Human Skills

Many of us hate the term soft skills. As legendary business expert Tom Peters tweeted five years ago:

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Rebels at Work think a lot about these skills -- and know they're not soft at all because if we don't master them, we fall flat on our faces and butts. The recognition that kindness, patience, openness, etc. are productive traits in the workplace is a step forward, but something still doesn't sit right with me. While I've been in Texas the last two weeks helping out my 83-year old mom, I've noticed how many of the skills I need to do right by her are the same skills I need to do right by my colleagues and teammates. Whether we're 23 or 83, we need and want to:

Have agency over our lives: As my mother's range of activities narrows, it's awfully easy for me to assume she can't do a particular task. But my "condescension" only makes her cranky and frustrated, and less likely to try. It's the same dynamic in the workplace. When your colleague detects you don't think they can do something, they usually don't.

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Be treated like an individual and not as a cliche: I've gotten into this horrible habit of saying, when my mom is despondent, "What's your problem?" This does not please her. And it shouldn't. Because I'm not reacting to her specifically in the current moment; instead I'm treating her like a cliche. I made similar mistakes in the workplace. I remember one colleague who called me on it one day: "Carmen, I hate the way you say 'U-huh' after every point I make. I  know that means you're not really listening to me." That brought me up short! Listen to yourself in the workplace. Do you have pet phrases that you use with certain individuals, verbal tics, that you deploy automatically every time you deal with them? Stop doing it. 

Enjoy our lives and have fun: It's hard for my mom to find things to smile about these days. Our conversations too often focus on what's not going right; we rarely chat about what's still good. But every once in a while I remember to make a joke or find the funny, and we both feel  the room brighten. I am reminded of a boss I had early on in my career at CIA. He stayed in his office most of the time, and only left it to criticize someone on the team. We scattered like pigeons in the city. Don't be that person!

We have a horrible tendency to segment our lives, to think we need to act one way with our families, another way at work, and yet another way with strangers. And that's how we come up with stupid concepts such as soft skills. We don't need no stinkin' soft skills. We need human skills. 

All the time...


With everyone...