8 skills you can learn that are useful in nearly every aspect of life

Developing new or existing skills is one of the most rewarding and empowering things that we can do as humans. It involves hard work and the courage to step outside of your comfort zone – but we get much more out of life as a result.

Because there are no limits on human potential, it’s difficult for us to reach a stage where we can no longer grow and improve. Just this thought alone is pretty exciting – because who knows what could happen if you really challenge yourself?

If you’re interested in personal development and are looking for inspiration for where to start, then perhaps you’ll consider developing one of the 8 skills below. From public speaking to empathy, right through to negotiation skills – we explain why these skills can be useful in nearly every aspect of life, and offer tips on how to get started.

1. Resilience

The coronavirus pandemic has presented significant challenges for all of us recently, and has highlighted the key role that resilience plays in helping us navigate through times of great uncertainty. We’ve had to adapt to spending much more time at home, social distancing and for many of us – losing people, income, or other things that are important to us. None of this is easy and there’s been times where we’ve all faltered, but the fact that we’ve continued to move forward, and coped in the ways that we can, shows the astounding resilience and adaptability we are capable of as a human race.

In a nutshell, resilience describes our ability to cope with and recover from adversity. It’s a unique type of strength, determination, or grit that we use to make it through tough times. Much of this is acquired naturally as we move through difficult situations in life – but it’s also something that can be consciously learned or developed at any stage of life.

If resilience is a skill that you’re interested in developing, then our article, The importance of resilience and learning to adapt discusses resilience and adaptability in more depth. It also offers steps you can take to improve these skills. There are also a selection of short courses available on site, which will show you how to build resilience across multiple areas of your life.

2. Negotiation skills

Negotiation skills are extremely powerful because they enable you to communicate well, influence other people, and prompt positive change. Strong negotiation skills can not only help you to negotiate contracts and agreements in a more formal work setting, they can also help you with a host of situations in your personal life.

Perhaps you’re looking to buy a car and want to negotiate a price with the seller, or maybe you’ve got noisy neighbours with whom you could negotiate the hours at which they play loud music. Contrary to popular belief, being a good negotiator isn’t about always holding out for a hard bargain. When you negotiate successfully, you build better connections with people because you demonstrate that you’re prepared to make an effort to reach an agreement that suits both parties. You do this by striving to get as much as you can out of a situation, whilst still considering the needs of the other person and what they too might be looking to gain.

If you want to learn more about different negotiation strategies and key tactics for success, then it’s worth taking a look at FutureLearn’s free Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills course, which will take you through four steps to successful negotiation. We also have a wide range of other negotiation courses on site that might take your fancy.

3. Empathy

Empathy is one of the most important skills that anyone can possess. It allows us to understand how other people are feeling so that we can respond appropriately. Without empathy, it’s very difficult to form meaningful relationships with people, because we will be unable to connect and relate to them. Empathy is what helps us to feel close to people and to recognise how our behaviour could be making other people feel so that we can adjust it accordingly. This can be important for building healthy relationships both at home and work.

Many people assume that we are either born with empathy or not, but although we are born with a capacity for it; empathy is actually a learned behaviour that we can continue to work on throughout our lives. Becoming more empathetic often involves working on our self-awareness and learning how to see things better from other people’s perspectives.

There are a number of short courses on the learning section of our site that will show you how to increase your empathy so that you can understand yourself and others better, resolve conflict, and work on building stronger relationships.

4. Writing skills

You don’t have to be an aspiring novelist to develop your writing skills. Being able to write well can benefit you in so many different ways – from sending emails and writing reports at work, to preserving your ideas and memories in a journal. Being able to write well is not just about knowing how to use the correct grammar and punctuation, it’s also about being able to organise your thoughts on paper in a clear and concise way.

As with many things, developing your writing skills takes practice – but there are plenty of courses out there that can act as a helpful guide to learn the tricks of the trade. Before you start, it can be useful to consider whether there’s a particular style of writing that you’d like to get better at – whether that’s children’s story writing, scriptwriting, business writing, science writing or persuasive writing.

If it’s your general writing skills that you’re looking to develop, then there are plenty of courses that will help you to do that too. For example, Udemy’s free Starting to write or Make your writing stand out in eight easy steps courses are great places to start. If however, you’re looking for something a bit more specific, the learning section of our website has a wide selection of writing courses which can help guide you if you’re looking for something in particular.

5. Decision-making skills

In life, we’re required to make work-based decisions, financial decisions, and decisions over the future of our families. We also make decisions over what to have for lunch, whether to attend social events and what to watch on TV – just to name a few. And while some decisions are fairly inconsequential, others have the power to affect not only your life, but the lives of those around you.

Being able to make decisions effectively means being able to use critical thinking to make confident decisions based on a mixture of fact and gut instinct – and stick to them. When we do this, we build confidence and trust in our own decision-making ability and become better equipped to tackle more complex decisions that arise in the future. Day to day life can become much easier when we are able to make firm decisions. This is because we spend less time fretting over our choices, and more time living and learning from our decisions (which can be very liberating!).

Whether you’re looking to develop decision-making skills in your personal or your professional life, there are plenty of courses out there that will show you how to use tried and tested decision-making strategies. We have a collection of courses on site so hopefully you can find something to suit you.

6. Public speaking skills

Whether you’re speaking in front of an audience of one, hundreds, or even thousands, being able to speak clearly, persuasively, and effectively is one of the most important skills that anyone can develop. Many people dread public speaking and assume that it’s a skill that some people are simply born with. While some people may be more natural entertainers, there’s no reason why – with a little perseverance and determination – you can’t develop effective public speaking skills at any stage of life.

Being an effective speaker can help you to sell products, ideas, and, of course, yourself. People are much more likely to believe in you and in the power of what you’re saying if you can articulate yourself well. People with good public speaking skills are generally looked upon as being more comfortable and confident in their own skin, as well as more knowledgeable and passionate about the topic they are addressing.

Developing your public speaking skills usually means stepping outside of your comfort zone, which can be daunting. But in time, many people come to describe it as exhilarating. Some of the experiences that scare us most are the ones that reap the most rewards when we get it right.

If you’re ready to work on your public speaking skills, then you could consider joining Toastmasters International for a one-off fee. It has a network of 16,800 clubs across 143 countries and is one of the most reputable public speaking organisations in the world. Toastmasters won’t necessarily reduce feelings of nervousness, nor will it diminish the surge of adrenaline you experience before speaking. However, what makes it so effective is the way it allows you to repeatedly practice public speaking in a safe environment. This will allow you to become more comfortable with those nerves, and get used to how they feel when they arrive. Once you can manage your nerves, you will hopefully become more confident about speaking clearly in front of an audience – even if underneath your heart is still racing!

Most Toastmasters clubs meet once a week to work through public speaking activities and exercises, as well as to support one another on their public speaking journey. 

If you’d prefer to develop your public speaking skills in your own time, at your own pace, then you could try taking a free public speaking course over at Alison.com. Or you can browse our range of public speaking courses on site.

7. Problem-solving skills

Overcoming hurdles at home or work is generally much easier if you have the right tools to help you cope with them. From figuring out why your computer isn’t working to managing a difficult customer at work and overcoming problems in personal relationships – being able to see problems as challenges can be a great way to start focusing your mind on how to solve them.

There are many challenges in life that we initially worry we won’t be able to tackle, but somehow we always do. And everytime we face a new challenge, we typically feel stronger and better equipped to deal with other problems that we might face later on. However, because problems vary so much in shape and size, doing what you can to sharpen your problem-solving skills (so that you always have a solid framework to work from), can help you feel much more in control of your own life and minimize any anxiety about problems that might come your way.

Future Learn’s free Good Decision Making: How to Choose the Right Problem to Solve can help you learn how to identify, analyse, and solve problems across all areas of your life. We also have plenty of other problem-solving courses on site that might be of interest.

8. Optimism

Optimism isn’t about butterflies and rainbows, nor is it a skill that you either have or you don’t – it’s something that you can adopt and develop at any point in life. People who can be optimistic, even in the most challenging of times, are able to learn from situations, look for the positives and see new opportunities – even when things get tough. Optimists generally accept that it’s not possible to control every situation in life, but that you can control how you think about and react to things. For this reason, they are much more likely to continue moving forward when faced with an uphill struggle, rather than dwelling on the negatives.

Our article, How to learn the skill of optimism goes into more detail about how optimism is defined, why it’s important and how you can start applying it to your life.

Final thoughts…

While it’s likely that you will already have skills in each of these areas, it can be helpful to look at the different ways in which you can continue to develop these skills. Personal development is beneficial for numerous reasons, including improved productivity, healthier relationships, and enhanced self-confidence and control.

We will always be met with new and difficult challenges in life. But the wider our skill set and stronger our resilience, the better positioned we will be to meet these challenges head-on, and to help us move forward through even the darkest of times.

We’d love to hear from you.

Are you working on developing any of these skills? If so, how? We’d love to hear more about the areas of your life you’ve found them to be most helpful. Join the conversation over on the Rest Less community forum or leave a comment below.

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