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Soft Skills and Some False Myths

Once upon a time, there was the most classic of questions to ask oneself in the aftermath of the course of study: what do I do now?

The labor market has absolute characteristics like those of any “extreme” environment. Travel at the speed of light and constantly change skin, appearance, dynamics, and opportunities. For this reason, there is a need to clarify ideas and orient oneself, traveling between trends and the net, work abroad and false myths about graduation, soft skills, and (more or less) classic tools.

In short, everything to be able oneself to find the way about one’s tomorrow.

“Soft” skills have characterized by their significant weight within organizations and, consequently, in career paths or more simply in the “well-being” within the organization itself. As all know well, are those skills that bring together personal qualities, attitude, and skills in the field of interpersonal relationships.

Today, in a dynamic, multicultural society strongly characterized by digital technologies which, in addition to representing a trait d’union, a “leveling” factor in corporate life, permeate everyone’s life, soft skills are all the more an essential distinctive feature.

The general belief is that soft skills open all doors for success. Perhaps they have not yet surpassed in importance the curriculum and years of experience, but they are increasingly taken into consideration in the workplace.

Soft skills are often confused with values, sometimes with a person’s personality, sometimes with their attitudes and qualities. They are actually something else.

Today we can say that transversal skills are the real power of today’s companies because they are the basis of the possibility of working effectively, in some cases even regardless of technical qualifications. They provide a pass-through to the discovery and analysis of problems, to the collaborative relationship with others, to innovation, and, in short, to all those attitudes and behaviors that make the difference to effective performance.

However, there are some false myths to be overcome in order to fully understand their potential and importance. It is said, for example, that these are innate abilities. Surely, they are more difficult to learn. They depend on culture, personality, extracurricular experiences; they concern the way in which an individual communicates, interacts, relates to the people around him.

However, there is no reason to be discouraged, anyone can improve their soft skills with experience and practice. According to some studies, they can be learned and strengthened by dedicating the right care and doing work on one’s personality. It is necessary to “appropriate” them, acquire them and take care of their improvement over time.

The school even could do a lot for their learning, both through targeted educational projects and through daily teaching. All disciplines, in fact, even those that we consider “more traditional” can if transmitted in an adequate way, contribute to the development of transversal skills.

Just understanding what importance the study of subjects that we consider only “theoretical” (eg mathematics, literature, geography) can have for us, in our daily life and for our future, is already the first step towards the awareness that everything we learn and know will be useful both to face any choice in a conscious and responsible way and to learn how to manage the numerous changes that characterize a complex, uncertain and constantly evolving society such as the one in which we live today and will live tomorrow.

But also we personally can do a lot to improve them, for example by keeping them always present in our daily life, whether in games, sports or studying. And, of course, it is always possible to deepen them with a specific reading, with a course or more.

It is also argued that they are more common among extroverted people. Nothing more false. Surely extroverts will have, for example, easier communication, but it is not certain that they will be able to establish better relationships with collaborators and colleagues.

Furthermore, if excluded, they can become part of the baggage of senior managers. This is not true, simply because in work as in life the phrase “I am too old to change” is not allowed. Knowing how to continually challenge yourself is a sine qua non for being a successful manager.

Especially those interested in proposing “magical solutions” to get a job to suggest that the more soft skills the candidate possesses, the better. On the other hand, they argue, they are defined as “transversal skills” precisely because they manage to be significant in even very different contests from each other.

This is not always true. It would be enough to consider that what makes a position unique belongs to that position and that’s it, so it is not always true that the more soft skills possessed by the candidate the better. Rather it is better to have the right mix of skills required by that position. Furthermore, the characteristics of that role may vary as the context changes, that is the mix of characteristics that is good in one company will probably not work well in another even if the role is the same

Nobody expects one to master all soft skills perfectly. Depending on your professional profile, colleagues, work context, and so on, some skills will be more important than others. In one case, a certain competence may be essential, while another may play a minor role.

The more one gain experience and practice with any soft skill, the more this will become the norm. One may be able to develop soft skills by observing those positive we see in others, incorporating them into our daily routine. The most effective method is experiential learning, which focuses on experience as a source of awareness and learning, focusing on the link between doing and learning.

This approach is characterized by four moments: concrete experience, reflective observation, i.e. understanding the meanings of experience, abstract conceptualization, in which general theories are developed to be put into practice in the last phase of active experimentation.

Finally, I would like to suggest some “best practices” to implement them:

  • Cultivating self-confidence: one must never stop believing in his/herself and in your potential.
  • Leaving your comfort zone: comparing yourself with those who are different, better and letting yourself be inspired by excellence.
  • Challenging ourselves every day to think and do at least one impossible thing: experiencing something new every day helps to keep alive in us the desire to learn and to test ourselves.
  • Developing wisdom and empathy: towards those who collaborate with us, because the more we are on the ‘same wavelength’, the more it is possible to achieve the desired result.

Aldo Delli Paoli
Aldo is a lawyer and teacher of law & Economic Sciences, "lent" to the finance world. He has worked, in fact, 35 years long for a multinational company of financial service in the auto sector, where he held various roles, until that of CEO. In the corporate field, he has acquired skills and held positions as Credit Manager, Human Resource Manager, Team leader for projects of Acquisition & Merger, branch opening, company restructuring, outplacement, legal compliance, analysis and innovation of organizational processes, business partnerships, relations with Trade Unions and Financial Control Institutions. After leaving the company, he continued as an external member of the Board of Directors e, at the same time, he has gone back practicing law and was a management consultant for various companies. He has been also a columnist for newspapers specializing in labor law, automotive services and work organization. His interests include human behavior in the organizational environment, to the neuroscience, the impact of new technologies, the fate of the planet and people facing poverty or war scenarios. He loves traveling, reading, is passionate about many sports, follows the NBA and practices tennis.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Great read, Aldo. The thought it brought up for me was around skill vs mindset. We can change our mindsets and sometimes it is necessary to acquire some of the skills.

    One mindset is around curiosity. If one is not curious it is simply impossible to learn to listen well. You can not and say hmm in all the right places, but if you don’t really care, the other person will know.

    Another mindset is around service. Do we see ourselves as being in service of a mutual goal and want to create win-win situations or are other people means towards your end? Are you afraid that if they advance, you lose something? Hyper competitive cultures don’t provide the psychological safety required if people are to have courage to step out of their comfort zones.

    And finally, you can’t “dry learn” soft skills any more than you can learn to swim buy reading a book. Yes, you can get a set of pointers, but it take other people to tell us when we are hurtful, confusing, out of sync, unclear, unreasonable, condescending, or they feel threatened, intimidated, or all the other factors that makes relationships go awry. And it requires courage to ask for that kind of feedback.

    • Thank you Charlotte for reading my post but above all for adding some absolutely important and shareable observations.
      I am convinced that these are skills that can be acquired as well as I believe that it is necessary to practice, experience, learning opportunities from others, from a careful relationship with others, all things that develop a more concrete awareness of what it takes to act by applying skills uncommon.

  2. We see that we are interested in the same issues. It is also comforting to know that there is sometimes a correspondence of vision on a given topic.
    I will read your article.
    Sincerely.

  3. It is amazing to read this wonderful post, Aldo.

    It is equally surprisingly shocking in a positive way how our ideas met even we approach similar issues from different directions.

    I submitted a post to BIZCATALYST today on Repellent Attractions and I arrived at the same conclusions you highlighted in your wonderful post.

    You wrote “The labor market has absolute characteristics like those of any “extreme” environment. Travel at the speed of light and constantly change skin, appearance, dynamics, and opportunities:.
    In my post I give an example of how this could be very risky and reaching the extreme poses us to new threats.

    You also wrote “Today we can say that transversal skills are the real power of today’s companies because they are the basis of the possibility of working effectively”.
    So true and my post arrives at similar conclusion.

    I immensely enjoyed reading tour post my friend.

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