The Soft Skills Disconnect in Professional Development

Soft Skills Learning

The soft skills disconnect in professional development – it never ceases to surprise me.

Why would people book into a Time Management workshop and then arrive late for it? You may say that the answer is obvious – they need some time management skills. But then, you wouldn’t think they would make it so blatantly obvious to their professional peer group that they are so lacking.

Or what about the up and coming leader who phones me telling me he wants to enhance his networking skills and is coming to my workshop on Growing Your Career Through Networking. He enters the room where everyone is having pre-workshop coffee and stands by himself against the far wall. I go and get him and bring him across and introduce him to people. He shakes their hand but doesn’t say much. At morning tea, he gets his coffee and slice and goes and sits back at his table by himself.

Another workshop on giving feedback that motivates people saw 32 of the 33 participants give me some very positive feedback and helpful critiques, obviously learning something from the workshop. One person went on a slash and burn exercise of my presentation – negative and unconstructive feedback. Why did she come to the workshop? What did she want to learn?

Or there was the workshop on Managing Stress for a group of people working in a very stressful area of welfare service. It was a very practical workshop with lots of interaction and time for questions. On the evaluation form, one person not only filled in the form, but also every margin and then went over the page, pouring out her stress as an expression of how unhelpful the workshop was in helping her manage her stress. She did not participate well in the workshop, nor ask questions.

While I offer everyone who attends my workshops the opportunity to make contact with me afterwards if they have further questions (at no fee incidentally), neither of those critics did.

So what is happening here? How do people believe they can develop their soft skills?

My workshops are about helping people develop and enhance their soft skills. These are the skills that focus on the development of their personality, their attitudes, their behaviour and their mindsets. When people come to a soft skills workshop, I assume that they want to learn skills to bring about that development. There is, however, a big disconnect here  because so many people just want tips and strategies on how to make people do what they want them to do. Change my situation and the people around me. Give me some tips as to how I can do it, but don’t change me.

They want the “how to’s” – how to manage their time, how to manage conflict, how to manage difficult people, how to get the next promotion and we could go on and on.  They think it is easy when you know what to do. That’s only the starting point, however, but nevertheless an important starting point. Putting those tips and strategies into action to get positive and constructive outcomes is much more difficult because what gets in the way is their own blind spots, their biases and prejudices and their personalities and mindsets.

For example, I could give the person who wants to handle conflict better all the tips and strategies I can muster and he would not be able to do it if he doesn’t have the self-awareness to know why his anxiety reaches such high levels in the first place.

I can give all the time management strategies to someone and she will use them for a few weeks but then abandon them and regress back into being stressed about her workload, missing deadlines and missing important family events. All of this because she cannot manage herself. She cannot say “no”. She wants to please everyone. She puts everyone else’s needs  before her own. And why does she do that: because she doesn’t value herself and her time. As Eben Pagan says: Time management is a misnomer; we need to manage ourselves, not time.

So the short message here is, that if you want to develop and enhance your soft skills, those all important skills that are now essential to your career and leadership development, you need to work on yourself. You need to be absolutely committed to becoming the best version of yourself.

You need especially to be willing to ask yourself the hard questions: What is it about me, first, that sees me unable to handle what is happening in my life? What has happened in my life that sees conflict raise my anxiety levels so high? Why do I fear giving feedback to my team members?

This is about self-leadership and self-management – the most important soft skills. Who you are, what you believe, what you do and how you do it need to be aligned. For those people I’ve talked about in this post, they are not aligned. There is a big disconnect.

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