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Are Soft Skills Learned or Inborn?

 

high fiveSoft 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 your 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. An individual has to want to improve their soft skills, and make the effort to do so, or it simply won’t happen.

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 set 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.

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********

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Do you have the Soft Skills Required to be Successful?

soft skills development

Why is it that soft skills seem to have become the newest and latest “big” thing? Weren’t they always important and necessary? However, I’m noticing more and more articles and posts focused on the need to increase soft skill training and development, which in turn suggests at least the perception of a shortage of these skills. In a recent post Sierra Charter comments on a US NEWS article in which the author stated that Although a strong background in traditional ‘hard’ skills like writing, mathematics and science will always have its place in academic and career worlds, an increasing number of employers desire prospective employees with ‘soft’ skills’”. In the same way that many post-secondary institutions teach a student trade skills but little in the way of how to run a trade business, so do these same institutions fail to provide training in things such as collaboration, communication and interpersonal skills. Granted, you can find courses on these subjects as part of many college continuing education programs, but what about in grades K to 12? I think it is important to note that of all the subjects taught in schools, the area where soft skills has the most potential to be developed is the area that tends to get cut first due to budgets, that is the arts – music, dance and theatre.

In his book Teaching Students To Dig Deeper: The Common Core in Action, Ben Johnson describes how a software executive stated “[that] he doesn’t place much emphasis on what the individual knows right now. He is looking for someone who can learn on the fly a completely new programming language because what is currently being used may be outdated in six months.”  This executive goes on to state that we do ourselves a disservice by using the terms “soft-skills” when referring to reasoning, logic, collaboration, communication, and thinking skills; that in the information technology industry, these skills are crucial and anything but “soft” because they are the most difficult to master and, “unfortunately, fairly rare in employee candidates.”

Johnson goes on to state that we need to be teaching skills such as:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
  • Agility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination

These critical skills are what businesses are clamoring for in their future employees, not just in high tech but in other industries as well.

A recent study in the UK determined that “Soft Skills” are worth £88bn ($186bn CDN) to the UK economy. A business group—including, believe it or not, McDonalds—is doing a three month study on how government can introduce policies that will help employees and employers develop soft skills. The CPO (Chief People Officer) for McDonalds in the UK and northern Europe stated that abilities such as communications, interpersonal skills and time management were “essential skills” for employees.

So should teaching “soft-skills” be a priority in schools? This is a title of an excellent article by Alejandro Ganimian in EductionNext where he describes and concludes that, yes, they should be because, for one reason, children need to be able to use a soft skill such as patience to be able to work on math problems. As another commentator noted, “If we believe that public education is an anchor of democracy, a propeller of our economy and the vehicle through which we help all children achieve their dreams, then we have to make public education about three things: helping our students build trusting relationships—with both their peers and adults; equipping them with essential knowledge and the tools to critically think and problem solve; and perhaps most important, helping them develop persistence and grit—the ability and means to deal with disappointment and lack of success.”

I don’t know what it’s like in the school system where you live, but it’s something to think about. How are we preparing the next generation to succeed when it comes to interpersonal relationships? It’s obviously become an issue that needs to be addressed.

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

Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business. Large stores, gilt signs, flaming advertisements, will all prove unavailing if you or your employees treat your patrons abruptly. The truth is, the more kind and liberal a man is, the more generous will be the patronage bestowed upon him.

~ P. T. Barnum

 

There are many websites and books that address Soft Skills, however I like the following definition because it is straight forward and concise: “’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. Unlike hard skills, which include a person’s technical skill set and ability to perform certain functional tasks, Soft Skills are broadly applicable across job titles and industries. It’s often said that hard skills will get you an interview but you need soft skills to get — and keep — the job.” http://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/soft-skills

Soft Skills are “behaviors that help people work and socialize well with others”. To my mind, this hits the nail on the head. In the next chapter I wrote about the importance of teaching Soft Skills in our education system. I also wrote about the cost to the economy the lack of soft skills can cause. In this post and in the following weeks I want to expand on what Soft Skills are and why they are so important.

Having the technical skills and knowledge to successfully execute our job duties is only one part of being the best we can be in the workplace. In addition to these “hard” skills, we also need “soft” skills. As I stated above, Soft Skills are those skills that allow us to effectively work with others. No matter what our position, organization or industry, we work with people. Taking the time to build effective soft skills can lead to a more efficient, more harmonious, and more productive workplace, as well as to our own overall job happiness and satisfaction. Soft skills encompass both innate personality traits, such as optimism, and abilities that can be practiced, such as empathy. Like all skills, soft skills can be learned.

Soft skills are personal characteristics that allow us to effectively relate to others. Applying these skills helps us build stronger work relationships, work more productively, and maximize our career prospects. Often we place the focus of our career development efforts on hard skills – technological skills, sector-specific training, and other skills that specifically relate to our ability to get work-related tasks done. Unfortunately, development of this kind often happens at the expense of our soft skills. This is unfortunate, because unlike the sector-specific training, soft skills are directly transferrable to any job, organization, or industry. You will need them wherever you go — they are an investment worth making!

The Soft skills I cover in this book are:

  • Communication
  • Listening
  • Showing empathy
  • Networking
  • Self-confidence
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Professionalism
  • Team-building
  • Problem solving
  • Time & personal management
  • Adaptability/Flexibility
  • Self-awareness
  • The Ability to learn

 

Previously I wrote about networking and the importance of this skill in developing our business. But networking, along with the other soft skills, aren’t just about business or building careers, they are about life and living. Over the next few weeks I will discuss the other five soft skills listed above and expand not only on their importance, but how we can develop them.

 

The Impact of Values

How do your values impact your daily life? How do they influence critical incidents and interactions that you have? How do they inform the language you use and see the world? This week’s video blog post explores one person’s aha moment, where she realized through reflection that it was her values that were creating her reaction to a situation. How does the understanding of your own values inform who you are and what you do in situations?

 

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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/

The Little Things That Build Credibility

The Little Things That Build Credibility

Building on my recent video blog post about Trust and Credibility (https://johnkwhitehead.ca/getting-to-trust/), in this weeks edition I tell the story of an interaction I observed with one of my clients and one of his direct reports. Sometimes it is just the little things that go a long way to building credibility in the workplace and this is a perfect example.

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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/