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Develop Your Soft Skills to Get Along and Get Ahead

Publish Date: March 10, 2021


Conversation in mixed company these days can be tricky to navigate. People may have different views on the pandemic, politics, social opinions or even cultural norms within a single workplace.

In short, “everyone needs to choose their words carefully and be aware of respecting those they work with, honestly, this is a very smart soft skill to hone anytime,” advises Catherine Barbieri, DNP RN CNOR CSSM, a longtime perioperative educator and interim education consultant currently working in San Diego, CA.

“We have to support new nurses in achieving their dreams to lead and grow because we need more good leaders,” Barbieri says. She describes a good leader as someone who knows his or her team members well enough to give them the tools and guidance to succeed on their own, while standing by to give support when needed. “It’s the soft skills like communicating and listening well that help a nurse leader to truly lead, rather than micromanaging or overlooking staff needs.”

While talking about the importance of soft skills is common in periop nursing, especially for emerging leaders, showing nurses how to build those skills is not as common and something Barbieri takes to heart in her teaching.

Know Yourself to Build Your Soft Skills

She encourages every nurse to look at their strengths and weaknesses in order to find areas for personal improvement. “Refining your soft skills is not something that can be taught in a traditional classroom, instead these skills are learned in practice, hopefully from someone you trust who knows you.”

To learn more about yourself, start by asking people you trust how you approach situations and conversations. Ask them questions like:

  • Do you feel I’m a good listener and good motivator?
  • Am I empathetic to what you tell me?

“Take honest feedback to seek out areas for self-improvement,” she suggests.

Next, consider taking a personality test to better understand your social strengths and weaknesses on a deeper level. She often recommends to nurses on this journey that they try the more traditional Myers-Briggs personality test, or this five-factor personality test known as the OCEAN test, which stands for:

  • Openness to Experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

“Are you more adventurous or do you stay in your own lane? These are the types of questions we can all ask ourselves to better understand how we approach any social situation,” Barbieri explains. “This self-knowledge can give you new perspective on the words, actions and even gestures you choose and the responses you get.”

Soft Skills to Focus On

“Working on yourself is the hardest thing to do, but no matter what nursing role you are in or strive to be in, building your soft skills to improve interpersonal relationships with every colleague will help you read situations and be more sensitive to beliefs and values,” Barbieri says.

Here are the four soft skills she advises nurses work on now:

  1. Be Politically Correct
    This goes way beyond politics, Barbieri says, it’s about taking time to understand where a person is coming from and making sure to honor that in your interactions with them.

    “You can be the smartest nurse in the room, but if you don’t know how to be smart about your words and read the people you work with, you will not be successful in your work or professional growth,” she stresses.
  1. Listen
    While thinking about your words is essential in any nursing situation, listening can be even more important because people want to be heard, Barbieri notes.

    “We have two ears, two eyes and one mouth for a reason. When you enter any situation, you should be looking and listening more than talking, you will get more information, and possibly more complete information and people will respect your opinion more.”
  1. Own What you Say
    No one can say the perfect thing all the time. Everyone will slip up or say something they wish they hadn’t and the best thing to do is own it. Sometimes it’s how a person handles their own mistake, that can make them more successful in interpersonal connections, she explains.

    For example, after recently stepping into a new interim role she was having a conversation with a staff nurse about how to call out an occupational injury in the OR and the nurse explained the color of code to call. Barbieri made a joke about the hospital having so many different code colors … “I knew immediately that my joke was offensive to the system of safety the nurse was discussing and I had to apologize on the spot—it became a teaching moment for both of us.”
  1. Be Kind
    Barbieri says she’s stayed in nursing as long as she has because she promised to take an active role in changing the meanness that can plague nursing and turning it into mentoring and support.

    She says being kind to yourself is also important for nurses striving to advance professional goals. “Don’t hold yourself back because someone is saying you are too young or too inexperienced.”

Explore what your soft skills are by signing up for a free 90-minute career coaching session with Dr. Phyllis Quinlan.

Related Resources


Explore what your soft skills are by signing up for a free 90-minute career coaching session with Dr. Phyllis Quinlan.


Learn more on How to Become a Candidate for AORN National Office in The Periop Life blog.