly creative yourself? Don’t worry. There are many ways we can all start to be more creative. Start by asking more questions; observe a situation before stepping in; experiment with new ways of thinking and approaching a subject; make more connections; and network within and across teams. It’s also important to get your mind in the right state to receive new, more creative ideas. Often this is when we are most relaxed and not overthinking. Taking regular breaks at work, staying active, having a daily meditation practice and allowing your mind to rest can all give space for ideas on the brain’s back burner to come into conscious awareness.

Our creative writing short courses at City provide an excellent space to explore your creativity. Start with An Approach to Creative Writing and move on to try Novel Writing and Longer Works or Short Story Writing. Taught by writers and editors, our writing courses will help you build your creative skills through storytelling and fiction writing.

Language learning also provides an opportunity to become more creative. Learning a language has been proven to (LINK TO OTHER POST) boost brain power and fire up those neurons essential for discovering new ways of thinking and approaching a subject. You’ll get the added bonus of practicing your networking skills with our interactive classes with plenty of opportunity for pair and group work.

Emotional Intelligence

Photo of nine Lego Mini figure heads with range of emotional expressions from neutral to fuming.

Multi-faceted

Emotional intelligence as a concept was first popularised by Dan Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence. Today the World Economic Forum defines emotional intelligence as one of its top ten in-demand professional skills. It’s not hard to see why. Leaders with emotional intelligence are routinely better able to resolve conflicts; collaborate with others; build psychological safety within teams and coach and motivate others.

I hear you

The good news? Emotional intelligence is something you can develop. First try to manage your negative emotions. When someone annoys you at work, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Excuse yourself to go for a toilet break if you need. Then come back when you’re calmer. You’ll make better decisions and you’ll be better able to listen. Think about the language you’re using to communicate at work. Could it be clearer? Is there room for improvement? Put yourself in your colleagues’ shoes and practice active empathy. How can you let your colleagues know, verbally or non-verbally, that you appreciate and understand their position, even if you don’t agree? Try to become more cognisant of what triggers you towards stress. If you’re someone who gets stressed when they read work emails, make sure not to have your phone on in your bedroom or set a time limit after which you no longer check your emails. Try to practice being optimistic rather than complaining. We are what we do and the more you complain, the more you will find something to complain about. Reminding yourself of what you have to be grateful for, however small, can increase our optimism and allow us to contribute at work, and home, in a more positive way.

City’s two Positive Psychology courses are both taught by Tim Le Bon and are a great way to improve your emotional intelligence. Tim has a first class degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Trinity College, Oxford and an MPhil in Philosophy from the University of London. He is a qualified life coach and psychotherapist and the author of Wise Therapy: Philosophy for Counsellors; Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology; and 365 Ways to be More Stoic.

“I originally studied PPE and really took to the philosophy part of the course,” says Tim. “The idea that we could reflect on how to live better was exciting and new to me. In my twenties I undertook further study in psychology.

“I then worked in IT for a company called Logica, where I really enjoyed my work and the camaraderie with fellow workers. But in my late twenties, I found something was missing. I wanted to make a positive difference to people’s lives and I wanted to do something that I was really passionate about. When I asked myself “is this how I want to spend the majority of my time?” the answer was a resounding “no”. So I trained as a counsellor, psychotherapist, life coach and teacher. I find my work now much more meaningful.

“Over the ten weeks students learn about the practical topics of Positive Psychology, such as happiness, positive emotions, achievement, positive relationships, mindfulness and compassion. They also learn evidence-based techniques to help them become happier, achieve more and be more mindful. Homework is set each week around activities aimed at helping students achieve these techniques.”

 

Adaptability

Photo of scrabble letters on white background.

Resistance is Futile

Despite being one of life’s only real certainties, human beings are notoriously resistant to change. How we respond to change – and the challenges that are change’s inevitable companion – depends on our ability to adapt. Flying off the handle when things don’t go according to plan will not buy you friends at work, or home.  Putting your head in the sand and hoping you can ignore the consequences of change will most likely damage you, your team and your organisation. A colleague who can show true adaptability to any situation, good or bad, is a huge asset to an organisation and more likely to be adept at other soft skills such as creativity.

Turn on a dime

Start by reframing your thinking. See challenges as opportunities rather than threats. See if you can get ahead of any potential challenges coming down the track and try to be an early adopter of change. Take advantage of any training courses your employers offer, particularly on resilience. Share your learning with your team; often seeing a colleague successfully take on new challenges can inspire others within a team to adapt and grow further.

City’s Leadership and Management short course is an excellent way to enhance your ability to adapt by learning practical tips on how to succeed in today’s job’s market.

Critical Thinking

Photo of man dressed in black clothes and black beanie hat with glasses on and hands resting on chin in thoughtful pose.

Let’s See

Being able to step back from a situation and apply logic is invaluable in the workplace. Critical thinkers use their skills to analyse information – essential in our data-heavy modern world – look for patterns in that information; see where there are gaps; and use their findings to come up with innovative solutions and strategies to ongoing problems. Not only do colleagues with good critical thinking skills make great leaders, they also know how to prioritise and manage their time effectively which has knock-on effects for their teams and organisations.

Give it some thought

You can work towards improving your critical skills by taking time to consider the information in front of you. Don’t take anything at face value. Be as objective as possible and try to evaluate the data as rationally as possible. Ask questions. Is there anything missing from this information? Who funded the research/website/platform? How big was the data set? Whose voice is missing from the research? Evolve your ability to listen with empathy. Try not to insert your own opinion before you’ve heard what others have to say. Listen carefully and keep an open mind.

City has a range of courses which will help students develop their critical thinking skills. Through reading and discussion of set texts and examples on our non fiction writing courses such as Journalism Skills, Writing for Social Impact and Narrative Non Fiction, students learn to analyse theirs and others’ writing and provide constructive criticism on ways to make it stronger and clearer.  Our fiction writing courses – particularly our year-long Novel Studio programme – also help to strengthen students’ capacity for independent judgement and thought and to practice skills in critical reasoning and appreciation.

Our law short courses help students develop their critical thinking skills through the examination of key legal case determinations and analysis of evidence and decision-making processes.  While our computing short courses – particularly our Data Analysis courses – are designed to sharpen students’ ability to apply logic to their understanding and use of programming and data management.

For more on all our short courses – from Human Rights Law through to Python, take a look at our home page.

Or contact shortcourses@city.ac.uk to talk directly to one of our subject coordinators.

Bewitched: An interview with Shahrukh Husain

After teaching Shahrukh Husain back in 2004, Emily Pedder, Course Director of The Novel Studio, catches up with the successful author and City Short Courses alumna about her recently reissued book, The Book of Witches, and the relevance of the book for feminism today.

Shahrukh Husain is that rare breed: a prolific writer of screenplays, plays, fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children who also happens to be a practicing psychoanalytic psychotherapist. Her adaptation of Anita Desai’s Booker-nominated In Custody for Merchant Ivory productions won the President of India gold medal and received an Oscar nomination; her most recent work was screened on ITV this autumn in the six-part series Beecham House, set in India in the late 18th century. Her books have been translated into 17 languages including Estonian, Turkish and Korean, and in October 2019, Virago decided to reissue The Book of Witches, edited by Shah, for which she was asked to write a new preface.

In 2004 I was lucky enough to teach Shah on City’s Novel Studio (then the Certificate in Novel Writing). You may wonder why such a talented and successful writer would choose to go on a writing course. But Shah is unashamed in her lifelong pursuit of learning. ‘My family say I’m addicted to courses,’ she tells me at the kitchen table of her beautiful house in Willesden where we met last week to talk about her latest book and her long and interesting career.

I began by asking Shah how she had come to edit the original incarnation of The Book of Witches, first published in 1993: ‘I’ve always been passionate about fairy tales,” she told me, “and witches in particular…from childhood. I’d corner people and force them to tell me stories and I remember my parents saying: “You can’t just go up to people and ask them to tell you stories about ghosts!” Years later, Angela Carter wrote her book about fairy tales, (The Virago Book of Fairy Tales) and I just loved it. So, I found out who was in charge of the series, it was Ursula Owen at the time, and she told Ruth Petrie who was the series editor, who called back within about 10 minutes and said, (in those days there wasn’t any internet) “we’re commissioning you,” just like that.’ The book became Shah’s breakthrough as a writer, selling in eleven languages, and the first of four subsequent non-fiction books for Virago.

Virago’s decision to reissue the book, 26 years, later was influenced by the rise in interest in witches and their potency, particularly in relation to female anger and the #metoo movement. In her new preface, Shah brilliantly highlights the relevance of the witch today: ‘resilient, edgy, awe-inspiring and potent. She never disappears from our culture for long.’ At a recent sold out Virago Speakeasy event celebrating the book, Shah was joined by award-winning writer and fellow City short course alumna Imogen Hermes Gowar, to explore the power of the witch today.

Storytelling clearly runs through Shah’s veins. Though resident in the UK for most of her life, Shah’s childhood was spent in Pakistan where she spent hours listening to the adults telling stories: ‘my mother’s family weren’t academics, my mother and her mother weren’t even educated…they told stories and everything was embedded in history and culture…if they wanted to tell us off they’d tell a story and then they’d go on to explain or encourage us to ask questions, like ‘was she a real queen?’ It was such fun, I soaked it all up…’

This deep-rooted understanding of the links between stories, history and culture has continued to influence Shah’s work as a writer and her career as a Jungian psychoanalyst. All four of her books for Virago are themed around different aspects of womanhood and illustrate the universality of so many myths: Women Who Wear the Breeches, Erotic Myths and Legends, Temptresses, and The Book of Witches. As she puts it, they are all about ‘women and myths who’ve had a bad press, they’re all themed, so it’s about knowing that these things exist in every culture really…’

Not surprisingly for someone so knowledgeable about storytelling and narratives, Shah is passionate about the value of creativity and imagination in the lives of both adults and children: ‘‘I really want people to have imagination in their lives… I remember when my daughter was six, she came to me and said: “Mum everybody keeps saying there’s no such thing as magic but is there?” So, I said the funny thing about magic is that if you don’t believe it you never find out about it, so you have to believe it, and it’s the same with miracles…and I said to her we’ll go in the garden in the morning and I’ll show you, and I showed her the dew, we see it falling and it looks like a diamond, so that’s kind of a miracle. And she came back afterwards and said “I’ve been thinking about it. It’s not kind of a miracle, it is a miracle because actually that is a diamond…”’

The Book of Witches is published by Virago.

For more about Shah’s work please visit her website.

For more about City’s short writing courses, including the Novel Studio please visit.

 

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