One idiom which my students always love is “to put yourself into somebody else’s shoes”. They find it “cute” and very characteristic of the English language. I agree with this but also feel that hidden in this idiom is a reference to two skills which are key for survival these days i.e. emotional intelligence known as EQ and the so-called soft skills.
These skills are becoming vitally important as we strive to understand and get along with each other in an ever more crowded and complicated world.
Soft skills are the invisible qualities that some but not all people possess, such as a positive attitude, good communication, critical thinking, organizational and interpersonal skills. These qualities characterize a good student, a good employee or a team player. There is a debate as to whether these skills are real competencies that can be identified, learned or taught. Some educators think soft skills are better learned in the real world t the university of life, and not in a training room. Well, the good news is that yes, soft skills do have a set of core competencies that can be assessed and taught or trained, according to recent research.
E.Q., or emotional quotient is the ability to identify, explain, understand and express human emotions – own and others’ – in healthy and productive ways. They are the building blocks which soft skills are constructed upon and without which, one has a poor understanding and command of soft skills.
Research has shown that whether we are born with these skills or not, they can , fortunately, be learnt and developed. As they are both abstract elements, unlike hard skills,which can be broken down into a tangible set of competencies and measured,they still remain hard to measure.
Just like the chicken and egg situation, it is also hard to know which skills come first. Can we develop soft skills without a high Emotional Quota and does knowledge of the soft skills help to develop our EQ?
Either way, these skills support each other and acquiring both sets of skills will serve us very well in the outside world.
E.Q. can also be developed and practised throughout life.Thanks to brain plasticity, emotionally intelligent behaviours can be practised and eventually incorporated into a new brain habit, becoming automatic and replacing less helpful behaviours.
Emotionally intelligent people can observe themselves, observe their mental processes and observe their own feelings.Therefore, they can identify what they are feeling, they know how to interpret their own emotions, they can regulate their emotions, they know how their emotions can impact others and they have the ability to manage other people’s emotions.
Let us take as an example, one of the most important of soft skills, a positive attitude. Although some people think that a bad attitude is difficult to change, research has shown that if the person knows how to change, it can actually happen. But first, social/emotional competencies are needed for a better understanding of the competencies involved in a positive attitude; only then these can be taught and gauged.
In order to develop interpersonal skills, the soft skills need to be translated into communication; socializing at work, controlling emotions, networking, responding to conflict, and helping customers etc. The E.Q. foundation skills needed are self-esteem, intrapersonal/interpersonal awareness, environment support and empathy, the key competence for emotional intelligence. No high E.Q. rate is possible without a considerable dose of empathy. It is needed to sense, understand and accept another person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours, which is the basis of all interpersonal skills.
As a final note, we come back to the first step that no one involved in a self-improvement process can skip: self-knowledge. Before any change, any effort, any path taken, we have to look inside ourselves and go on a self-discovery journey to get to know ourselves. Then, the sky is the limit or, as Plato said, we will know the universe and the gods.