7 soft skills to accelerate your career

Working with people is hard, mostly thanks to the complex and unpredictable nature of human emotions. Inarticulate factors frequently jump in, subconsciously affecting every thought and decision we make. To scratch the surface of proving my point, the header image should remind you of a very well known doodle you’ve probably stumbled upon on the internet at one point – the two shapes called Bob and Mike.

Now, which one is Bob and which one is Mike?

Clearly, the Bob is the round one and Mike has spikes, right? It is not a coincidence our brain associated “Bob” with something circular, slow, bubbly, fat, roundish, deep and “Mike” with sharp, fast, pointy and skinny. This happens because of the way your brain memorizes things – the internal representations in each of the two groups of words are very similar to one another, and different from the ones in the opposite group. A machine learning practitioner would call these internal representations “embedding”, but more on that in another post.

In real life, this phenomenon of subconscious association manifests itself not only as the guidance for the train of thought (thinking of one concept leads you to think of a similar concept), but as a behavior modifier as well (you act in a way whose representation is very similar to the concept you’re thinking about). As an example, eating a crunchy serial breakfast instead of a soft croissant or sitting on a wooden chair instead of a comfy cushion could bias you to be more firm at the negotiation table. It could also make you more uncomfortable, edgy and less tolerant while you’re handling pressure. These causes extend beyond physical/chemical composition of you body – wearing some colorful outfit with white sneakers, being invited to a group activity by your peers or simply having some sunshine outdoors could bias you to be more open minded, helpful and inclusive in a software architecture brainstorming session.

The bad part is – we can’t really identify these things easily. It’s very difficult to attribute the causes to the way we feel/act at a given point, but it doesn’t mean these reasons don’t exist. On the contrary, once we acknowledge they exist we can use them to set the tone for our internal self and the environment around us according to our desires and needs.

Once understood, this becomes a powerful tool for increasing the speed of your career advancement and getting where you want to be sooner rather than later.


A lot of times throughout your career you will need people to do what you want. Although there is no silver bullet, there are some proven techniques you can begin to explore.

Two of them are eloquent storytelling and logical chain of arguments.

A great example of the first approach is Raymond “Red” Reddington from the Netflix series “The Blacklist”. The confidence this character expresses when talking about literally anything leaves you no option than to believe him word for word. The calming, deep tone of his voice, short dramatic pauses he makes before making a strong point and dynamics of the intensity of his spoken words reassure you he knows extremely well what he’s talking about and, as such, should be followed. Each argument is framed as a short story, a metaphor bridging into the actual message he ultimately carves into your mind. Just watch him conveying th value of loyalty:

Two good examples of well spoken, educated, logical thinkers and a very persuasive characters come to my mind: an academic and a writer Jordan Peterson and a comedian Ricky Gervais. In a very different tone, yet in very similar approach, these two can disarm your belief and put forward almost any kind of their own idea by taking your hand and guiding you through a series of connected logical mental states. They are, in a way, having a guided dialog with you, where the main purpose of letting you talk is to show you articulating the opposing view makes less sense after their argument. You’re left with a choice of sounding wrong or embracing their idea. Powerful, isn’t it? Listen to him mumbling, but still getting Stephen Colbert to agree with him on the existence of God (kind of):

So, which one of these two should you focus on in your career? From my experience both are equally important to apply. I had situations where the whole room knew I was right, but they still followed a charismatic, confident speaker who was dead wrong. On the contrary, I was able to dismantle delusional, wishful, well articulated thinking by simply pointing the group to the hard core facts at the right moment and asking questions of type “And what if this happens?” or “Are we ready to live with this negative consequence if we proceed the way you’re suggesting?”

It is worth noting, though, that it is more important to be right than to have it your way. Don’t try persuading people into something you’re now absolutely sure of or you can harm your credibility.


You don’t get what you deserve,

you get what you negotiate.

Understanding the needs of the other side is one of the prerequisites for sitting at the negotiation table, whether it’s related to the job salary, task distribution or the price of your dream home at the coast of Spain. Never assume, always ask open-ended questions with “what” and “why”, such as “What about this is important to you?” or “How will we know we’re on track”? Once you understand exactly the position of the other side, you must reflect on your own personal position and worth, so you can propose the solution that (and this is crucial) benefits both sides. Make sure to vocalize potential losses from no deal.

Apart from mentioned communication guidelines from the point above, try these tricks:

  • Make eye contact, have firm handshake and smile to radiate confidence.
  • Use the most powerful word in negotiations: “fair”. Check this intro: “I want you to feel like you are being treated fairly at all times. So please stop me at any time if I’m being unfair and we can address it”. Treat them with respect, set the tone.
  • Make the first offer. Usual advice is to never make an offer first to avoid falling short, but I believe a better strategy is researching the standard range and offering mid-high number from that range. This is because of the concept of anchoring – that number will become a reference point (an anchor) for all of the future deviations from it and you want to set it in your favor.
  • Learn to handle “killer question” by sidestepping them. You don’t want to allow to be put in a weak position. So, answer the question “How much are you currently making?” with “I have a rule not to discuss that”, and “How much do you expect to make?” with “I’d like to know the salary bands for this role”.
  • At the end always say something indisputably positive and indisputably true, such as “I’d love for us to be able to work this out productively so we can have a long a prosperous relationship.”

Relationship building

As in business, personal connections exist to create (or add) some value. When it comes to people you should try to listen and identify what they want/need and then try giving that to them, making sure they know it was you who made that happen. Be the enabler, make the stuff happen. This will incentivize your circle to think of you as a useful contact, resulting in reciprocity, increased desire to invest more time in you and, eventually, return the favor by doing what you need.

Be the enabler. Make the stuff happen.

Figuring out what makes people tick doesn’t mean you necessarily need to do something for them. Even if you simply create stories that resonate with them and communicate those stories in a clear way, with emotion, it might be enough for getting them to be more receptive to your needs.

I was personally “handled” this way many times in the past and it worked really well. A person would first listen to what I generally start talking about, and then try to pick the most similar anecdote from their arsenal of personal experiences, usually ending it with something like “… so I exactly know what you’re talking about” or “We’re two sides of the same coin”. Another useful technique is occasionally ending sentences with “… my friend”.

Treating people this way creates a sense of closeness and belonging to the same circle, where everyone takes each other’s back.


The way you communicate will define the way people perceive you and your character, having a direct impact on your career. I know it might be obvious, but it’s worth of saying anyways: if you speak with a positive tone people will generally think of you as a positive person. I know quite a bit of people around me who used this simple technique very successfully, even on me.

Speaking quicker will make you sound smarter. Under assumption you’re not just blabbering, your swift and efficient use of words will convey a quick and sharp mind behind it.

When other people speak try to listen without interrupting. Letting them finish their train of thoughts and then giving you the opportunity to talk will make them feel understood. As a consequence they will tend to be more receptive to what you’re going to say next.

Communication is a lot more than words, so pay close attention to the body language. Simply fixing you posture (head up, no slouching, shoulders and back arrow straight) will make you look more confident, so everything you say immediately gets more credible. Leaning back in the chair does the similar thing, so as crossing your fingers of both hands in front of your chest. Your body sends signals to other brains even when you’re not talking, so why not use it to your advantage?


To put it simply, empathy is the ability of an individual to emotionally put themselves in the other people’s skin and look at the world from their own perspective. Doing this frequently has multiple benefits, ranging from understanding why they act the way they do, figuring out their needs and problems they might be having and eventually empowering you to help them.

You know too much psychology when you’re unable to get upset because you understand the reasons for anyone doing anything.

You don’t have to (and you can’t) be friends with all of your coworkers, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take genuine interest in other people’s lives and world views. Getting to truly know someone at the workplace generally leads to a healthier work environment. This is true because most of the people work so they can enjoy the life after they are done working, so showing interest in what they really care about (everything after work) makes them feel heard and acknowledged by you.

Be generous with you time and attention and always choose to be supportive rather than judgmental. Even if you truly believe a person who was is not up to a task, the worst thing you, as a colleague, can do is to be fully honest. Bringing people down should never be your goal, but motivating and encouraging them to be the best version of themselves can make an enormous difference.

I can’t stress enough the importance of being supportive.

Positive attitude

When I get an inquiry from a junior developer about a problem he/she has, I like to respond with “In this company we don’t deal with problems. We deal with challenges“, even though I know how sketchy it comes across.

Deal with challenges, not problems.

Since you’re very likely to come across challenges on a daily basis it is far more healthier to try to observe them as opportunities to grow, to advance in your field and to learn something new, rather than frustrating time wasters. Even if it’s a mundane, repetitive work which simply needs to be done, you can see it as a opportunity to do your job well. Thinking of the job as a battle you fight and win every day will make it more bearable.

When it comes to working with/around your colleagues, there are couple of things which are generally well perceived. People who gossip a lot very quickly see the negative impact to their relationships (and this is crucial) with all of the colleagues, even their gossip-buddies. Gossips tend to be negative, so if you gossip you will undeniably be characterized as a toxic person who should be kept as far away as possible.

Another tactic to make yourself not popular is complaining/criticizing/bragging very often. Criticizing often makes no sense – either you find someone relevant to hear your issues so they can rectified or you change the job. Staying at the job and constantly criticizing something or everything makes you the source of negative energy, which people tend to stay away from. A good friend of mine said “Man, there are energy producers and energy consumers. Just put one of these two labels on each person around you and choose how you want to spend your time with”.

There are two types of people:

energy producers and energy consumers.

Try to be a producer.

Emotional intelligence

During my PhD I was studying how the human brain works and what intelligence is at its core. Categorizations such as “emotional-“, “analytical-” and “social intelligence” were slightly bothering me at the time, since they come across as huge oversimplifications of what and why actually happens in the brain.

But as in any other field, abstractions are the way to deal with complexity, so talking about individual types of intelligence makes it easier for us to cope with complexity of social interactions.

Emotional intelligence is an ability to react to and control your emotions,

so they don’t derail you from achieving your rationally set goals.

Most of us want to climb the corporate ladder as fast as possible. In order to that we can’t simply behave the way we really want to, but the way we are expected to. This applies not only to our superiors, but equals and subordinate.

A rule of a thumb is to absolutely never act impulsively. There is hardly ever a good reason to act impulsively in any situation in a workplace. No matter how serious or frustrating the situation might be, you are always better off taking a step back, understanding what you’re feeling and figuring out consequences of your intended reactions before you actually decide if it’s worth proceeding that way.

When it comes to communication with subordinates, try to be humble and patient whenever possible. Pep-talk gives people a cozy feeling of security when receiving direct orders or instructions, so why not making them feel good at the same time you’re asking them to do something you need them to do?

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