We need to define terms, first.
Soft skills is a term often associated with a person’s “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, managing people, leadership, etc. that characterize relationships with other people. Soft skills contrast to hard skills, which are generally easily quantifiable and measurable (e.g. software knowledge, basic plumbing skills).
A person’s soft skill EQ [?] is an important part of their individual contribution to the success of an organization. Particularly those organizations dealing with customers face-to-face are generally more successful, if they train their staff to use these skills. Screening or training for personal habits or traits such as dependability and conscientiousness can yield significant return on investment for an organization. For this reason, soft skills are increasingly sought out by employers in addition to standard qualifications.
I’d quibble with some of that, but it is essentially on the mark Actually, on second thoughts, I’d quibble with quite a lot.
Communication, for example, isn’t a soft skill. It is the process of one person conveying information of some sort to another. The point is that a more emotionally intelligent person, all other things being equal, will communicate more effectively with other people than will a less emotionally intelligent person. As Frank Zappa said,
Just because somebody hears something you say, or reads something that you write, doesn’t mean you’ve reached them.
In other words, communication skills are necessary, but not sufficient. You need emotional intelligence to “reach” the other person. And, indeed, you need emotional intelligence to receive communication effectively, too.
Language isn’t a soft skill either. It’s a tool with which we communicate.
The other items on Wikipedia’s list are competences for which EI is essential or important. Leadership doesn’t exist without it; the others will be enhanced the more emotional intelligence is allied to them.
Rather than have largely irrelevant conversation about what soft skills are and what they are not, I propose to go one level deeper: What is this “emotional intelligence” which facilitates soft skills?
Building on the work of Peter Salovey and others, Daniel Golemen defined personal competences and social competences which, together, comprise emotional intelligence.
Self awareness—Knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions
Self regulation—Managing one’s internal states, impulses and resources
Motivation—Emotional tendencies that guide or facilitate reaching goals
Empathy—Awareness of others’ feelings, needs and concerns
Social skills—Adeptness at inducing desirable responses in others
If someone cannot attain reasonable levels of competence in these areas, then there is little point in working with them on their leadership or social graces or anything else.
The ability to do something well; expertise (Oxford dictionary)
—the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance
—dexterity or coordination especially in the execution of learned physical tasks
—a learned power of doing something competently : a developed aptitude or ability
(Merriam-Webster—a US dictionary)
…expertness… a craft or accomplishment [omitted definitions described as ‘archaic’]
(Chambers’ twentieth century dictionary (1972))—my favourite dictionary.
These definitions of ‘skill’—and others—emphasise behaviours and knowledge. However, Goleman’s competences (carefully not described as ‘skills’) are about the capacity to detect, and be aware of, one’s own emotional states and those of others. Goleman uses words like ‘guide’, ‘facilitate’, ‘awareness’ and ‘adeptness’. This has little to do with behaviours. And, whilst they may lead to acquisition of knowledge, they aren’t the knowledge themselves.
So, I argue that ‘soft skills’ is a poor term to use because, at bottom, ‘soft skills’ aren’t skills.
Imagine you need to learn how to use WordPress, the better to create your website. You can go on a course. The trainer/teacher will teach you how to do it. Using WordPress is a set of behaviours and, whether or not you get to practise on the course, you ought to be able to do it better afterwards.
You can be taught skills, whether it is how to use WordPress or drive a car. If the training course includes some practice you’ll learn a lot more efficiently. We all know this.
You can also “teach” people facts, though, whether there is any point in this, is moot. It’s very easy to forget facts if you don’t have a need for them or a context in which to place them.
You can’t teach people how to have an awareness of someone else’s emotional state. Even if they can identify the tiny, and not so tiny, behavioural cues, that is not awareness. It’s information gathering. You can’t teach people to be empathic, for example, and they will need this characteristic if they are to have any awareness of others’ emotional states.
In a nutshell, therefore, you can’t line up some students in class and “teach” them a bunch of “soft skills”. And, if you try, they won’t have “learnt” it by the end of the process.
You can’t teach “soft skills” because they aren’t skills, and the only things you can teach are skills.
Just because you can’t teach people this stuff, doesn’t mean they can’t learn it. They just need a (radically) different sort of intervention.
What is needed is a facilitiation process which is able to help people “get it”. They have to get the insight. You have to do everything you an to make it most likely they will get the insight, but you can’t make them get the insight. So, you have to do whatever is necessary as well as you can.
I’ve found that many people get it if I let go of my need for them to get it. I create what is intended to be a “facilitating environment” in which the client is most likely to “get it”.
> The GradStart programme
> GradStart business and soft skills development programme
> GradStart for students
© Jeremy Marchant Limited . uploaded 18 april 2015 . image: Free images