Malt Logo
Future-proofing your job against the robots

Like in most lines of work, soft skills are critical to your success as an independent consultant, perhaps even more so. This is especially true in a free market, where you compete against other professionals. It's not just about "what" you have to offer but "how" you sell your services too. Your soft skills and personal approach can make or break a good deal.

In the future, soft skills will become an increasingly important distinguishing factor as the competition from AI grows. There is little that machines, robots, and software-based AI won't be able to do in the future – apart from feeling and acting in a human and emotionally intelligent way. 

"Our so-called "soft skills" are what make us human. In the expectation that we will soon be competing with machines, it seems worthwhile to train our "soft skill muscles.” – Anna Julius

Even though we know the importance of this skillset, many people don’t know how to develop or improve their soft skills. The myth prevails that one either has or hasn’t got strong soft skills, exasperated by the lack of a clear learning path or benchmarks to improve them.

So, the first step is to be aware that soft skills can be trained like any other, then you just need to know how it can be done.

You can – and should – train your soft skills "muscle"

"He's so successful with his cold calls. I'm just such an introvert and could never do that!", "Oh, she's blessed with so much self-discipline! I'm just too tired at night to start an online learning program!”, "Yes, of course, he made the deal. He inherited his great network from his rich father!" 

Sound familiar? Then you are most likely stuck in a fixed mindset.

According to Professor Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, we all have parts of both: a fixed and a growth mindset. People with a strong fixed mindset believe that they are who they are, and cannot change substantially. However, when you access your growth mindset, you know that you can learn anything if you want to.

Neuroplasticity means that your physical brain cells change as you develop new neural pathways through learning. Awesome, isn't it? And the best part: This is true for soft skills such as communication, resilience, or time management – just like training to be a data analyst or mastering a foreign language. 

Turning your fixed mindset into a growth mindset is not just about self-belief and positivity. Numerous studies have backed up Dweck's claims, showing that a growth mindset can improve cognitive and problem-solving abilities. One such study by Jason S. Moser (Michigan State University) showed that people with a growth mindset experience different neurochemical reactions during a simple cognitive test. This response allowed them to process errors more deeply, improving post-error accuracy.

This shows that a growth mindset can help you achieve things you never thought were possible, as well as helping you better address mistakes when you inevitably make them.

Self-Awareness is the starting point

"Acceptance is the first step to recovery" – this saying also applies to those stuck in an unproductive mindset.

Take emotional intelligence, a critical component of the soft skills that underpin harmonious and productive relationships. It begins with self-awareness of one's own emotions, learning to name them in more nuanced distinctions than "happy," "sad," or "angry”. From there, you can use this information to read the emotional states of others. 

Empathy is currently on the rise as the most important leadership skill. It's especially relevant in a post-pandemic, remote-work world where power has shifted toward employees to assert more control over their working conditions. In fact, 61% of employees report an improved capacity to innovate when their leaders are empathetic, versus only 13% among those with non-empathetic leaders.

In my experience, this change of perspective is a game-changer. Achieving this level of self-awareness takes work, particularly in a business context, but it can be your competitive advantage as a consultant with an outsider's perspective.

For example, as an internal communications consultant, I don't just try to anticipate my clients’ needs. I try to take on the perspective of their "customers” (the employees). This change of perspective has often led to solutions that the client could not have seen from their internal role and function.

Become a "Leader of One"

As independent consultants, we use leadership skills every day, but seldom think of ourselves as classical leaders, i.e. someone with personnel responsibility.

I recommend that you think of yourself as your own "human resource" and are personally responsible for your development and training, just as you would be in a permanent position.

We all have unique life experiences, starting points, strengths and weaknesses, and developmental goals. This means all of us will have a unique path to continue developing our soft skills. 

However, anyone can use the following "roadmap" as a workable blueprint to get themselves out of a mindset rut and down the path of continuous improvement:

  • Create a development plan for your soft skills: Assess where you currently stand and where you see the growth potential and formulate actionable steps you can start taking to get you there.
  • Think outside of the box: Visiting art exhibitions, reading fiction, meeting friends from other professional backgrounds, traveling, moving your body – all these activities help build soft skills like strong communication, problem-solving, teamwork, empathy, etc.
  • Take your time: Schedule events in your calendar and make sure you take your personal development as seriously as your professional upskilling. Pause several times during the day and listen to your feelings and needs. Take time for your relationships. For example, before and after a call with your client take time to pause and reflect on their state of mind and needs.
  • Have fun! This might be the most rewarding development journey of your career – and your personal life, too.

The lesson lies in the journey, not the destination

Boosting your soft skills to future-proof against AI is both a science and an art. Due to the unstructured way of developing many soft skills, it can be easy to one day, in a moment of clarity, realize that you haven't been paying attention to it for weeks, despite setting out with serious intentions. 

That's why it's important to have regular, scheduled practices that you fully control, like self-check-ins, meditation sessions, gym visits, or meetups with your team. 

At the same time, you need to be aware of unexpected opportunities to exercise your soft skill muscles in new ways. A stressful call with upper management, dealing with a difficult client, or interacting at social events all offer opportunities to reflect on and refine your soft skills.