Soft Skills



Article by :- Stig Falster Interock NSW

According to Wikipedia, Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the capability of individuals to recognise their own and other people's emotions, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one's goal(s).

EI manifests itself in the individual as ‘Soft Skills’, which is also a synonym for "people skills."  When the term is used to describe those personal attributes in an individual, it would indicate a high level of emotional intelligence.

According to Rutgers psychologist Daniel Goleman in his article in Harvard Business Review’s ‘What Makes a Leader’ (1998):

The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has become to be known as emotional intelligence.  It's not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant.  They do matter, but...they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions.  My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership.  Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won't make a great leader.

He went on to identify the following components that underpin EI:

  • Self-awareness 
  • Self-regulation 
  • Motivation (defined as "a passion for work that goes beyond money and status") 
  • Empathy for others 
  • Social skills, such as proficiency in managing relationships and building networks

Richard Boyatzis who was one of the thought leaders from the very beginning around 1970, worked with the original thinkers who put all of the pieces together from a psychological and cognitive standpoint that ultimately came to be known as Emotional Intelligence (EI).  He stated that:

When you look at any of the competencies models that I or anyone else has done, when you validate them against performance, not just according to the mythology, you become amazed at how 80-90 percent of the competencies are not cognitive.  For any top executive or leadership role there are never more than two competencies that come out in the cognitive area as distinguishing outstanding performance.  Those tend to be systems thinking and pattern recognition.  All the rest are what we call emotional intelligence.  (Wheeler & Hall, 2003, p. 66).

While cognitive skills (competencies) and work ethic can be very easy to measure, determining the level of ‘soft skills’ is more difficult.  It has been found that in general, when hiring, professional service firms like banks, law, accounting and consulting practices, don’t do a good enough job in terms of screening for emotional intelligence.  Their processes tend to be geared to cover cognitive skills, experience, educational scores and work ethic, and they trust that over time they’ll be able to sort out who’s got the prerequisite ‘soft skills’ to succeed.  Unfortunately, however, when starting out, these people don’t know about ‘soft skills’ and how they can become the differentiators.  Initially, it’s about adaptability, whilst over time, elements like networking, team building and bringing in business become much more important.  At the same time, there is a requirement that clients need to like and trust you, and this has little or nothing to do with your cognitive skills.

People with high IQs tend to be good problem solvers and are usually able to figure out the best solution when confronted by new situations.  When this is combined with a high level of knowledge, usually gained from experience and/or formal education, then they are often seen as being the best people to recruit and retain for their ability to lead teams and organisations.

While these formal qualifications and technical skills are necessary requirements for modern employees, ‘Soft skills’ and personal attributes are equally important in achieving success.  The World Economic Forum has identified 16 ‘crucial proficiencies in the 21st century’, 10 of which are non-technical.

Deloitte Access Economics forecasts that soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030, compared to half of all jobs in 2000 and this is expected to increase in relevance, growing by up to 2.5 times the rate of jobs in other occupations.

A major issue in defining and identifying ‘soft skills’ is the wide use of different terminologies used to identify a range of skills, including ‘soft skills’.

A range of different authorities and researchers have touched on the topic of ‘soft skills’, without direct reference to the expression.  Some terms used are:

  • Transferable skills - Committee for Economic Development of Australia (2015)
  • Employability skills - Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (2002)
  • Enterprise skills - Foundation for Young Australians 2016
  • Capabilities - Bowles and Lanyon 2016
  • Personal attributes - The Department of Education and Workplace Relations (2002)
  • Competencies - Bowles and Lanyon 2016

Generally, however, ‘soft skills’ can be described as a set of non-technical skills – inter alia communication, emotional judgement, empathy, persuasion, initiative, self-esteem, problem solving and digital literacy.

Deloitte Access Economics identifies that:

  •  ‘soft skill’ intensive jobs will grow 2.5 times faster than other jobs
  • ‘soft skill’ intensive jobs will make up 63% of all jobs by 2030
  • 42% of businesses need leadership skill development for the digital future.

 And, the occupations most likely to be affected by the increasing need for ‘soft skills’ are:

  •  Managers
  • Consultants
  • Engineers, ICT, and Science technicians
  • Community and personal services workers
  • Office managers and program administration
  • Sales representatives and sales persons.

While we have criteria developed around selecting people based on their IQ, their experience and intangibles like work ethic, the major missing piece in this set of criteria is EI (or ‘soft skills’).  We need the ability to identify and further develop these skills in our people to ensure that they can maximise their strengths and abilities in the workplace for the betterment of the results and the organisation’s performance.

These can be determined by selective psychometric assessments and in particular, a variant of the well-tried and tested DISC – DISCflex.  The addition of third party assessments presents a fuller, more holistic picture of the individual.  Once the assessment is completed and interpreted, the development needs can be set and agreed on, allowing the individual to build his/her EQ in line with the agreed goals and organisational needs.

A recent article published in The Journal of Organizational Psychology shows that using DISCflex to develop emotional intelligence leads to higher job satisfaction and job performance.

Written by Dr. Bryan Forsyth, Brian Mitchell, and Indaba’s very own Hellen Davis and Alex Fryer, the idea and the model were born when Dr. Forsyth wanted to examine how DISC related to emotional intelligence, job satisfaction, and job performance.  Dr. Forsyth organised the team and research effort.  You can read the original article here.

Want more information contact us