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Are Soft Skills Getting Harder

Are Soft Skills Getting Harder - ShapedLogic

The Disappearing Art of Personal Interaction

How often have you interviewed a recruit, who has a resume that shows all the right skills sets except one skill is missing, Soft Skills. Often, individuals don’t know that those life skills are missing. It is not just a business issue, but it is a lifestyle issue. But how important are these “soft skills”? If you are on a company board as a director or officer, how do you determine how soft skills add to company value? Many companies will have plans and mission statements with words like “leadership”, “teamwork”, “communication” delivering these needs interpersonal skills, or Soft Skills. Are these being forgotten or replaced by some digital equivalent but without analysing what we lose.

Getting Soft

As we grow up and develop into mature adults, we learn our soft skills. It starts when we are infants and develops at school and as we become more active in our community of friends and family. When we enter the workplace our soft skills may not have developed to the point where we can fully understand or control them. Soft skills are uniquely human trait and thus far have not been replicated by technologies like Artificial Intelligence.

In an article in Forbes article - 11 Essential Soft Skills In 2024 by Monique Danao she described Soft Skills as a set of personal attributes and abilities that allow individuals to effectively interact with others in a professional setting. At their core, these include the ability to collaborate effectively, manage time and communicate with clarity, among others. These are often referred to a as people skills or interpersonal skills. Of course, soft skills are not just important in a professional sense but are as important, if not more important, as a part of your life skills.

If we look back in human history, not even very far back, we find that personal interaction has been a valuable and essential part of our development. Before the digital revolution transformed our daily lives, personal interactions were not just commonplace but the very fabric of our social experience. The era prior to the 1980s was markedly different to our experiences today. Daily routines were punctuated with face-to-face interactions, whether it was a trip to the local market, a chat with a neighbour over the fence, a discussion with the bank teller or in the workplace. These interactions, often with individuals outside one's immediate social circle, were not just transactions but opportunities for social learning and community building.

Does having more “Followers” make you happier

soft skills communication

Pre-digital most people could name their friends and acquaintances. However, the digital era has brought with it a significant shift. The convenience of online platforms has gradually replaced many of these personal interactions. We are moving in to an era of digital convenience that, while efficient, lacks the human touch. From shopping to banking, socialising to learning and even finding partners, the digital interface has become the new normal. This transition, though it has its benefits, has led to an erosion of interpersonal skills, or soft skills, and, potentially, a rise in psychological challenges that may not be good for us.

Now we often hear people refer to their hundreds or thousands of digital connections, followers, or friends. But the vast majority of these are anonymous. Their digital representation, or persona, may vary greatly from the real live person.

The Erosion of Soft Skills

Personal interaction soft skill

Interpersonal skills, once developed through daily practice in real-world settings, are now at risk of underdevelopment. The art of conversation, the ability to read non-verbal cues, and the practice of empathy in face-to-face interactions are becoming less common in daily life. The digital medium, with its text-based communication and anonymised interactions, often fails to convey the full spectrum of human emotion and subtlety. This shift is particularly impactful on younger generations, who may grow up with fewer opportunities to engage in and learn from real-world social skills. As AI becomes more “human” it will be difficult to recognise a real person to person interaction and machine generated interaction. But machine generated interactions are not capable of the subtlety and nuanced responses of human communication.

Soft Skills Getting Harder

The pivot to a digital-centric lifestyle has also been linked to a range of psychological effects. The constant connectivity and the barrage of digital stimuli have been associated with increased levels of anxiety and anger. The lack of personal interaction and the overreliance on digital communication can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration, contributing to these heightened emotional states.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was first identified in 1902. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that ADHD was a more common diagnosis. Since the 1990’s the rate of ADHD diagnosis has sharply increased.

The relationship between screen time and symptoms associated with ADHD has been a subject of growing concern. Recent articles, studies and reports, for example as published in Psychology Today, highlight the potential exacerbation of ADHD symptoms with excessive screen use.

The digital environment, with its endless streams of information and distractions, can produce symptoms like impulsivity, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating with excessive use. The immediate gratification offered by digital interactions can also lead to a decreased tolerance for the slower pace of real-world tasks, further complicating the ability to focus and engage in non-digital activities. More anger, anxiety, impulsivity and distraction all come at a cost.

So are we starting to suffer from Screen Attention Disorder (SAD), yes I made that up but it fits. It is sad when we see people so engrossed in the digital environment that they forget to absorb from the environment around them. When should we put down the devices and have a real conversation? Our soft skills should kick in when we have had too much digital gratification but it is not what happens.

Or is this really The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul; thank you Douglas Adams. It's SAD really it is and maybe a time for a cup of tea and a quite corner.

Navigating the Digital Landscape

social media and digital

While the digital era and social media has undoubtedly brought significant benefits to society, it's crucial to navigate this digital landscape with awareness of its potential drawbacks. Balancing digital convenience with real-world interactions, setting boundaries on screen time, and consciously engaging in face-to-face activities can help mitigate some of the adverse effects. Encouraging activities that foster interpersonal skills and real-world engagement from a young age is also vital.

Moreover, recognising and addressing the impacts of digital overuse is essential. This might involve promoting digital literacy and its potential problems at a younger age.  We also need to foster environments, both at home, and in business and educational settings, that provide a healthy balance between the digital and the real.

Only now are some organisations seeing the need for change. Many schools for example are now taking mobile devices away from students during learning time. There are organisations asking for digital devices to be turned off during company meetings and training.

Impact – Dissension - Governance

As business owners, board members, managers, parents, guardians, brothers and sisters, or just friends, there is an impact on us that is like a cancer which can spread undetected. Soft Skills are one of the very top and sometimes the most important set of skills that individuals should have and employers look for when interviewing potential recruits. Regardless of the job or industry soft skills are important. If we lose the soft skill from our organisations the ability the goals that we set will be impacted and costs will be higher.

The ability to communicate is not just important to your career success but also to everyday life.

As we charge ahead in the digital age, it's imperative to remember the value of personal interaction and the opportunities the real human connections can provide.

By consciously integrating real-world interactions into our daily lives and understanding the implications of our digital habits, we can hope for a balanced existence that honours both the convenience of the digital world and the irreplaceable depth of human connection.

Businesses should start by assessing soft skills in the work force. Soft skills are not easy to understand or measure but starting with simple surveys is one option. Start by looking at the soft skills in your business managers and board of directors. Include a soft skills analysis in your recruitment procedures. Set a company policy that makes soft skills an important business asset.

As an individual what do you think of your own soft skills? The easy way to start that understanding is to ask friends, family and colleagues to describe your soft skills. You may not get the answers that you expect but always start with an open mind. Whatever you hear don't be SAD.

Author: John Debrincat FACS, MAICD

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