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Posted at: Jul 16, 2017, 1:26 AM; last updated: Jul 16, 2017, 1:26 AM (IST)

Soft skills, hard impact

Sarah Berry

  • Facing the audience was never a problem, conveying the right message at the right moment was. Synchronising the mind and the tongue…how does one do that? I never thought I would have to learn this.
  • I am a good student, with lots to convey, but once on stage, despite numerous attempts, I fail to get the words out of my mouth. I just cannot connect with my audience.
  • Giving an interview is a huge challenge. I just get so nervous. The worst part is that I do not know how to answer questions I have not prepared for; but then how can you possibly envisage all questions that can be asked?
  • Being a housewife, I never felt the need to learn any soft skills, as I felt these were meant only for professionals. I was proved wrong when social gatherings, especially those with international guests, demanded more from me than just having a good command over  English.

What do these scenarios have in common? Is it a lack of effective communication skills and confident personality?  While one can learn these skills, how do you acquire a self-assured behaviour?  

Nowadays, there are a number of ways for the overall development of one’s personality. These include effective verbal and non-verbal communication, business and social etiquettes, inter-cultural intelligence and skills, self presentation and/or your information/product, and a host of other soft skills that are needed to succeed professionally and personally. But what are these skills and how does one teach or learn these and or for what? The answer is simple: development of the personality at all levels, encouraging the enhancement of social, emotional and intelligence quotients. So, how are soft skills imparted? The word 'imparted' is the key word for acquiring these skills, as these can't be 'taught' like a theory lesson, but on the basis of real-life scenarios, encouraging learning by seeing, experiencing and doing. For the same, creative and interactive didactic tools, which encourage thinking, interaction, unlearning and relearning are vital. An important aspect to be remembered is that soft skills are honed with exposure, practice and time. For this, an open and adaptive attitude is a must. The key element is: 'learning/unlearning/relearning by doing'. 

At least 85 per cent of one's success at work is attributed to soft skills and only 15 per cent to technical skills, says a study. These skills, also known as power skills, cannot be acquired theoretically, but pre-dominantly practically, mainly through awareness, understanding, adaptation and practice. 

Akash Goswami, student of business management, shares his experience, "An important part of our curriculum was business communication, which included soft skills, too. It reminded me of an old lesson learnt in school, which was actually basic at its core: stop, look and listen. The classes were totally practical-life oriented and taught me not only ways to handle the complex communication-related challenges, like negotiations and conflict resolving, but also ignited in me a sense of curiosity, which I felt I had lost until then."

Ashish Abraham, a media student, about to embark on a career in the field of theatre, agrees, "Through soft-skills training, I gained confidence. The process of giving and receiving feedbacks helped me understand the nuances of this delicate skill. Be it anchoring or hosting shows, enactment of characters, voice modulation, each and every aspect helped in developing non-verbal and verbal communication. In fact, this skill set has opened a number of professional avenues for me, including radio, television and performing arts."

Is the learning of soft skills only limited to students or job seekers, who are looking forward to embark on a career? People from other walks of life would disagree, and rightfully so. These skills are required by almost all persons, in personal and professional domains, and irrespective of age. Of course, in some sectors like the services sector, these power skills are pre-requisites. 

Manju Madan, who owns a beauty salon, elaborates, "In our profession, it is important to master people's skills - an important one being having a pleasing personality and presentable communication skills. Many a time we need to stay firm, but gentle, in order to make our stand clear, especially with 'difficult' clients. Our profession is such that we cannot be argumentative, rude or impatient. Besides this, we are always under scrutiny — our dressing style, posture, grooming, etc. Non-verbal communication cues like body language, facial expressions and eye contact go a long way in effectively communicating sensitive issues, which could, otherwise, not be communicated verbally that effectively."

So, is it not beneficial to start young? Manju Rana, director and principal of a well-known school in Delhi NCR couldn't agree more. "Sensitisation to such skills should be an integral part of the curriculum because these can ensure the all-round development of a child. In fact, we make it a point to organise workshops with experts on a regular basis, within which a whole range of life and soft skills are integrated. These sessions should encourage a creative, out-of-the-box or unique flow of thoughts which manifest into actions and are, hence, sustained through long-term recall and application."

A resource person, who holds these sessions regularly, echoes similar views.   She recalls an interesting experience where a 70-plus senior citizen was part of a workshop on communication. On being asked about her objective for joining the class, where the average age of participants was 24 years, the young-at heart woman just smiled, "Does learning ever have an age? I have so much to learn, fine-tune and polish." 


 

Enhance your personality

Soft skills are a combination of people skills, including interpersonal, social, presentation and communication skills and etiquettes that are not only essential for professional growth but also for personal development and social acceptance/status. These power skills, which also include understanding and resolving challenges, conflicts and/or problems, time and stress management, adaptability and accountability for decisions made, help to enhance the social and emotional quotients of individuals resulting in a positive and balanced personality. 

 

tips to improve

Verbal communication

1.‘Verbal yoga’: Pick a subject and speak on it, up to five sentences. Initially begin with a minute’s preparation and then switch to extempore. 

2.Tongue twisters are ideal for tongue agility and hence enhance clarity. 

3.Try and learn five new words in any language, you are comfortable in, understand their meanings and apply these in day-to-day-life, where applicable. 

4.Practice voice modulation by reading aloud different types of texts; record your voice, playback and understand where you could improve. 

5. Build your confidence to speak in front of an audience. To begin with a small one (say around 4-5 known persons). Take part in healthy debates, speeches and group discussions. Practice, practice and practice! There is no short cut. 

Non-verbal communication

1.Understand the meaning of different body postures and integrate their strengths in your communication. Facial and eye expressions convey maximum impact, with little effort. 

2. Speak in front of mirror, while observing your body language, your stance, facial expressions and lip movements. There is no better judge than you. With time, you will be able to improve the gaps significantly. Observe others and understand what their body language conveys. 

3.In the corporate world, hand-shakes convey a lot about your personality. Keep these firm and ‘to the point’. It is also important to understand where cultures do not demand hand-shakes or where a woman initiates one. This also applies to eye contact. There is a thin line between staring and ‘holding your own’. 

4.‘Ice breakers’ are vital in the professional and the personal world, especially for the purpose of networking and public relations. Knowing something about everything is the key. Read, read and read. 

5. Intruding in a person’s personal space is a no-no, but remaining a mile out it is not ideal for communication either. Balance is the key. This also applies to gestures. Inter-cultural intelligence, in the professional world, stresses a lot about which type of gestures are offensive and permissible across different cultures. 


 

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