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Chapter 1. Let Us Get Started! > Characteristics of Soft Skills

1.1. Characteristics of Soft Skills

While there is no formal definition of the term, we would like to define soft skills as those skills—over and above the technical knowledge and expertise in the chosen field—required for an individual to relate to and survive and succeed in his or her environment. This definition—just like soft skills itself—is very open-ended and subjective. But that is how it is! ‘Soft skills’ is an oft-used term in hiring parlance, but is perhaps the most maligned, often misunderstood and misinterpreted term. We will now characterize what we mean by this term and also highlight what we strongly believe soft skills are not.

Soft skills is that ‘touchy-feely stuff’: It is not pure technical wizardry; it is not just ‘pleasing personality’; it is not just ‘smooth talking’; it is not just ‘command over language’; it is a combination of all these things and many more attributes that are difficult to lay your hands on. This combination varies from time to time, culture to culture and situation to situation to be successful.

Soft skills are conspicuous by their absence in an individual: Well, if it is possible to recognize the presence of soft skills in an individual, it is most certainly possible to detect the absence of soft skills in an individual. In fact, soft skills tend to be more conspicuous by their absence than by their presence! This is somewhat like the view of a cynic who knows that ‘something is wrong’ in a thing without being able to tell what to do to make it right or what constitutes the right thing.

Soft Skills apply across the board to any industry: Whether you work in the IT industry or manufacturing industry, whether you work in a family business or a multi national corporation, soft skills are those skills that are absolutely essential for success. Since we have defined soft skills to be those needed to survive in the environment and since any profession has to exist in the context of the environment, it makes sense that soft skills apply across the board to all human endeavours and to all industries.

Soft Skills are not ‘quantifiable’ and tend to be subjective: One can never assign an undisputed numeric Soft Skills Quotient or ‘SSQ’ to an individual as one can assign a numerical Intelligence Quotient or ‘IQ’ (of course, even IQ numbers have always been questioned by various people). This makes it very difficult to ‘measure’ soft skills. This is so because the specific soft skills required vary from person to person, and as stated, from culture to culture and even from situation to situation.

Soft Skills are seldom taught, but often caught: We believe that practical soft skills cannot be formally taught in the same way as you can teach engineering principles or mathematics but people learn more by observation and example setting. Soft skills are somewhat like survival instincts wherein people get fine-tuned and adapt to their environment. The approach to be followed to inculcate better application of soft skills in people is to tune their antennae to catch the soft skills.

Defining how good a person’s soft skills are is somewhat culture dependent: For example, in the Indian context, being assertive and vocal may be considered ‘poor soft skills’ while in the US context, the lack of these attributes may be termed a weakness.

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