16
Oct
09

Soft Skills

 

  Maya Angelou 

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,

people will forget what you did,

but people will never forget how you made them feel.
                                                                                             
Maya Angelou

                                                                                                              

 

 Huh? Soft skills? I know … ability to juggle marshmallows nimbly? Exceptional dexterity folding “soft goods”? The term “soft skills” is a pretty vague one used to summarize those essential feel good qualities which one ideally has to complement his or her technical and practical talents. Friendliness, empathy, an ability to listen well, creativity, optimism, poise, confidence, ease with conversation, trustworthiness, clarity of communication, cultural intelligence, courtesy, comfort with leadership … all fall into the “soft skills” category. Considering their role in the work place or inter-personal encounters at large, these are critical traits for success.

For many years, and in many cultures, focus has been on acquiring and perfecting technical skills. Lawyers need to know the law, accountants and actuaries better know their numbers, hockey players need to know how to … (ok, maybe we’ll leave hockey players out of this and consider that a topic for another day!) You get the picture. In schools, the highest grades have traditionally been given to those who show an understanding of the specific cold, hard facts; soft skill style rarely rates. But now, times they are a-changing: competition is intense for jobs and placements at universities. Interviewers are placing much greater emphasis on interpersonal skills and presentation. When work places are pared down in tough economic times it becomes very important that those who remain are able to respect one another and get along well. Patience is rare when stress increases and it is more pleasant, and more critically, more productive to have a work place which functions without conflict. Procedures and methods can be acquired but soft skills smooth the way. Which reminds me of another favourite quote The Image Builders use to explain what we do:

“Manners must adorn knowledge and smooth its way through the world.” – Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) in a letter to his son

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