Run Down of Soft Skills for International Relations
From page 54 of the Diplomatic Planner, we have put together a massive list of soft skills that international relations practitioners must have. Of course, it isn’t possible for us to have everything as being “excellent” from the list . There will be some soft skills that comes more easily to you than others and we must be able to rely more on our strengths than our weaknesses. These are the areas we want you to really focus on.
In international relations, our ability to resolve conflict, think critically, and interact effectively with others is fundamental in how we operate in the field. Mastering soft skills is a powerful force for success, particularly within a changing political landscape where a mix of level-headedness and adaptability will keep you ahead of the game.
Soft skills is very different from hard skills. Resources are available on the Grassroot Diplomat Online Academy. Unlike hard skills, which can be learned through training and academic, soft skills are developed through experience. We have the ability to nurture them through focus, repetition and structure. Some soft skills will come more naturally, and your personality and strength of character will define which areas are your best assets.
In the Diplomatic Planner, we have provided you with a select list of soft skills taken from popular jobs in the field. These are broken up into categories relevant to international relations. As part of the exercise, you will be asked to rate your competency level between 1 to 3 for each soft skill area (1 being ‘poor’ and 3 being ‘great’). Next to the scorecard, you are given a small space to write down why you gave yourself this score so that you are accountable to yourself at a later stage.
For popular jobs in international relations, the top prerequisite soft skills are as follows:
Let’s run through each of the soft skill areas identified in the Diplomatic Planner taken from real jobs in international relations.
Public communication skills
Unless you plan to stick to an office job for the majority of your career, you will need some level of confidence to engage in public speaking and communication. This means having the ability to communicate to a wide range of people with different points of views, as well as showing cross-cultural sensitivity in speech and body language. When operating in international relations, it is highly unlikely that you will be speaking to the same kind of people from the same upbringing, background and beliefs. You will, therefore, need to be mindful to these differences and be able to read the room, paying attention to unspoken cues and being mindful of developing cognitive empathy of other people’s situations.
Decision making skills
Throughout your career, you will need to make easy and hard decisions that affect you and others. In order to make the right decisions, you will need to be patient and see the bigger picture. Short-term thinking will lead to more problems in the near future and this is the problem many politicians run into. Being able to make decisions under tough conditions requires the ability to work with others, take on counsel, and weigh up options that may not be ideal. This is an essential skill to have in international relations.
Self-motivation is greatly desired in roles that do not have fixed structures and assignments. Most likely, you will be working outside of the office at very odd hours that is both flexible and perhaps inconvenient at times. You will need to have the foresight to look for opportunities in any situation, particularly when training is not formally provided to you. The ability to observe yourself objectively in a difficult situation is also a unique trait to acquire so that you are able to understand where the third party is coming from and not take everything too personally. This requires the ability to manage your emotions so that you can think clearly and objectively, especially when travelling to countries that have basic conditions and do not share the same culture as your own. What keeps you motivated through tough times and how do you keep your head above water? How do you keep your willpower topped up and what keeps you moving forward?
Leadership is somewhat misunderstood in international relations. Leadership is not all about being inspiring and rallying troops. Leadership is more about solving problems in tough environments and being able to get the job done effectively under pressure. The drive and determination to achieve results and initiate action is important here. You will need to seek out approval from others, gaining consensus, whilst also getting the job done. Being a leader doesn’t mean you will always be on the winning side of the argument. In fact, being a leader means making some very tough decisions that may not always be popular but you need to be able to pull the trigger on some very difficult issues whilst thinking of the bigger picture and making sure that it benefits as many people as possible in the most positive sense. This, therefore, requires one to be able to cope well with stress and still be able to lead others. Confidence means everything here.
Team working skills
Unless you plan to work alone for the rest of your life on a secluded island, you need to be able to work well with others as part of a team, even if that means being on a team for a short period. When working as a team, you need to have the ability to forgive other people’s mistakes and move on without it clouding your judgment or harbouring any resentment. In fact, many times, you will need to be the bigger person and move on, even if a mistake was someone else’s fault and the project nearly collapsed. You also need to be able to work effectively with anyone with different skill sets, personalities, work styles or motivational level. It is rare to be placed in a team that is perfect. There is always be someone who consider lazy, ineffective, slow or unproductive, but you can’t let that get to you or slow your progress. You need to be able to show some mercy and help the other person along, even if that means putting the project on hold temporarily. Being on a team means being able to build and maintain effective relationships, so learn to be nice and help others along for the sake of the bigger picture.
We all know how critical it is to network in diplomacy but not everyone does it well. Networking isn’t a skill that is taught to you even though we need it in our career. Networking is having the ability to promote your unique selling point in a situation with new people. If you only have a few seconds to make a good impression, you need to be able to come up with something fast that doesn’t come across as being fake or disingenuous. Once you jump over the hurdle of making a good first impression, you need to be able to build and maintain cooperative networks and relationships with peers, colleagues, seniors and bosses. There is no point having a large collection of business cards and contacts if you don’t know how to tap into them and build meaningful relationships out of them. You will need to be strategic here and recognise how your network is useful to you and vice versa. Don’t just build a relationship for your own purpose. Look at how you can help them in their own pursuit and see the relationship blossom into something real and tangible.
Office politics skills
We have added office politics as a soft skill because you will come across office politics in nearly all of your jobs. It is unavoidable so knowing how to deal with difficult people and toxic office environments will take you very far in your own personal and career growth. Managing office politics is important and this means being able to proactively deal with people dynamics whilst protecting yourself from unfairness. You need to be able to stay calm and think on your feet with an unexpected or difficult situation, and sometimes, these situations will become unavoidable especially if the issue is shared with you at a personal capacity. At the end of the day, you need to have the skill and motivation to achieve results while working with someone you find difficult to work with. All this takes courage, patience and a lot of mental willpower.
Problem solving skills
Working in international relations naturally means working on solving problems that are often extremely complex and multi-faceted. However, are you equipped with solving smaller and more mundane problems that you are likely to encounter in daily life? You can’t always run away from your problem so knowing how to identify, clarify and describe problems is a key skill to have. By doing so, you will give yourself the opportunity to explore solutions in a level-headed manner. Problem solving also requires the ability to analyse causes of a problem in a succinct manner and choosing a solution that you can implement with other people. You can’t always solve problems by yourself so knowing how to work with others here is relevant.
Interpersonal skills is very much about how you get on with other people. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be an outgoing person. Introverts can also have great interpersonal skills. It’s how you interact with others that defines your level of effective communication. Building trust and finding common ground is a key skill here, as well as being able to stay calm, be polite, and find interest with people in the room. In other, just being a good human being! Being able to control your body language is a good part of having strong interpersonal skills as you are aware of how others perceive you and you can read the room well. You also have good manners and social etiquette that is respectful to other cultures and expectations. Being in tune with other’s emotions before approaching them in a topic of conversation is critical, and always be mindful not to come across as offensive, brash or too assertive. It can be a deal breaker to building a meaningful and constructive relationship.
People management skills
Like many of the other soft skills, people management is something you learn with practice. The more you expose yourself to different people with different personality dynamics and cultural upbringing, the more comfortable you will become in managing people from a variety of backgrounds. Having good people management skills requires an understanding of what it takes to be a good leader. You need to be able to know how to delegate tasks and review progress to achieve goals. You also need the ability to listen to others and encourage involvement. The ability to demonstrate awareness of individuals in a team, learn their strengths and weaknesses, and challenge them to achieve things to the best of their abilities is all part and parcel of good leadership. If you can work well with others and lead, then you have good people management skills.
Which set of soft skills are you naturally good at and how do you plan to strengthen skills that are weaker? Even though soft skills are not traditionally taught, you can always sharpen those skills through natural exposure. A wide range of soft skills are useful in nearly all jobs in international relations, so even if you are moderately good at various soft skills, there is always room for improvement.
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