Developing Soft Skills In Higher Education
The Key to Saving Society From Itself
Most educators are aware of the importance of technical skills in fields like accounting, computer technology, engineering, finance, and the sciences but do not necessarily recognize the importance of “soft skills” to carry out technical skills in a way that communicates personal values and those of an organization. It also provides a basis to analyze and apply ethical decision-making to the task at hand. In other words, in addition to developing technical skills for analysis, effective education also should develop soft skills for execution.
I prefer to think about soft skills as essential skills for communicating information to others and analyzing a variety of situations that might be encountered in life and the workplace. These skills include communication, ethics, and critical thinking, and problem solving. Our current college education often shuns soft skills for technical skills, maybe because so many in society have lost the ability to dialogue with others effectively. This is a problem because the soft skills enable us to work productively and meet our ethical responsibilities in a civilized society. Indeed, the recent rash of violence across America can be attributed to a lack of soft skills.
How can soft schools be taught in colleges and universities? I believe experiential learning is the answer. It focuses on mental processes, including how people view and think about different situations, learn to solve problems, and reflect on the outcome of their decisions. In experiential learning theory, learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. When the experience includes an ethical dilemma, the learning process is enhanced by developing the ethical reasoning skills of students, a critical thinking skill.
Reflection is also important. There is a saying that if you don’t learn from history, you’re bound to repeat your mistakes in the future. Reflecting on the outcome of our decisions and making adjustments in our behavior using the soft skills is the key to a civilized society, something missing today.
The knowledge gained from the learning experience is dependent upon four abilities: the learner must be willing to be actively involved in the experience; the learner must be able to reflect on the experience; the learner must possess and use analytical skills to conceptualize the experience; and the learner must possess decision-making and problem solving skills in order to use the new ideas gained from the experience. Reflection is a key element that emphasizes experiential learning as a tool to help effectively express one’s opinions.
According to an article by Sweha Hazari, soft skills can be developed by:
- Aim to be heard: To communicate effectively, it is essential that you are mindful of the other person’s wishes and sensibilities. You should avoid offensive language or remarks that might hurt the other person. Make sure you have an idea of what the other person wants to talk about before changing the topic of conversation.
- Make eye contact during face-to-face interactions: Direct eye contact provides assurance that you are paying attention to the other person. The recipient will feel more engaged in the conversation.
- Monitor your body language and observe others: Be conscious of your body language when you interact with others. Make sure you send out positive vibes and try not to come across as closed-off, defensive or rude.
You can develop these abilities over time by keenly observing how other individuals interact. You should follow their posture, gestures, tone of voice and eye contact to gather clues about their thought processes.
- Practice public speaking: If you feel uncomfortable with public interactions, try speaking in front of a mirror. With practice, your speech will flow more naturally. Be aware of your pace, tone, and volume.
- Work on your listening skills: You must be a good listener to be a good communicator. Be aware of the urge to interrupt someone when they are talking. Always let the other person finish before putting your point across.
- Improve your written communication: You can take courses or join free workshops to improve your written communication skills. Anything you write should be clear and concise and make the reader understand your point of view.
Colleges and universities need to find ways to integrate soft skills into their curricula. It really shouldn’t be that difficult because every field of study depends on the communication, critical thinking, problem solving, and ethical skills of those in society in general, and the workplace specifically, who seek to gain a better understanding of others’ point of view in order to discuss matters of concern productively, and to change behavior, as necessary.
Our society is falling apart at the seams. The reason is a lack of soft skills education. We need to make it a priority for higher education else risk a further divide that has the potential to destroy the foundation of the common good that America was built on because of our inability to engage in civil discourse.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on February 4, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.