Improving your complex soft skills can help you navigate difficult or challenging situations explains Claire Lister

Recently, I said goodbye to many of my responsibilities of being an MD (only for a short while) and took myself and my family off to the USA for our summer holidays. Of course, it’s always difficult leaving work for an extended period, but I had absolute faith in my team that they’d keep things rolling.  Sure enough, they did an excellent job!

Part of the reason I have such confidence in them is because I know I’ve developed a team that have an enhanced, all-round, skillset. They’re not only proficient at the practical side of their jobs, but they also possess a high level of personal attributes that further boosts their effectiveness. These high level soft skills are essential not just within a management team, but across the entire workforce. Having the confidence in my team’s abilities certainly put my mind at ease, and meant I was able to (nearly) switch off and enjoy some valuable family time.

In the assistant profession, there’s nothing more satisfying than knowing you have perfected the hard skills that you need to carry out your role. It’s a matter of professional pride. It goes without saying that it’s crucial you maintain and evolve your practical skills in order to continue to complete tasks to the demanded high standard; if they’re not quite up to scratch, there are ways in which you can easily improve them. However, I truly believe equal attention should be given to your soft skills. They are a primary element of what makes a person successful at what they do. Although your hard skills and qualifications are what make you eligible for a job, it’s the soft skills that give you that extra edge, making employers and colleagues think you’re a great asset to have working in and amongst a company.

In your profession, the ever-changing nature of your job necessitates being ready to take on tasks that require different mindsets, primed and ready to face difficult or challenging situations. Complex soft skills make these circumstances easier to deal with, not only for yourself but for fellow colleagues and clients too.

Improving your soft skills isn’t as simple as refining your hard skills, especially the more advanced skills. It takes time and perseverance; you need to remember you’re building on your own natural ability. Here are some complex soft skills that could progress your career:

Decision making

In my position, this is an every-hour occurrence that is second nature to me. This is also how it needs to feel to you; proactive decision making is an integral part of your role. If it’s in your nature to be hesitant or lean more towards being indecisive, there are many ways you could turn this around:

  • Stop overthinking.
  • Take away the emotion – look at the situation from every angle and balance your thinking.
  • See things from other’s perspectives.
  • Ask for others’ opinions.
  • Weigh up the pros and cons.
  • Don’t dawdle too long though, if you spend too long pondering on what the right decision is, you could hold things up.
  • Know what’s best for you or your employer and don’t worry about anyone else. It doesn’t say ‘people pleaser’ in your job description!

Leadership skills

Leadership isn’t just about managing people and giving them instruction, discipline, and praise. Leadership is also about having particular qualities that are associated with leadership within you, sometimes without you realising. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a natural leader, there will be traits in your personality that you can build upon to improve your leadership skills. As an assistant, you need to be able to do this, as there may be occurrences where you should step up and lead when your boss is unavailable. Here are a few ways in which you can do this:

  • Be clear on your own personal strengths and weaknesses. Build upon the good and try to make positive progress in improving the not–so-good.
  • Be positive and zealous in everything you do. Enthusiasm will inspire and motivate others, making you a good role model to look up to.
  • Accept and embrace both success and failure. While the good times will be great, turn failures into lessons learnt. Allowing others to see you being accountable, and how you handle both situations will in turn inspire.
  • Switch your emotional intelligence on. Increasing your self-awareness of how you affect others and of your own responses to different emotions is an integral part of effective leadership.
  • Before starting something, know what you want to do and where you want to go with it. In other words, set realistic goals you want to achieve and you’ll feel like you’re winning on a daily basis.


Being able to think of new, original ideas is what makes you stand out from the crowd. As an assistant, fresh ideas and new routines are what keep your job interesting, fruitful, and fast-paced. Some people think that creativity is a natural skill that only a few people possess. However, I truly believe that creativity needs exercising, and that there are ways of enhancing the creativity that you already possess. You can improve this trait by doing several things:

  • Engaging in something you love will inspire you. Whether it be reading, listening to music, watching a boxset (my personal favourite being Suits) or exercising, these activities will release endorphins which are likely to stimulate ideas and enthusiasm.
  • Ask for constructive criticism. Other people’s input can extend ideas further and put you on the right track. Don’t be scared of it!
  • Encourage creativity in those around you. Be open to learning from others. You can’t expect to do everything yourself so use your team working skills and don’t shy away from talking to others. They’ll inspire you too!
  • Do nothing! This may feel like the exact opposite of what you should be doing but by redirecting your mind on to something else or just stepping back for a while, your brain may magically come up with the perfect solution for you!

Conflict resolution

Conflict is always going to arise in life. Whether it’s in the work place, at home, or amongst friends, conflict is almost always unavoidable and you have to learn to deal with it. As an assistant, you’ll have to get used to coping with the idea of conflict arising between you and your boss, your fellow assistants, companies and clients you may have to work with, etc. Here are some ways in which you can resolve any conflict that arises:

  • Acknowledge it early. If you can feel tensions rising then it’s better to recognise the issue before anything gets worse. Quickly resolve the problem and then move on.
  • Contend and battle. Sometimes conflict will turn ugly, and to get what you want will mean fighting for it. Ask yourself, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’
  • Try compromising. If an issue can be resolved by working with the other party then it’s well worth doing. Use your creative thinking skills to find a solution suitable for all parties.
  • Be assertive. You need to know what you want and how you can clearly portray that to others without coming across as hostile. Be aware of this.
  • Understand empathy and be prepared to put yourself in another person’s shoes. However, always remember what you’re trying to achieve.


The power of persuasion and rhetoric is something that will stand you in good stead. A derivative of communication, use these to your own advantage and you’ll earn things and/or favours that’ll make your job easier. Similarly, getting people on your side will ultimately mean that you’re going to be able to reach any goals that you have set out to do. Here are some ways in which you can improve your persuasive skills:

  • Firstly, focus on your communication skills. The better these are, it will be likely your persuasive skills will be good too.
  • Know your audience before you set out to persuade. Understand what the person or group are like and persuade in a way that would suit them. This is where your emotional intelligence skills come in to play.
  • Prepare ahead of time. Back your viewpoint up with statistics and fair justifications, this will make your argument harder to reject.
  • Give room for others to put their side forward. Show empathy and actively listen to the other party. They want to feel like their opinions have been taken into account.
  • You can’t win every time; the trick is to be ready for all eventualities and to know when to walk away.

Master some of these complex soft skills and you could find your career taking a quick step to the next level.

Claire Lister is the former Owner of Pitman Training Group ( Pitman is a market leader in the PA and secretarial training industry, delivering exceptional results for tens of thousands of students each year. Pitman also provide ... (Read More)

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