What you would define yourself as- hard, soft, both or a mix depending on the situation? What types of communication skills are required of a person in their home culture, gender context, working environments, and crisis situations, within family or friend circles – Hard or Soft?
When it comes to communicating in the business world, it is often said that hard skills are required. Hard skills usually require a high IQ – Intelligence Quotient that uses the brain’s logical center- the left hemisphere. Hard communication skills are often affiliated with images of being strong, direct, and straightforward. Often one hears in management that “Hard decisions require tough skills” or that we have to make decisions according to “Mind over Matter” or “The Right way is the Rational Way.”
Can we also communicate better through utilizing “soft” skills? To be good at soft skills usually takes Emotional Intelligence or Emotional Quotient. This is also known as the brain’s emotional center- the right hemisphere. Again what image do we get when thinking about soft? Some would define soft as: weak, not strong enough, an inability to make decisions, giving in, or too emotional. Are using soft skills implying that “One Wears Their Heart on a Sleeve” or it means losing or giving up power hence the “Nice Guys Finish Last.”
What way is this the best way of communicating and making decisions? Think about it- how often do we expect hard and soft qualities in our superiors, teachers, parents, family, leaders and politicians alike. When they display only one skill and possibly not the other- than this too is critiqued. Are there really certain situations where soft and/or hard skills are appropriate or not appropriate?
Well, this philosophical debate can go on and on. There is exciting research ongoing on trying to understand how to better utilize our brain hemisphere tapping into our hard and soft sides. There are also many studies on effective management - when to be the soft of hard leader. Then there non-stop religious interpretations defining the nature of mankind and political strife that preach when to be hard or to be soft and to whom to be hard or soft.
Despite all this- it is easy to understand that hard is naturally the opposite of soft. We are all emotional and rational beings that have to somehow cope in this diverse world full of complexities using both hard and soft skills. So my advice is simple: lets not dwell on one or the other!
We are shaped by many universal factors- our upbringing, age, life experiences, history, religion cultural affiliations and norms, professional training, career or institutional environment. Maybe it is important to understand these factors as a first step when dealing with another. As a second step, try to understand that our own personal egos have been shaped by these factors. Often it is our egos that guide the way we communicate. As a third step, figure out if our egos are really in control and doing the talking and correct this! Finally, to make real connections and communicating effectively require your “true inner self- the voice from within.”
Challenge yourself now and let us know your thoughts! Observe your current communication skills on all front-professionally and personally, take an inventory and try to examine where you can improve, and then consciously make real and effective connections that use hard and soft communication skills that bring results!
Stay tuned for more of Eileen’s intercultural and communication tips!
By E.P. Bradley