Got your attention, but how do you answer that question about yourself? There are many different ways in which you could be a softie. So, in what way am I asking that question? Do you have professional soft skills? Let's consider the following:
- LISTENING - Are you a true listener? Or are you formulating what you will next say when the person with whom you are engaged in a conversation takes a breath? Listening is a virtue and on some occasions, the best action is to just listen and enable yourself to fully hear what the other person is saying or perhaps just getting something off their chest to feel better.
- MANNERS - Are you polite? Do you utilize those manners your parents attempted to instill in you? Etiquette is, I fear, becoming a lost art, however, as a professional, it is of upmost importance that you be courteous and respectful not only with clients, but with colleagues in the office.
- MOTIVATION - Are you motivated? Do you come in each workday with enthusiasm and ready to tackle the day? Yes, we all have "those" days when we would rather be anywhere but the office, but does that attitude serve in our best interest? Without realizing it, motivation leads to success or failure. A healthy level of motivation will serve you well.
- TEAM PLAYER - Yes, we have all heard the expression "there is no 'I' in team". But there is "m - e" in team. A true team player does not look out for themselves but for all members of the team. Even if you work autonomously, you are still part of a team. Utilize the support a team can provide, the resources you avail yourself to, the benefits of being a team player. You never know when you need your team's support.
- BE ENGAGING - While listening is a skill, so is the ability to engage, to know when to speak, become involved and when to step back. Be able to carry on a conversation, even if you may be uncomfortable, start off by talking about the weather, compliment them on an accessory or an article of clothing, something neutral, and before you realize it, you will feel more at ease. Yes, I acknowledge that males must be more cautious with this type of ice breaking, but it is possible. Even if you make a short benign comment about yourself, you can be cracking the ice! When you meet someone for the first time, you are strangers, but do your best to get to know that person. You don't want to come off as being uncaring, disinterested, incapable of assisting the client, etc. BE FRIENDLY.
- DECISION MAKER - As you progress in your career, you will be faced with having to make difficult decisions. You will be faced at any point in your career of whether the decision is up to you or should be made by someone else. So decisions are not merely related to substantive matters, but in helping you to make a determination if it is within your ability to make a decision. Decisions, decisions. . . . learn how to make smart decisions regardless of what the issue is at hand.
- PROBLEM SOLVING - This is a very useful skill to develop. Many times we are dealing with problems and the party(ies) with whom you are interacting with are emotional (angry, sad, greedy, etc.) Being able to help diffuse the problem leads to solving a problem. Sometime it may mean that you accept blame for something that may not be your fault or being able to soften the issue by pointing out how not all of the bad is bad but IT is what IT is and here is where IT isn't so bad! Try to find some good in the bad and you will well on your way to becoming a better problem solver. Remember that there are always two sides to every story and that you may have heard both sides and you need to determine that the reality lies somewhere between the two stories.
- PROFESSIONALISM - Lastly, be professional. Our profession is one that really has no specific definition. Paralegal v. Legal Assistant, registered/certified vs. not being either, salaried vs. hourly. These are but a couple of instances where the legal world is inconsistent. You may have worked hard to be educated in the field while someone with no educational background may be given the title due to experience or so that the firm can bill for their time. There are very few states with regulations regarding the profession. Regardless of where you have come from, where you have been and what education or certifications you have, be PROFESSIONAL in where you are right now. Act like a professional, have a good attitude, manners, keep learning the HARD skills that are teachable, and do your best to develop your soft skills that will make you the outstanding professional that you have the potential to be.
Kay M. Sowa, EA/CTFA is designated by the Internal Revenue Service as an Enrolled Agent, and as a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor through the Institute of Certified Bankers. She concentrates her practice at the firm of Capehart & Scatchard, P.A., in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, in the areas of trust, estate, and taxation. Ms. Sowa has also been involved in estate litigation. While the majority of her career has been focused on trust and estate administration, as well as taxation, Ms. Sowa also worked for a software company, where she gained experience in the use and development of various trust, estate and tax software applications as a software trainer. She is a frequent lecturer with the Institute for Paralegal Education and National Business Institute. Ms. Sowa has also presented for the Federal Bar Association. She was an adjunct professor at the Erie Business Institute, where she taught paralegal/legal secretarial classes. Ms. Sowa is a member of the Burlington County College Paralegal Advisory Committee, the Estate and Financial Planning Council of Southern New Jersey, the National Association of Enrolled Agents, and the Institute of Certified Bankers. She has presented workshops in budgeting, credit reports, and personal finances. Ms. Sowa earned her associate's degree from Bryan & Stratton Business Institute and her paralegal certificate at Penn State.
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