The Best Professional People-Skills to Learn Before Work

A recent MSN CareerBuilder article What They Should Have Taught You in School offers insightful practical advice to all GEN Y (aka Millenials). The writer, Anthony Balderrama, did a great job of amassing lessons learned and best advice on the professional people-skills you will need to succeed at work. I contributed three tips for that article.

Yet the topic is so valuable to GEN Y and to all those changing careers, that I include here more of the best professional people-skills to learn before work.

Six of the Best Professional People-Skills to Learn for Work:

  1. Flexibility. How well do you work with different people? How do you react when asked to change certain behaviors? I asked a VP of Human Resources one day, what is the most important trait you look for in a new hire? Answer: “Flexibility and adaptability. Things never stay the same and employees who can’t work with different bosses and team members are a drain!”
  2. Communication that connects! Communication today has to cross generations, cultures, educational backgrounds, and occupational areas. How well do you connect through your communication with someone different from you?
  3. Positive Initiative. Employers hire you to contribute your all and to help create business success. So give more in effort than you ask for in privileges. True story: An employee emailed his manager the following message: “I would like to work from home 3 days a week. How can you make this happen for me?” In the next downsizing, he was gone. If you want to explore working from home, speak with your manager (not email) and ask what you would have to do to get this accommodation from the company (as opposed to how she can make this happen for you). The manager is not your concierge!
  4. Balancing. Regardless of your age you have individual goals and beliefs different from the organization’s. Learn early on how to focus on the organization’s goals first and foremost while still being you. If you find this balancing act tortuous, you may do better in self-employment.
  5. Understanding Beyond Words. If you tend to be a literal person, you will need to learn to read between the words. Organizational politics exist and thriving in it requires this skill. Asking great questions and observing are two surefire steps to developing this skill.
  6. Diplomatic honesty. As you work on teams — good teams — your honesty will be expected. How you deliver that honesty will impact your work relationships for a very long time. One excellent way to deliver diplomatic honesty is to speak about observable behaviors and events rather than your interpretations of behavior and events. For example, if one team member’s behavior is so strong that it causes friction, discuss the exact behaviors as opposed to saying “You are always trying to dominate!” Not only can you not be sure that person is trying to dominate, that statement will leave an emotional scar that plagues future interaction. Moreover, it doesn’t give the person anything specific to change.

Invitation: Please add your insights on the best professional skills for work in the comments field below. It will be an ongoing expansive resource for learning.

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

©2010-2012 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

9 Responses to “The Best Professional People-Skills to Learn Before Work”

  1. Cultural awareness. Today, its critical to be competent connecting and collaborating with diverse, remote teams in order to drive organizational effectiveness.

  2. Eric says:

    I would add ‘Empathy’ to the list. The ability to recognize and react to your colleagues’ emotional responses, especially during critical conversations, is very important. It is what allows you to leverage all of those other skills your mention.

  3. Kate, great post that is needed for all Gen’s. If I would contribute one more it would be, “Understanding what is important to other people.” I have found being able to see people beyond what they do on the job makes a huge difference in the relationships you create. One personal story that sticks out in my mind is when as a young exec. I had a super, smart, “I’m talking almost genius” admin who seemed to look at me as just “the young guy with a masters degree, so that’s why he got the job.” As I got to know her it turns out she was big into acting. I paid attention and she ended up being in a Woody Allen play I always wanted to see. I showed up at one of her plays and that made all the difference in the world for our relation at work. I wanted to see a play, she was in it, but going to the play that she was in showed that I was paying attention and cared.

    Your Ambassador,
    Mike Bruny

  4. Audrey Williams says:

    Six professional skills – Kate Nasser – Excellent advice on professional skills. These are all important for all generations. One important to add is “Attitude” ,”that little thing that makes a big difference”, a positive attitude fosters excellence, trustworthiness and cohesiveness among positive people. Always work on your “emotional reactions”, “observable behaviours” and “perceptions and judgement” about people, things and events around you – try to change negatives into positives in your interactions at home and at work – transcend only positives.

  5. JB King says:

    “How to Win Friends and Influence People” has some great relationship suggestions and ideas that I’m not sure were taught in my day yet still seem just as relevant now as back in the 1930s when the book was written. That would be my addition to this list.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thanks JB for stopping by this blog and offering a timeless resource. People skills are a continual learning process and for me, I can learn from the past or present. I hope you will visit again and share your expertise and insight on any/all of the people skills posts here at Smart SenseAbilities.
      Warmest wishes,

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