Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Hard Facts About Soft Skills

The definition of soft skills is sprawling. Pull up 5 different pages on Google and you will find 5 different definitions. Despite the discrepancies and variations, we know this about soft skills: they are crucial to our success at work, and in life.

I think it's more important to recognize that soft skills are a combination of skills and personal attributes that make us more compatible with others. The most significant would be interpersonal skills, commonly referred to as "people skills" (aka, the skills of relating successfully to other humans).

Humans are complicated creatures with simple needs and motivations. Psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan (Deci and Ryan) pioneered Self-Determination Theory (SDT), a bundled theory of universal motivations that drive our behaviors.

A basic understanding of our human needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness (belonging) can facilitate the development of soft skills in the absence of personality traits such as communication, open-mindedness, and flexibility. When we operate with an awareness of how these skills and traits enable us to connect with others we instantly become a better fit with fellow humans.

Think of others like puzzle pieces: puzzle pieces have different shapes and hard edges. Another puzzle piece may be an incompatible shape, preventing it from being an exact fit, but a puzzle piece with soft edges is likely to create a better fit. Soft skills have the same effect. We've all experienced personal and professional situations where two individuals with hard edges attempt to connect at work or in life and they fail. It's usually because someone lacked the soft skills to create a better fit. Rigidity in personality is the equivalent to a puzzle piece with hard edges.

More commonly, soft-skills are being confused with emotional intelligence or social intelligence. They are components; large components that can be key in the mastery of any soft-skills set, but it's important to remember that soft-skills are always a combo platter - never a single entre.

Conversations relative to soft-skills development have been bolstered with the inclusion of emotional and social intelligence. They are powerful in nature and effect; however, one aspect of intelligence needs inclusion and discussion: intrapersonal intelligence - or self-intelligence: knowledge of one's self. Intrapersonal intelligence provides a baseline for assessing how the current hard version of you needs to change in order to become a softer future version, courtesy of the soft skills that you develop and refine through that assessment.

When you embrace the hard facts of human motivations and psychological needs identified through self-determination theory, you realize that soft skills equip you with tools to build both sensitivity and support to fellow humans that can not only maximize our human experience, but also our human potentials.