8 TED Talks to strengthen your soft skills

Improving soft skills like communication and empathy requires continuous learning. These TED Talks can help
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Think about the strongest leaders you know. What traits come to mind? For many people, what makes a strong leader are the soft skills they possess, including communication and listening skills, the ability to keep cool during stressful situations and conversations, and the way they bring out the best in people around them.

[ How do your people skills measure up? Read our related article, 8 powerful phrases of emotionally intelligent leaders. ]

Whether you are a leader now or you aspire to be one, honing your soft skills can help you lead with purpose and forge stronger connections at work. Don’t have time to check out all 10 books on our recent soft skills book list? That’s OK. We’ve rounded up eight TED Talks packed with bite-sized nuggets of wisdom for all facets of your soft skill development. Let’s dive in.

The gift and power of emotional courage


Speaker: Susan David

The way we deal with our emotions shapes everything in our lives, says psychologist Susan David – from our careers to our relationships to our health. In this TED Talk, David recounts how she became the “master of being OK” on the outside while struggling with her emotions on the inside, just to survive in a “culture that values relentless positivity.” Rigid denial of our feelings is not sustainable, she argues. Instead, we all need greater levels of emotional agility to thrive and succeed in our endeavors. Quotable quote: “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”

A powerful way to unleash your natural creativity


Speaker: Tim Harford

Creative problem-solving is a coveted soft skill, especially in the technology sector where new challenges arise daily. Author Tim Harford points to a skill shared by some of the most creative people throughout history: multitasking. Harford urges us to rethink what multitasking means. We’re used to multitasking out of desperation, he says, but multitasking in slow motion can be a powerful way to unlock more creative ways of thinking. The trick is “actively juggling multiple projects and moving between topics as the mood strikes – without feeling hurried,” he says.

How to train employees to have difficult conversations


Speaker: Tamekia MizLadi Smith

Tamekia MizLadi Smith draws you into her TED Talk by recounting her experiences with customer service representatives. When tasked with collecting sensitive information – race, gender, etc – these representatives struggled, and as a result, the data collected was inaccurate and incomplete. These experiences inspired Smith to create a workplace training program called "I'm G.R.A.C.E.D." It’s built upon the notion that when bosses get everyone involved and let them know why their work matters, then all employees are able to communicate effectively with compassion and respect – a skill that serves them and their organizations well during difficult conversations.

Why I have coffee with people who send me hate mail


Speaker: Özlem Cekic

Özlem Cekic is the first female Muslim to win a seat in the Danish Parliament, and the appointment unleashed a flood of hate mail to her inbox, she explains in this TED Talk. One day she stopped dismissing the letters and started a new approach – meeting the senders for a face-to-face dialogue. The first time she did this, she ended up staying in one person's home for two and a half hours and learned she had a lot in common with him, she said. Now, with hundreds of these meetings behind her, Cekic shares this powerful lesson on remaining open in the face of adversity, breaking down barriers, and finding common ground, even when you initially think there is none.

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.