What is a soft skill?

Father_and_Son_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1247314There is no precise definition of the components of emotional intelligence. However they are often similar to what has been previously referred to as “soft skills.”

Recently list of the top soft skills desired for managers included resolving conflicts, negotiating, correcting people, planning, organizing, preventing errors and solving problems. What piqued my interest was the fact that the last four are not really soft skills. They are based more on cognitive knowledge than on the ability to understand and influence people. They require breaking down goals into tasks that have to be completed, the ability to estimate required amount time and resources, the foresight to see what could possibly go wrong, and ability to think creatively. These are skills requiring more logic than emotional intelligence. So why would they be considered soft skills?

Creative people are often considered arrogant; they tend to not be humble and exaggerate the importance of their own work. If they did not, they probably would discard creative ideas and follow the road of conforming with the majority. This means they are often not easy to work with and there is an essential conflict between the working of the creative mind and the mind that excels at influencing others. However, even if the ability to solve the problem may have little to do with people skills, the ability to get others to buy into a creative solution is often dependent on them.

That is the quandary of dividing skills sets. When you refer to them as soft or hard; emotional or cognitive, or people or technical, you are creating an arbitrary dividing line. Some of both skill sets are necessary. Problem solving is difficult because it requires people to switch back and forth between “emotional” thinking needed to deal with people, and “logical” thinking needed to deal with processes.

In a national survey, employers said that technical skills were not as necessary as the following: listening and oral communication, adaptability and creativity, confidence, motivation, initiative, and pride in one’s work. However, try telling that to people who have been disciplined for overstepping the boundaries of their position due to initiative and sense of pride in what they do.

People who  are self-motivated often take off in their own direction based on what they see needs to be done. If they communicated their intentions before the results came in, the answer would often be “No.” Managers may want the results of creativity, taking initiative and pride that drives a person to excellence. But they often find employees with these qualities hard to deal with. It seems as if the insistence of the importance of soft skills over hard skills basically boils down to the employers wanting employees who embody two opposite skills at the same time.


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How friendly are you?

Foto de verdadeiro samigos by VinimsThere is fascination that I have with psychometric tests. It seems like the creators of these assessments have faced the impossible tasks of trying to capture complex aspects of personality with a series of phrases and sentences on which subjects must rate themselves. Recently I went through the somewhat tedious tasks of assessing myself and a friend who seems to be of very different temperament on a series of personality tests. It was tedious because I did all the scoring, carefully noting which items were to be reversed and checking twice to ensure accuracy.

Not surprisingly I tended to score higher in test of conscientiousness and process orientation behavior while my friend was higher in extroversion and ability to deal with people. However, the results of one test in particular interested me, the Friendliness Scale, created by John M. Reisman. Predictably, I turned out to be far less friendly than her according to this test.  But the odd thing is that I have at least as many friends as she does.

It occurred to me that the difficulty with this scale and many other psychometric tests is their basis on self-perception. I may perceive that I not very willing to drop everything and help someone else in need. However, in reality I may do this more often that some people who believe they do this frequently. When I compare myself to others I do not hear myself complimenting others nearly as much. But words of praise are not always the same. I tend to reserve mine for what appears to be a struggle to achieve. I have noted that people tend to respond to praise that is individualized and meaningful to specific events.

When I read the instructions on the Friendliness Scales I found that research had shown that lower scores were not predictive of fewer friends. Low scores correlated with less satisfaction with friendship. However, Reisman never address the apparent incongruity of people having as many friends despite dissatisfaction with their friends. Is it possible that people who scored lower are not less friendly but more demanding of both themselves and others within friendships? Reisman’s analysis of the components of friendship was not that deep. Much of it was based on anecdotal accounts and apparent current societal standards.

As I continue to look as measurements for aspects of emotional intelligence I would like to see what research really shows. Not all of it can be based on self-perception. Do emotionally intelligent people really have a greater insight into these hidden emotions? Or do they assume they are perceiving emotions based on a less demanding standard, one that only regards the publicly acceptable emotions that most people show?

Dr. John M. Reisman (1983) “SACRAL: Toward the Meaning and Measurement of Friendliness.” Journal of Personality Assessment, 47, 405-13

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The cost of charisma

Bust_of_Mahatma_Gandhi,_Saughton_Park,_Edinburgh_(1997)There are very few humans who do not wish to be able to speak and have their words influence the actions of others. And there are very few humans who actually have the gift to do so. Charisma, that characteristic charm that allows the speaker to inspire others into action, comes from the Greek word meaning divine gift or grace. And it is a good thing that this gift is rare, because the influence of charisma has a price. When we see a person as inspirational, we feel their status is higher than ours. This results in a suppression of our own emotion. Even when we adopt the emotion of the charismatic leader, we do so in a manner that blunts our exhibition of emotion.

Everyone needs to be able to suppress show of feelings some of the time.  After all, tantrums are a sign of preschool level of maturity. We often rein in the exhibition of fear or anger that might ruin a relationship. But when emotions are suppressed long term as in the relationship of the follower to the charismatic leader, there are negative effects. People who suppress emotions repeatedly do not feel rapport with others and are less willing to form friendships. So associating with a charismatic leader over a period of time causes most people to become emotionally reserved, essentially isolating the person who inspired them in the first place. The charismatic person may influence others to sell his ideals, but this influence also precludes them from being his friend.

Interestingly a person who is around other people who suppress their emotions, show a rise in blood pressure, indicating an increase in stress levels. People with high authority are able to create a presence. They exude a sense of being larger than life, as if they take up more space than those of us who gather at their feet. And in creating this sense of space they distance themselves from support that they might receive from others.

According to author Olivia Fox Cabane “All forms of charisma come at a cost; what the cost is depends on the charisma style you choose.”

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Emotional control

DSC_3033 smileThe more emotionally intelligent one is the more ability one has to perceive, understand, and manage emotions. Not just one’s own, but other people’s also. Those who possess this kind of intelligence are more able to manipulate others, but their influence doesn’t extend to everyone equally. They most easily manipulate others who also perceive the world in an emotional manner. In other words, those people who have a deep desire to influence, also succumb to the influence of others.

On the other hand, logic-based individuals often strive to be correct or even perfect, and are frequently considered aloof. But this reputation for aloofness may be a result of logical people being a minority in our culture. You may have noticed that people who have a technical bent and tend to analyze things and people often have friends of a similar ilk. However, the more emotional people express feelings openly and out loud. They also tend to associate with people like them, but their is more noticeable and seems more common in our culture than is actually is.

A person who can control emotions may be able to disguise their true feeling and exhibit another, without any appearance of guise. This motivation to learn to control emotions is based on the desire to influence others. However, this influence extends to feelings rather than cognitive content. Jochen Menges led research at the University of Cambridge which showed that people actually remember less of the content of an inspiring speech. They would claimed to recall more of it, but when asked to scrutinize what had been said, they could not remember as much as they could from a more mundane speech.

Watch a room full of empathetic, extroverted people and you will find that they start reflecting each other’s actions and speech patterns. Watch closely and you will be able to detect who is the influencer and who are the imitators, because the imitators become less expressive. The imitators seem to follow the lead of the person with the most charisma, while they are actually suppressing emotions to fit in.  The person who remains skeptical of show of feelings may stand out, but control of emotions does not always have the face of stoicism.

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EQ versus IQ

jeff 081wEmotional intelligence is touted as the necessary skill to get ahead in the business world. Tech savvy, logical reasoning and high IQ are not enough. These traits/skills cannot propel you to the places you can get if you understand emotions, or rather are adept at swaying others’ emotions so people feel how you want them to feel.

Often leaders in business prefer to be surrounded by teams of people that are emotionally perceptive because they process information in the same way. The skills they prize are those that establish their status. The ability to resolve conflicts, persuade others to take correction and negotiate differences are valuable skills when dealing with people who are constantly comparing themselves to others.

However, before launching into building your E.Q. you might want to examine evidence that emotional intelligence is not added to logical intelligence. Rather these are two different ways of perceiving the signals sent by people around you.  For the emotionally intelligent crowd, good communication does not refer to clear transfer of ideas and concept as much as it does the ability to persuade others to follow your lead, or support your position.

Theories dating back to the Stoics of ancient Greece have pitted emotion against cognition. In most cases these theories were espoused by those that preferred cool headed logic. In that vein, psychologists from universities in Manchester and London, performed an experiment to see if using emotionally charged terms interfered with people’s ability to use logic. Subject were asked make logical inferences on statements that contained neutral words and emotional words. They were more likely to draw valid inferences when dealing with the neutral words and invalid ones when dealing with emotional words. Still researchers tend to find that emotions in moderation may help people make better decisions. After all most decisions deal with other people and are not just exercises in logic written on paper.

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Kind and harsh

cropped-christmas06-collide.jpgTwo research studies on the nature or empathy have caught my attention recently. One has found a genetic basis for empathy or at least the appearance of being kind and friendly. In this experience people watched the interaction of couples who they did not know for a brief period of time and then rated each individual’s empathy. Those with the highest rating for showing that they were able to understand other’s emotions had a statistically higher percentage of particular combination of oxytocin receptors which allowed more of this hormone to enter their nervous system.

The other study showed that people who had higher levels of oxytocin showed tendency to take sides with people in need and while becoming more harsher in their treatment of the person competing with the one in need. The competitor did not have to do anything wrong. Apparently the presence of oxytocin creates an empathy that is one-sided, spurring sympathy for one party and dislike of the other.

Research about oxytocin as a hormone determining level of affection has brought to light its increase as a person takes joy in another’s pain. Evidently increase in oxytocin occurs when a person takes pleasure in some social interaction, not just empathy for others but also Schadenfreude.

This reinforces my suspicion most wonderful new “discoveries” such as a hormone that makes us more loving and affectionate, are actually two-sided. Our tendency is to avoid considering the dark side. We want to bask in our feeling of empathy towards the abused and our hatred of the abuser. However as such we may become willing followers of feed on our empathy coupled with rage. According to columnist Paul Bloom:

“There is a history of this sort of thing. Lynchings in the American South were often sparked by stories of white women who were assaulted by blacks, and anti-Semitic attacks prior to the Holocaust were often motivated by tales of Jews preying on innocent German children. Who isn’t enraged by someone who hurts a child? Similar sentiments are used to start wars. As the U.S. prepared to invade Iraq in 2003, newspapers and the Internet presented lurid tales of the abuses committed by Saddam Hussein and his sons.”

Finally as there is a dark side to empathy, is there a converse bright side to being cold hearted?

Body Language Of Empathy Is Genetically Wired Say Scientists Published: Wednesday 16 November 2011 at 2am PST http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/237743.php
Paul Bloom, September 25, 2015 The Dark Side of Empathyhttp://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/09/the-violence-of-empathy/407155/
Shamay-Tsoory SG, Fischer M, Dvash J, Harari H, Perach-Bloom N, Levkovitz Y (Nov 2009). “Intranasal administration of oxytocin increases envy and schadenfreude (gloating)”. Biological Psychiatry 66 (9): 864–70. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.06.009. PMID 19640508.
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Empathetic words

2011-08-23-008The use of pronouns and other functional words may provide a clue about our social status, our tendency to tell the truth, or how well we perform in academics. However in many circles today the desired characteristic is “emotional intelligence.” What exactly is this? Empathy, or the ability to sense what others are feeling usually ranks high on the lists of characteristics used to describe emotional intelligence. Is it possible to tell how empathetic a person will be by their speech patterns?

In order to find out, it helps to be able to judge the level of empathy in people. Ways of measuring empathy for research include a self-report survey such as the emphatic concern scale of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index developed by M.H. Davis. According to Davis empathy is defined as “reactions of one individual to the observed experiences of another.” It doesn’t measure this trait by how often a person says “Ah, I feel for you.” Rather it is how much an individual agrees or disagrees with statements such as: “I would describe myself as a pretty soft-hearted person.”

Evidently empathy is not shown by uttering certain words as much as body language. Empathy is evidenced by “more head nods, more eye contact, more smiling, more open body posture” according to Aleksandr Kogan, at the University of Toronto at Mississauga. Kogan measured empathy in his research by rating scales used by observers watching touching scenes between couples talking about a painful experience in their life. However Kogan used this research to validate another way to measure empathy – the level of the hormones, oxytocin. Variations in increase in the level of two hormones: oxytocin and vasopressin create the feeling of empathy according to University at Buffalo researchers Michael J. Poulin and Annette E. K. Buffone.

But the action of seeing oneself in another’s position is a two-edged sword. Let us look as one of the statements indicating greater empathy on the Interpersonal Reactivity Index: “When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective towards them.”  The person that you are being protective towards may sense the kindness of your word and actions. However the person that you are protecting them from will sense something more like aggression. The expression of empathy may be shown by two different behaviors. Indeed Poulin and Buffone studies have shown that oxytocin and vasopressin increase both when a person shows greater compassion towards an individual and greater harshness to the individual’s adversary.

What words show a person is empathetic? It depends whether you are the object of their empathy or the brunt of their reaction to empathy for another.

Davis, M. H. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 113– 126.
Body Language Of Empathy Is Genetically Wired Say Scientists. Published: Wednesday 16 November 2011 at 2am PST http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/237743.php
Compassion for one person may lead to aggression toward another. Published: Sunday 9 November 2014 at 12am PST http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/285095.php?sr
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Wise words

Picture 010a1How does our speech reveal our level of intelligence? A person employing word with more syllables may seem more intelligent or may just be repeating the latest erudite catch phrase. People practiced in business presentation learn to use vague multi-syllabic words to sound as if they are making an important pronouncement on a topic. However, if you listen carefully you may uncover that they are frequently reiterating what people before them said, just replacing “fifty cent” words with their own “five-dollar” versions.

Simple words and phrases such as “but,” “except,” “otherwise,” and “even though,” in speech shows the grasp of nuances. The tendency to use this type of balancing words indicates a comprehension of more complex concepts. Student who say these words more frequently, also make better grades.

It is also interesting to see how the types of words used in writing predict academic achievement. Students in college who use a higher percentage of nouns and lower percentage of verbs and pronouns typically make higher grades. It doesn’t really seem to matter whether they are majoring in liberal arts, science or engineering. The use of a large number of concrete nouns reflects the student’s ability to sort and categorize and be specific about ideas. More pronouns were typically found in narrative or “story-telling” typed of writing. Interestingly the use of more concrete terms actually shows higher comprehension than the use of abstract words.

However don’t take too long wondering how people perceive your intelligence based on your use of conjunctions and nouns. Most people do not catch onto these cues. They were discovered by recording a series of snippets of peoples everyday speech or parsing the use of parts of speech in thousands of college essays. If you don’t speak enough in face to face conversation, people will assume you are not as intelligent. Slow speaking is often regarded as a sign of being slow-witted rather it is true of not.

Jessica Wapner, “He Counts Your Words (Even Those Pronouns)”, Biography, New York Times October 13, 2008.
Gareth Cook. The Secret Language Code: Psychologist James Pennebaker reveals the hidden meaning of pronouns, August 16, 2011
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The “I”s do not have it.

15-07-05-Schloß-Caputh-RalfR-N3S_1712We may assume that people who are egotistical  talk about themselves the vast majority of the time. But if you really want to find out how people view their own status, you need to pay attention to pronouns that they use.

There is a reason that kings, queens and various heads of state use “we” rather than “I” because it indicates the power to speak for others. Maybe you have run into an ordinary Joe who makes a habit of using the royal “we” such as in “That is the way we’ve always done it around  here.” This person wants you to believe that they speak for their group. They are far more likely to be controlling than the person who offers the more humble explanation, “That is the way I’ve always done it.”

You may recall how your teachers spoke in school using the patronizing form of “we.” They would say such things as “We don’t run in the halls,” which was simply a way for teachers to sound superior.

Think about your reaction to the following directives in which the only change is the pronoun:

  • “You raise your hand before your speak.” This is basically saying Do what I command and sounds like a person showing positional power.
  • “We raise our hands before we speak.” This is like saying Child you should know how to follow the rules. It sound like the speaker is looking down on you.
  • “I raise my hand before I speak.”  This sound like Look at what I am doing voiced by a weak person who uses “I” to bring attention to their own proper behavior. It actually comes off as if the speaker does not have the authority to enforce the rule.

The people who use “I” more frequently are typically  of lower status. Students use “I” more than teachers, subordinates use “I” with their bosses and woman use “I” more than men. Also depressed people use “I” more frequently. It is not a matter of self-focus or egotism. The frequently use of “I” indicates a lone opinion, a single voice, and a lack of power to speak for others.

photo of painting “15-07-05-Schloß-Caputh-RalfR-N3S 1712” by Ralf Roletschek


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Easily deceived

Hendrick_ter_Brugghen_blame 4Our eyes may deceive us. Two witnesses of the same event rarely, relate tell the same story. On a smaller scale, we often misread words. If two words have a similar spelling, we may read the one that we think should go into a sentence rather than the one that is actually there. Our ears may deceive us. Research has shown that when people listen to a recording in which an occasional syllable is replaced by white noise, they think that they have heard the word they expected to hear. Most people do not even recall that part of the word was replaced with non-phonemic sound. [1]

However, most troubling if that other people deceive us and often we do not catch on to their lies. Despite believing that we can discern when people are lying, most people are not very accurate at this. The typical signs that we look for – eyes shifting, indirect eye contact, fidgeting or a stammer – may simply be evidence of nervousness. The more frequently a person lies, the better they are at looking and sounding confident about what they are saying.

However, no matter how proficient a person becomes constructing a lie, it is still more work than telling the truth. Typically while the mind is working harder, the body is less active. Often, the person who is lying may blink and fidget less than the person who is telling the truth. So you might look for such signs as a person pausing while speaking or appearing to think in between sentences. [2] But then pausing for emphasis is what good speakers are supposed to do.

On the other hand, you might just want to actually listen to the words people say. For example a person who uses “I” more often is more likely to be speaking from experience, and less likely to be intentionally lying. People that are not telling the truth use “we” or no first person noun at all. The equivocator is not likely to respond directly to a question, such as “Did you take my book from the desk?” with a simple “I did not take your book.” This person might respond with “We have not been near your desk.” A person who refers to “they” rather than naming specific names is more likely to conceal what actually occurred.

Negative people use negative words, right? Words like “but,” “no,” “none,” and “never.” Actually people who are more honest use these words much more frequently. People who are unwilling to answer a questions directly with a negation might be attempting to deceive you. Ask an experience equivocator and book thief about stealing your book and the initial response may be “There was a book on your desk?’’ or “What would I do with your book?”[3]

So what do you do if you suspect that someone is lying to you? Looking directly in their eyes really won’t help. You have to make them work harder to keep up the lie. Continue to ask for more specific information on events, or question the person on events out of order. The person who created the fiction must now keep up with the details. However, you, too, have to keep up with the details to identify the contradictions. Remember that exhibition of nervousness under this kind of interrogation is not an admission of lying. You must not be fooled by the calmness of someone who excels at lying.

[1] Cell Press. “Auditory illusion: How our brains can fill in the gaps to create continuous sound.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 November 2009. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091125134655.htm
[2] Robert Trivers. The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life, 7 January, 2014) http://time.com/77940/detect-lying/
[3] Gareth Cook. The Secret Language Code: Psychologist James Pennebaker reveals the hidden meaning of pronouns, August 16, 2011http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-secret-language-code/


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