Accountants who are part of the Institute’s Cyprus Younger Members Committee (CYMC) have been talking to ICAEW about soft skills and how they have been an essential tool for completing their ACA qualification and navigating challenging situations in their careers.
Adapting to new situations and circumstances has always been an essential skill, but no more so than in the past couple of years. Working patterns and set ups have changed significantly since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, from working at home full time, to many businesses adopting a hybrid model following the return of workers to offices.
Whether it’s time management and organisation, or good interpersonal and communication skills, soft skills are needed to be successful and advance your career.
Adapting to different working cultures and environments
While recent world events have been challenging for many, it doesn’t require a pandemic to test adaptability skills, says Marina Louka, Chief Accountant at Eurogate Container Terminal Limassol. When she was manager of a team at KPMG, she says: “I learned to deal with five or six personalities with their individual challenges, while also trying to achieve a set of goals.”
Additionally, she had to adapt to different cultural backgrounds and ways of working as most of her colleagues were from Germany and based there. “What constitutes professionalism in the audit sector in Cyprus turned out to be slightly different from what my German colleagues deemed appropriate, so I had to incorporate that and allow for the different approaches to working.”
You will often face new working cultures when changing jobs and companies, she explains, such as different working hours. Similarly, you might have to adapt from managing a team to becoming a team member again.
As Stalo Anastasiou, a Budget Analyst at the Bank of Cyprus, summarises, if you want to progress with your career, “you need to be open to new experiences and be able to absorb things. You’re going to work with a lot of people and in different teams over your working life, so it’s vital that you get what you can from them.”
Having difficult conversations, negotiating at work
Another aspect that career advancement relies on is receiving feedback and learning how to navigate difficult conversations. “It’s important for someone beginning their career and striving to improve to ask for feedback and show willingness to get better,” says Kyriakis Pattihis, an Indirect Tax Manager at Deloitte Cyprus.
At the same time, senior managers need to be aware of their own behaviour, as well as able to determine the best time to provide feedback, he adds. “Ask yourself how you can give constructive feedback. You can't just walk up and randomly say, ‘This is my feedback.’ Structure your feedback to give examples that illustrate you’ve given it some thought. Additionally, don’t be shy to request feedback from the other person. Just because someone is more senior, it doesn't mean that they can't learn from a junior employee. Ask questions, such as ‘what would you like me to change?’”
When a difficult conversation is required, it’s important to approach the situation with empathy. Pattihis experienced this first hand when he had to speak to a junior employee who had “lashed out” and wasn’t following instructions from another senior manager. It transpired that the employee was struggling because they were not satisfied in their job for various reasons. “This wasn’t just a performance issue, but also one of mental health,” explains Pattihis. “It required a sensitive approach, asking many questions and truly listening to what the other person was saying.” Showing empathy and a willingness to communicate made a huge difference in this situation.
Impact of soft skills on mental health and wellbeing
Undoubtedly, soft skills are key to managing busy periods at work and decreasing subsequent stress levels, a vital component to good mental health, says Anastasiou. In fact, they are so important that, as Pattihis points out, they should really be called “essential skills”.
Read the first article in this two-part series: Part 1: Be successful in your career by learning the right soft skills
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