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4 Ways Architects Sharpen Skills for a More Productive Career

Continuing education architecture

You’re a gifted designer, but what about your goal-setting and negotiation skills? Maybe you’re a great communicator in person, but your written communication skills aren’t so great.

Even the best architects have strengths and weaknesses. Just ask anyone who worked with legendary Frank Lloyd Wright, who was known as much for his mercurial temperament as for his design brilliance. Sharpening all of your skills helps make you more valuable to your firm, your clients, and the community. On a more personal level, striving for excellence supports career advancement.

Continuing education for architects is one way to keep skills sharp.  Here are four more things you can do.

#1: Become a Great Listener

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” — Stephen R. Covey

Being a great listener makes you more than polite; it improves your power to understand, to learn, and to help others more effectively. Unfortunately, Covey was right. People do tend to listen not to understand, but to reply.

The AIA says listening skills help develop other skills, including the ability to solve problems and navigate dicey situations at work with grace, whether with clients or peers. Daniel Johnson, Assoc. AIA at WRNS Studio, tells the AIA that listening improves self-reflection, which helps others as much as it helps you.

Fast Company says practicing these habits can help make you a better listener:

  • Acknowledge that listening is an opportunity to learn, no matter who is speaking.
  • “Quiet your agenda.” That’s a difficult one, which is why it takes practice. When you allow your agenda to take over, you may risk listening for confirmation instead of learning.
  • Ask questions that encourage the speaker to tell you more.
  • Listen twice as much as you talk.
  • Repeat points the speaker made to confirm you understood their meaning.
  • Wait and relax. Don’t jump in as soon as the speaker finishes a sentence; they might not be finished with their thought.
Continuing education architecture

Whether it’s working with someone new or taking on an unfamiliar project, the only way to grow is to step outside what you know.

#2: Never Shrink From a Challenge

“I said, ‘Somebody should do something about that.’ Then I realized, I am somebody.”  — Lily Tomlin

There are followers and then there are change-makers. The former might perform beautifully in their work. The latter makes the job better for everyone. Challenges make us choose whether to shrink back or forge ahead.

You can create your own challenges. Build Yourself founder, Mia Scharphie, tells the AIA that she’s got a new “personal challenge every week.” Whatever she’s working on for personal or career growth, whether it’s improving her speaking skills or anything else, she develops a personal challenge that lets her practice and improve.

You can also accept challenges placed in front of you. This one is scarier because you never know what life will throw your way. However, courage is another important trait of a great architect.

Superperformance has these suggestions:

  • Go all in and “allow yourself to publicly succeed brilliantly or fail miserably.”
  • Embrace working with new people. Working with who and what is familiar limits your ability to grow.
  • Take initiative. Volunteer for new projects, especially where you can be a leader, and even more in areas where you’ve never led before.
  • Break out of your professional rut. If your challenge feels familiar, it’s not really a challenge at all.

#3: Become a Mentor

“In learning, you will teach; in teaching, you will learn.” — Phil Collins

There’s always someone more successful than you and someone who’s just getting started. Think about the struggles that you faced early in your career. Think about people who helped you. Then think about the times when you needed help but you were left on your own.

There’s something to be said for pulling yourself by the bootstraps and getting the job done. However, mentoring helps others and it helps you, as well. Mentoring lets you share your experience and outlook. It also opens you up to new questions that could make you think about a problem differently.

Unless you’re a natural-born teacher, you might need a little mentoring guidance. Here’s what Hubspot recommends:

  • Look at every mentoring opportunity differently. Adapt to the mentee’s needs.
  • Work with the mentee to “set expectations together in the very beginning.” The most effective mentors learn what others need and build out from there.
  • Enter mentoring as an opportunity to really help another human being succeed, not to polish up your reputation.
  • Learn the difference between helpful feedback and knee-jerk responses. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can hurt more than it helps.
  • “Improve your emotional intelligence.” This helps you adapt your style to the mentee.
  • Keep the focus on your mentee, not on you. Help them solve their problem instead of regaling them with tales about your career experiences.
  • Drop all pretense about perfection. You’re a mentor with successes and failures. Admitting your mistakes helps your mentee feel comfortable asking for help.
  • Never miss an opportunity to pat your mentee on the back.
  • Give more, do more, help more than you have to.
  • Research educational opportunities that may interest your mentee.
  • Invest in your mentee as if you’ll work with them forever.
  • Be the architect that you want them to be.
Continuing architecture

Only by experiencing new people and new places can you really become a globally relevant architect.

#4: Take Opportunities to Work Abroad

“If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.” — John D. Rockefeller

Working abroad lets you see new places, experience different architecture instead of just looking at it in a book, and work with people whose skills and life experience may vary dramatically. It exposes you to new cultures and generally broadens your horizons, which is one of many reasons why so many architects want to work abroad.

Working outside the U.S. can be one of the most powerful ways to grow your career, but there are a few caveats. Brandon Hubbard for Arch Daily says you should think long and hard about it. You could build and sharpen skills for life, or you could gain proficiencies that become irrelevant once you’re home again.

  • Networking can take a hit. You’ll meet new peers abroad, but will anyone remember you once you return? Hubbard says he planned to work abroad for a year. That grew to seven years.
  • The software might not be the same. Once you return, will you know how to use the software everyone else is using?
  • You could lose your building code edge. The International Building Code is, well, international. Local code wherever you land might be quite different. Designing a safe room abroad might be very different from designing one in NYC.
  • Pay can be unpredictable. In some countries, payments might be significantly lower than you need, especially if you’re a new architect living on a tight budget.
  • You’ll still pay American federal income tax.
  • Friends and family will keep living their lives. Once you return, you may have missed a lot.

With all of that said, working abroad is still one of the most exciting and potentially enriching experiences of your career. There’s a reason why so many architects plan to go for a year and end up staying much longer. You’ll learn much along the way. Just enter a work-abroad opportunity with your eyes open.

Keeping your skills sharp and building new ones makes you a competitive, relevant member of the architecture community. Perhaps the most important way to do that is through continuing education for architects. PDH Academy can help with that. When it’s time for you to earn more learning units, check out our courses for architects.

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