We live in a society where “buzzwords” reign supreme. Buzzword here, Buzzword there, Buzzwords everywhere. “Soft skills” being the word most often plastered on billboards across all industries. Companies want their employees to have this “trait” as if it was some kind of magical formula for better customer service and company cultures. And as with anything else, every company has a different interpretation of what this actually means. I’m not sure if anyone knows what it means. I bet that your idea of “soft skills” is different than mine, and it’s possible our definitions aren’t even similar.
Funny thing is, that neither of us is wrong. The defining factors are simple. Where do you work? and what type of dictionary do you use? Odd. New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” While Business Dictionary defines the same phrase as: “communicating, conflict management, human relations, making presentations, negotiating, team building, and other such ability, defined in terms of expected outcomes and not as a specific method or technique such as statistical analysis.” So, you see, I sort of have a point here. I mean, of course this is my opinion, but I believe soft skills can be simplified to: “the ability to bs with people”. I’m serious, I think it’s as easy as that.
Now I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. To effectively bs with people, you need to interpret body language and act accordingly. I am a very upbeat person, I wake up like “Pinky and The Brain”, ready to take over the world. I’m sure it could be overwhelming early in the morning, but the ability to read body language enables me to tone it down when needed. Your body language tells me exactly how to approach you and what tone of voice to use. Being able to identify with an individual enables you to communicate effectively. When my co-worker sits slouched overlooking overwhelmed, a simple “Good morning. I hope you have a beautiful day” suffices. She realizes I can see something is wrong, and she can compose herself before the rest of the crew arrives. When I walk in and she’s sitting up proud looking like she can’t wait to share something, I open up with a smiling “What’s up?! You look ready to kill it!” and of course, she is full of energy and enthusiasm.
You may think this takes years of practice, and you are right! However, good news is, you have been practicing for years! Much longer than you can even imagine. In many ways, you’ve been developing this skill since a very young age. Think about your personal relationships with friends and family. In social situations, I know what my friends are thinking based on the look they give me or the way they correct their postures. Growing up, I knew when I was in trouble by the way my mom was standing at the door waiting for me, or by the way her eyebrows arched and joined together in the middle. I’m sure if you think about it, you have the same type of skill set. You just hadn’t realized how to use it to your benefit in the professional world. The ability to read your friends and know what each other is thinking without the use of words is a form of synergy. I believe in the workplace this very same concept is considered a “soft skill”, the most important of them all if you ask me.
Think about it. If it works in other places, why wouldn’t it be effective at work? After all, they are people too and have similar tendencies as your friends and family. Understanding the way body language communicates with the outside world is essential to knowing how to approach an individual. Great mood, horrible mood, mood in between, it doesn’t matter! By observing their body language, you will know exactly how to address them and what tone of voice to use. Furthermore, as a leader you’ll notice when someone has a problem, when someone is going through a rough time, or when they just want to share an accomplishment. Many of the questions we have can be answered by observing body language, and vice versa, our body language can give away all our feelings and emotions. Keep an eye out for these things, next interaction you have can make someone’s day, or make it worse.