Soft Skills in Training and Development

Katherine wrote a post on her blog today and called it Soft Skills Conundrum, ​and it reminded me how much I love this topic, and that I wrote about it a long time ago (2015), when we had our ptec project on. Re-sharing for further conversations!

Recently, while drafting potential training courses for the coming year and brainstorming new(er) ideas, I realized that I was not completely sure what is meant by ‘soft skills’ and how these skills are different from ‘hard skills’. The main purpose of writing this post, therefore, is to clarify the meaning and then to see if (and how) these skills can be developed in mentors or my mentors.

I will begin with a brief research into the subject. [Note: I hope the readers will not judge my ignorance in this area too strictly]

Some synonyms

Soft skills are sometimes referred to as people skills, or non-technical skills or non-cognitive skills, or non-academic skills or emotional intelligence, or practical intelligence (including managing self, others, tasks and career)

Some definitions

According to Wikipedia, Soft Skills are are the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.

You can also say that Soft Skills are personal attributes that enhance an individual’s interactions, career prospects and job performance; they are broadly applicable to a number of jobs — read more here.

Soft Skills are also described in terms of personality traits, such as optimism, integrity and a sense of humor. These skills can be defined by abilities that can be practiced, such as leadership, empathy, communication and sociability. Read more here.

Soft Skills versus Hard Skills

Hard skills are the occupational requirements of a job, tend to be specific to a certain type of task or activity; they form a person’s technical skill set and ability to perform certain functional tasks. Many Soft Skills, however, are tied to an individuals’ personalities rather than any formal training, and are thus considered more difficult to develop than hard skills.

Some examples

If you google ‘soft skills training’ the suggested options will include creative problem-solving, facilitation and negotiation, meeting management, conflict resolution, team building/collaboration, leadership and influence, personal productivity, time management, supervising and motivating the employees, etc.

When I read the list of examples above I remembered the process of becoming a teacher trainer. One part of the application process included asking my colleagues for references. The template I needed to send to people has this list of 18 bullet points to evaluate myself on. Since I don’t have a permission to share the whole list, let me just choose some (skills? abilities? personality traits?) that I think can be described as ‘Soft Skills’.

  • Openness
  • Flexibility
  • Positivity, especially under pressure
  • Ability to accept and use feedback
  • Awareness of impact on others
  • Ability to accept personal responsibility
  • Ability to express feelings effectively and appropriately
  • Ability to take initiative and be proactive
  • Enthusiasm for working with people
  • Creativity
  • Ability to articulate ideas clearly
  • Ability to synthesize new material

There was one more point: skill in reflecting on teaching. On the one hand, it can be seen as a ‘hard’ skill because it can definitely be described as a set of competencies, and therefore be ‘measured’ and ‘trained’. On the other hand, I believe that a true reflective practitioner is someone who reflects genuinely, and not just on the events in class. It is a part of nature, part of personality. In that sense, reflection lies in the middle of Venn Diagram.

Some questions I am left with for now are:

  1. How does/can being explicit about soft skills in teacher training or teacher development make a training course more effective and efficient?
  2. What soft skills need to be ‘taught’, and how?
  3. What soft skills develop with experience and reflection only (and therefore, can’t be ‘taught’)?
  4. In teacher education/teacher development, can there be ‘pure’ soft skills courses, or do they need to be built into more general courses for mentors, for examples?
  5. Is training and development all about soft skills (with nothing ‘hard’ in the skill set)?

Finally, a multiple choice task (underline what you think works well)

Hard skills will get you to class but it is the Soft Skills you need to get – and keep ______.

  •           a) your teaching job
  •           b) your students motivated
  •           c) your learners happy
  •           d) job satisfaction
  •           e) (add your own idea) _______.

Thank you for reading!

P.S. I also found this old post on Soft Skills (in paragraph blogging style this time).

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict
This entry was posted in Trainer Reflections and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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