Soft Skills in Action: What I Learned on the Ropes Course

by Carly

My name is Carly and I’m currently looking for work in biology on the path to a full-time job in sustainability and building a better future.  I love learning new things and applying what I’ve learned. Along the way, I’m occasionally surprised by what I know – and even more so by what I don’t know but thought I knew! I learned three things working on a ropes course and wanted to share them with you.

1. Your soft skills can be way more important than your technical experience 

My boss told me they hired me because of my attitude, which demonstrated strong soft skills. That was mind blowing for me at the time. Quite a few of the other people who I worked with were these hardcore boulder climbers, essentially jacked dudes with mountain tattoos. My climbing experience pretty much boiled down to the few times I fell out of a sappy pine tree as a kid. But my boss said positivity and willingness to learn were the two qualities she looked for the most in candidates. She basically told me you can train newcomers easily and quickly about what knots to tie and how to use all the equipment, but it can be pretty hard to work with someone who isn’t patient, respectful or willing to learn and try new things. 

2.  Compassion and empathy were the tools I used most

I thought the hard part of the job would be learning all the new technical lingo during my training. WRONG. SO WRONG. The hard part was coaching participants across the obstacles. Many of them were petrified. It could’ve been so easy to get bored, tired, or even a little frustrated with some of the participants who did not listen or were seemingly not willing to try. But I reminded myself to see things from their perspective. For many of them, it was their first time dangling from a wire in the air jumping from one floating platform to another. I would like to say that I was some kind of brave bold adventurer who wasn’t afraid and flew through the course laughing and smiling the first time that I tried it, but that is definitely not what happened. I used compassion and empathy to coach constantly, to get participants from one obstacle to the next. Compassion and empathy not only allowed me to help participants get through the course, but those soft skills were key to connecting with the participants which made the experience better for both of us. 

3.  Soft skills are not necessarily innate; we might know what they are but we have to learn and practice them

Soft skills in a lot of ways are like the science and math classes I took in school. They need to be taught, learned, practiced, and built upon. Before doing some of the team building ropes course activities with participants, I would open the activity by asking what skills participants thought they would need, and to spark conversation around how we planned to work together to complete the challenge. Every time that a student raised their hand and oh-so-confidently said, “Good communication is the skill we need most,” I’d reply back by saying, “Can you explain that?” Crickets. Every. Time. Participants knew good communication was key yet they struggled to define what it’s all about and why it’s important! 

The ropes course was a place where I had the chance to learn and practice so many soft skills like communication, leadership, resilience, and empathy. When I first entered the course, I didn’t fully grasp that learning all those soft skills was an essential part of my training; it took learning by doing to figure it out, to learn what each of those soft skills were and how to best apply them in life. I wasn’t born being amazing at all of these, but like my classes in school, I had to do a little homework, then do a little more to hone my new skills, and then learn how to use them by practicing. And practicing. And practicing!

by Carly
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