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Are Soft Skills Learned or Inborn?

conversation - high five!

Several years ago I wrote a series on Soft Skills and their development – this is an updated repost of the third post in that series from October 2015.

Soft Skills: Nature or Nurture? Are you born with them or are they learned? It’s the old chicken and the egg argument, which comes first? A quick review of the discussion in the research reveals the consensus that we are born with these skills, but like any other, they can be improved over time, with practice. Just as we go to the gym to exercise our muscles, we can exercise our soft skills. Learning to listen more effectively and then practicing that skill will improve our abilities as a communicator. Becoming more aware of how our reactions change in response to different situations will help us to manage our emotional reaction to them, and in time, will allow us to reduce stress and conflict. On the other hand, not exercising these skills will leave them undeveloped. I have found through my experience working as a coach that it comes down to self-awareness. As clients become more self-aware of how they are acting and/or reacting, they are able to start modifying their behaviour, strengthening the specific soft skill they are focusing on.

Because we all have our own preferences and ways of moving through the world, some soft skills may be more difficult to learn than others. But if we think back, there are also aspects of our hard skill sets that were difficult at first, though they now come quite naturally to us. For example, think back to when you were first learning to drive. Do you remember how it felt the first few times you took the wheel? I definitely do. I remember how difficult it was to use just the right amount of pressure on the accelerator, turning the steering wheel at the same time, while also checking the rear and side view mirrors. There was so much to do all at the same time! But before long those actions become natural, almost like breathing. We don’t think twice about all the “over the shoulder” checks or side view mirror checks. Even putting on the seat belt is automatic.

We develop soft skills in the same way we develop hard skills – with practice. One way to do that is to seek out people who seem to be able to demonstrate effortlessly those skills that you find challenging, and spend time with them. Another way is to seek opportunities to practice in which the risk of failure is low, until you feel confident in your ability. You don’t have to be born a networker or an empathetic person – you can learn and develop these skills throughout your career. Hiring a coach to work with you is a great way to grow and develop your soft skills. A skilled coach can ask penetrating, challenging questions to get you thinking deeply about where you are in terms of your soft skills and assist you in working to strengthen them.

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Parts of this post were adapted from “10 Soft Skills You Need” Global Courseware (2015)

John Whitehead coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

*******Are you wondering if having a Leadership/Personal Development Coach is right for you? Contact John for a complimentary, exploratory coaching session at john@johnkwhitehead.ca********

If you would like to get notifications for when I post, please go to my blog site and register. I promise I will not spam or use your email address for anything else. You can visit and register for my blog at http://johnkwhitehead.ca/blog-2/

 

Wining and [Losing] Learning!

 

 

sometimes you win, sometimes you learn

Wining and Losing Learning!

This is my 155th blog post. I was going to celebrate my 150th and write about that, but somehow it slipped by me. It’s also my birthday as I write this. It’s not a milestone birthday this year, but every birthday is a reminder that time marches on.

A client asked me yesterday if, when I was younger (ouch), I felt that I didn’t have the experience to be a success. The challenge this client is facing is that he has taken over a family business for which he has the technical skills but has no experience running a business. I asked him to reflect on where he was ten years ago as he was starting to learn the technical side of the business, and compare that to where he is today. He responded by saying that he was miles ahead, had learned so much, and that he was now the “go-to-guy” when things needed to get done. He got the message. Right now his business knowledge and skills are at a level equivalent to his technical skills ten years ago. There is no reason for his business knowledge not to develop in the same way, especially since he is aware, knows where his gaps are, and is seeking to improve himself.

This conversation reminded me of the time in the early ‘90s when I had my first go at starting my own business. I set up a sales training and consulting business to provide workshops and training programs for companies. I wrote sales scripts, ran sales meetings and spent one-on-one time with salespeople in the field helping them improve their sales skills. The business failed. At the time I blamed it on the economy as we were going into a recession and companies where pulling back on the training budgets – at least that’s what I told myself. With the benefit of hindsight, I recognize now that I wasn’t ready to do it. I had yet to build up my own skillset, broaden my own experience. In 2014 when the opportunity arose again to start out on my own, I had a much stronger set of experiences on top of enhanced education, gained through both real life and academia.

“To be effective leaders we need to be continuous learners. In fact leader or not, we should all be continuous learners.”   sometimes you win, sometimes you learn

There are a few lessons here I think, and as I scan over the list of titles of the 150-plus blog posts I have written, I can clearly see many of them. Writing those blogs often required me to undertake research, read other posts, magazine articles, academic papers and books. This has been a learning experience in itself. Another lesson is the humbling realization that although we may think we know a lot, we really don’t – there is always more to learn. To be effective leaders we need to be continuous learners. In fact leader or not, we should all be continuous learners. I’ve told the story more than once of a manager I once knew who proudly spoke up in a meeting to say that since he had his MBA he didn’t need to read anything else, he knew everything he needed to know. He received more than a few strange looks from others in the room. I remember it so clearing because I was stunned that someone could not only actually think that way, but say it out loud.

So, always be learning, always looking for opportunities to build experience. We may not succeed at everything we try, but at least in trying we know — as the saying goes — there is no winning or losing, there is only winning and learning.

 

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John Whitehead coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

*******Are you wondering if having a Leadership/Personal Development Coach is right for you? Contact John for a complimentary, exploratory coaching session at john@johnkwhitehead.ca********

If you would like to get notifications for when I post, please go to my blog site and register. I promise I will not spam or use your email address for anything else. You can visit and register for my blog at http://johnkwhitehead.ca/blog-2/

 

Do it – Step out of Your Comfort Zone!

 

Tightwalker

I did something this week that made me step right out of my comfort zone. I presented a live webinar.

The idea of doing webinars has held no interest for me in the past, partly because I prefer being in front of an actual crowd of real people, were I can feed off the energy from everyone, and I can use the interaction to encourage dialogue among the participants. When I am asked a question, I can throw it back to the group to use the “wisdom in the room”. The thought of delivering a webinar, sitting at my computer with my slides in front of me and talking into a headset microphone, with no clue about what is going on “out there” is, for me, unsettling.

But I did it. I was approached by an organization, The Madinah Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship and asked if I would be willing to provide the content for one of their regular sessions. They would moderate the webinar, advertise it and provide the audience. Since my only investment was my time, and I already had a suitable presentation that I know inside out, I thought, why not? I bit the bullet.

I was surprised by my level of nervousness. I have presented many live, in-person workshops and never had an issue with nerves, but this was different. It was the “unknown.” As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. The webinar went well, at least from my perspective. In fact I realized half way through my presentation that I was doing exactly what I would do in live, in-person presentations: I was moving about and using my hands to point things out on the screen, picking up objects and waving them around… even though no one could see me. It was actually very funny. If someone happened to see me through the window, they may have had cause to question my sanity!  Brian Tracy Quote

The feedback from the organizers was that it was well received, several questions were asked at the end with one participant asking his question directly. After the session I received a report that showed that 60 people had registered for the session from all over the world, the bulk from Saudi Arabia, but also from the US, Canada, Philippines, and several countries in the Middle East.

My lesson from this experience is actually very simple: take the risk, and try something new every once and awhile…. You never know, you may even like it!

 

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John Whitehead coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

*******Are you wondering if having a Leadership/Personal Development Coach is right for you? Contact John for a complimentary, exploratory coaching session at john@johnkwhitehead.ca********

If you would like to get notifications for when I post, please go to my blog site and register. I promise I will not spam or use your email address for anything else. You can visit and register for my blog at http://johnkwhitehead.ca/blog-2/

 

 

 

 

So, What Are These Things Called “Soft Skills”?

So, What Are These Things Called “Soft Skills”?

Soft Skills’ is a catch-all term referring to various behaviors that help people work and socialize well with others. In short, they are the good manners and personality traits needed to get along with others and build positive relationships.

 

To read my series of posts on Soft Skills, go to: https://johnkwhitehead.ca/?s=soft+skills 

De-bugging the Soft Skill of Problem-Solving

Problem=Solving

Was Problem-Solving on your list of soft skills? I can’t say that it was originally on mine. Why is that? I think that we tend to think of soft skills as “positive”. Soft skills are there to present an upbeat environment that everything is okay. It is an improvement mechanism. A reference to problem-solving suggests that there are indeed problems— and that’s a downer. No one wants to go there! That’s just my thought, what is yours?

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” ~Albert Einstein

 

The reality is that no matter your role or the industry you work in, you will encounter problems. How you handle them will go a long way in determining your level of success. It will also determine how you manage the relationships and shared goals you have with your team and/or organization.

In researching this topic I turned to my fairly substantive bookshelf of management and leadership books, looking for words of wisdom. I was actually quite surprised to find that there was not all that much, and what was there was not much help. I then turned to one of my favorite sources of leadership inspiration, Canadian astronaut and author Chris Hadfield. His book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (Random House Canada, 2013), is full of leadership gems and sure enough, lots of problem solving object lessons. For Hadfield, one of his learnings was to “anticipate problems in order to prevent them… how to neutralize fear, how to stay focused and how to succeed”. My favourite quote though is this: “…we learn[ed] to ask ourselves. ‘Okay, what’s the next thing that will kill me?’”. Most of will not have to ask this a question as radical as this, but it illustrates that problem solving is as much proactive as it is reactive.

In Productive Workplaces Revisited by Marvin R. Weisbord (Jossey Bass, 2004), there is a neat illustration that provides a simple model for problem solving:

Problem-solving chartMartin WeisbordFirst you need to define the problem: Take a holistic view, look at the big picture, and take time to examine it from as many perspectives as possible.

Collect as much data about the problem as you can. This will slow down the process, which among other things, can help prevent volatile emotions from taking over and potential conflicts from happening. Another consequence of slowing down the process is to make sure that the problem is clearly defined so that you end up actually solving the problem and not just creating a temporary stopgap measure.

Once you’ve defined a problem, you can start to generate solutions. Don’t stop at one — look for a second solution, a third, maybe even a forth. Each time you search for an additional solution you delve deeper into the problem, which can create opportunities to uncover additional issues and/or highlight unintended consequences. You may come to the conclusion that the first solution was the correct one, but having examined additional ones gives you an added level of surety.

As you select the best option, check your own emotional stance to make sure you are not favouring one solution over another simply because it is yours. Here is where the soft skill of communications and teamwork come into play.

Finally, be certain, once you have implemented the solution, to evaluate the results. Did the solution generate the desired outcome? Did it cause any unintended consequences? The answers to these questions will help determine your course of action in any future similar circumstance.

 

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John Whitehead, MA, CEC, coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

If you would like to get notifications for when I post, please go to my blog site and register. I promise I will not spam or use your email address for anything else. You can visit and register for my blog at http://johnkwhitehead.ca/blog-2/

*******Are you wondering if having a Leadership/Personal Development Coach is right for you? Contact John for a complimentary, exploratory coaching session********