In business speak, we define the skills we have in the workplace as soft or hard skills. Soft skills, in simple terms, means the growth of ‘personal attributes that enable you to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.’ Hard skills are seen as techniques, strategies, knowledge and skills you learn or are taught to perform in your working career.
We usually talk in terms of soft skills when we are discussing workplaces, employees and leadership qualities. This is because soft skills are about improved and increased people skills that enhance performance in teams and in management or leadership positions. They complement the hard skills we bring to our profession. A person with excellent soft skills is more likely to navigate through the complex communications, interactions and conflicts found in workplaces, with higher levels of success, than perhaps, someone with less advanced soft skills. It can be the difference between career advancement or not.
Recent research by the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, released this year, brought to light that over the past 10 years, soft skills in general, seem to be falling below expectations and for many population groups learning these basic human skills will be the difference between where they want to be in life and if they will achieve it.
These abilities, which I call human skills, are increasingly neglected in the generations coming through. Not only that, but there is a universal ignorance about how important these skills are, in fact as important as the hard skills we are so focused on learning and teaching. These human skills are vital to increasing your opportunities for a successful, happy life and a long career. They are integral to bonding in, and to, our communities and societies.
Human skills need human interactions.
Of course, the reduction in our ability to practice our human skills hasn’t been helped by our increasing reliance on technology, that separates us from interacting with each other in the same spaces. Human skills need to be practised in real life. Not through a screen. There are enough indications that these human skills, or rather those who have them, will be more likely to have success in life, love and their chosen career paths. These skills make us, as human beings, more adaptable, flexible and adventurous in an ever-changing and complicated world. Our focus needs to be as much on learning and becoming skilful with human skills, as it is with hard skills. Particularly as we continue to rely on more online and phone-based communications.
So, what are they, these essential human skills for success that we somehow continue to neglect or are devalued in light of other abilities? What are the skills we need that exceed the workplace focus and are essential to having authentic, long-lasting success?
The first skill we need for longevity in a successful life is innovation. Let’s shift this definition away from a business model which is focused on creating a product that is novel or new, and look at it as a human skill. Okay, not all of us have creative brains that can come up with the next big thing, but innovation is not just about creating a new product, it is about making a meaningful impact on society. It is about learning how to use new ideas or even to create the new ideas yourself. Innovation is mental risk-taking. Intelligence used for discovery of something new. In human skill terms, we are talking about self-development. New ways of being yourself. New ideas about authenticity and self-belief. New challenges in developing, changing and growing in this life. Innovation, as a human skill, is about creating new from within ourselves and producing a better, more effective and more adaptive self as we grow. Innovation, in an interpersonal sense, is about finding better solutions to your existing problems. Trying a different approach. Being innovative when dealing with others. Innovation can be about how we articulate our needs to produce a new result in relationships and in our lives. The goal of innovation is to solve an existing issue with a new approach, idea, skill or to introduce a different way of being in the situation.
Communication is the second human skill we need for a successful life. Being an effective communicator is more difficult than we think. Hence so many articles and books are written on how to interconnect with each other. This is because it is a balance between your needs and wants and the other persons needs and wants. It is a highly skilled ability to be clear, articulate and in control of your emotions, when talking (and even more so when arguing), with others. I continually hear from clients, “I am a good communicator,” or “I have no problem expressing myself” or “I’m not afraid of talking about things”. Yet they seem to miss the skills to take those conversations to a positive end and resolve them with a capacity for learning. Or know when a conversation is not needed, when not to share and when to listen. Communication is about an interaction with another human being, not just talking or expressing your viewpoint, irrelevant of the listeners’ needs. (For more on different skills from courageous conversations to assertive versus aggressive communication, see my recent article How to be assertive without upsetting others.).
There is a vast difference between the skill of communicating online or via texting than sitting in the room with another person and expressing yourself or letting them express their side of the story.
So many clients present with very high levels of anxiety, when put in real-life versus online situations, where they must converse in person. They become overwhelmed with the things a screen cannot prepare you for or teach you to interpret and manage. Body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, these are human skills that can turn a talk into an argument if not mastered. A difficult conversation into a productive one. Not knowing this human skill can lead to serious misinterpretation of what another human being is trying to say or do. Reading the nonverbal language is a human skill just as important as having learnt the verbal language. Communication is so much more than words. To be successful in this world knowing how to communicate is vital. From family to teachers, to employers, to friends, to lovers, to children, the better we are at hearing, reading and talking to others, the more successful we become.
I prefer the term solution finding, but knowing how to resolve issues is the third human skill essential to finding success. Technology does some amazing things. It links us to the world and information we could never normally access. We can travel to exotic places, see concerts from bands playing in other countries, experience space, play games that are so real it’s spooky, and meet people from all over the world. Technology has increased our processing speed. We consume data in a way we have never before. We are quicker, better and more adaptable in dexterity and in analysing information. However, everything is about balance and compromise. Just as we are excelling in some cognitions with the aid of technology, so are other cognitions weakening. What we are losing, amongst all this incredible knowledge and experience technology gives us, is the skill for creative problem-solving.
Our reliance on technology to provide or compute answers from simple queries to more complex solution finding tasks is leaving the very human skill of problem-solving, neglected and underutilised.
We are becoming less apt at using our imagination and creativity, to get out of sticky situations or to find solutions to normal issues we come across in life. We are actually losing the human skill to resolve problems and find effective solutions, on our own. The repercussions are significant in managing our personal interactions, resilience building and coping strategies. These are abilities directly related to confidence, anxiety, stress and depression. This human skill defines how well we can cope with the day to day hustle of life, as well as the traumatic experiences that are part of being human in this world.
The final human skill we need for future success is collaboration. This means the art of how to get along with others and be tolerant of people’s quirks, views and habits. We need to work on learning how to connect and work with others in life. From within families, to friendship groups and work teams, learning how to collaborate makes the difference between forming bonds with others and not. For example, a basic exercise in collaboration happened not so long ago in my life. While on holiday, much to the horror of my children, the house we rented did not have internet access and was out of range for our wi-fi. After the initial shock, we had to learn to collaborate in the evenings over what DVD to watch. It was an exercise in compromise and working with each other. Usually, if someone doesn’t want to watch a program or movie, they can wander off or view something on their own screens. Not here. We spent time talking and discussing what each of us wanted, collaborating to come to an agreement. It was interesting and a reminder of how easy it is to take a non-collaborative option in our world. How we navigate through compromise, negotiations and self-sacrificing (where feasible), is a very human skill that is undervalued.
We collaborate so we can produce something of value. In human skill terms, it means how we work within groups, (like our community) and the bigger society we belong to. Team sports are a perfect demonstration of collaboration. It just happens that often we leave these skills on the playing field or court and forget that it is a general human skill that can be implemented everywhere. It is a concept bigger than ourselves. We need to collaborate with neighbours, communities, societies and countries. Working with others is about understanding what it takes to reach a united goal and the value of partnerships. How to form an alliance and have loyalty to others. Collaboration is about participation. It can start with forming a partnership with parents by helping around the house as a way to contribute to the family. It can develop into a skill that grows to negotiating within friendship groups at school. It becomes important as we mature and form alliances at work. It is essential to participate in social and global issues.
Collaboration is not a ‘me’ concept it an ‘us’ idea.
There you have it. If you want to be successful in whatever is your passion or dream, these four human skills are a necessity to master. They will solidify your ability to resolve, adapt and be flexible in your interpersonal relationships. They will teach you how to be a mental risk taker for positive outcomes and challenges. They will push you to think beyond your own value and how you connect, interact and connect to the people around you and the society you are part of. They will teach you the art of interacting, communication and reading people in real life situations. Human skills are a basic necessity, to achieve a successful and happier life.
Research: Life Patterns Ten years following Generation Y by Melbourne Graduate School of Education (2008-2018)
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