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Effectiveness of Soft Skills Training

 

Visualize these two scenarios:

Scenario 1.

Two students come to you for career guidance.

  • What would you do? Would you tell them what choices to make or would you facilitate their choice? 
  • Where would you start the counseling process? Would you discuss their academic achievements or their hobbies? 
  • Would you deal with students collectively or individually? Would you have one consolidated session with them or distributed sessions of interaction? 
  • Would you give them career related articles to read or would you want them to pose questions to you? 


Now the answer to the above questions is the same: 

‘It depends’. 

Well, what does it depend on? 

The answer depends on the situation, the person’s unique needs, and on your personal resources. 

The point of the example is that you have to customize your interaction to the other person’s psychological makeup. 

Scenario 2.

A person has grown up with the thought that she is worthless. While interacting with her, you tell her “you have lots of talent and are capable of doing wonders.” Can you be sure that she will appreciate what you have said? This may come as a surprise, but she might even think that you are implying that her reasoning ability is weak because she could not interpret her own experiences effectively.

So, what you feel is a good interpersonal behavior might not be perceived as the same by the other person. 

What both the scenarios can tell us

These examples tell us that imbibing soft skills involves much more than going through classroom training. In fact, research shows that even after training, the level of acquisition of soft skills is not always as expected. Therefore, one question that has often been raised is: Why is it difficult to learn soft skills? The reasons can fall into two categories: the nature of soft skills, and, the way they are taught. Some of these reasons are described below:

  1. Soft skills have to do with understanding people, situations, and the complex interaction between the two. Soft skills are less about knowledge and more about detecting patterns among facts (related to people and situations) and customizing your response according to those patterns.
  2. The complex and dynamic patterns of interaction could be between a person and her ‘self’, between a person and her significant others/objects, between a person and other people, etc. All these entities are dynamic, multilayered, and complex.
  3. In soft skills, there are only orientations, not rules. We are used to dealing with tangible objects and clear-cut definitions and procedures rather than fluid orientations. Take the example of a dosa. Although the basic ingredients are the same and so is the basic recipe, dosas cooked by different cooks invariably taste different. Thus, even setting down definitive rules is no guarantee for a uniform result. 
  4. Soft skills, unlike technical skills, generally have much to do with our self-concept and our self-esteem. Also, soft skills training is as concerned with unlearning old ways of doing things as it is concerned with learning new ways. When we try to unlearn a way of behaving, thinking, or feeling we are trying to remove layers of habits, shake up bundles and webs of thoughts and clear up clouds of emotion.
  5. We often try to impart/teach soft skills rather than facilitate its development and management. However, soft skills cannot be imparted the way you would impart knowledge of physics, math, etc. 

It is easiest to teach (and observe changes in) soft skills related to actions (presentation skills, language skills, etc.). However, the moment we step into the area of cognition (perception, thinking processes, memory, etc.) and of affect (feelings and emotions) we are dealing with aspects that are more resistant to change. (See the visual below.) Therefore, even after training, we might have students who pronounce well and write grammatically correct language but are unable to marshal facts in a persuasive way. 



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