First, we probably have to define what soft skills are:
Soft skills are non-technical skills that relate to how you work. They include how you interact with colleagues, how you solve problems, and how you manage your work.
As a start, let me give you some examples for soft skills. This is a rather long list, so you might just skim through for the moment.
|Social Soft Skills||Personal soft skills|
|Teamwork skills||Commitment and proactive action|
|Constructive feedback||Determinedness and goal orientation|
|Integration capacity||Willingness to learn|
|Personnel development and mentoring||Analytical thinking|
|Team and employee leadership|
|Methodological Soft Skills||Communicative Soft Skills|
|Motivation and endurance||Rhetorical skill|
|Organizational assets||Active listening|
|Flexibility||Discussion and negotiation|
|Load capacity||Persuasion and enthusiasm|
|Strategic approach||Non-verbal communication|
|Quick understanding||Open-mindedness and curiosity|
|Structured way of working||Networking|
|Punctuality||Willingness to perform|
Strengths aficionados will discover some familiar labels here. Some soft skills seem to map one to one to talent themes. Think Empathy, Analytical Thinking.
This might be the case because the definition of strengths and soft skills is so similar: both tell us how we approach our work, how we do the things we do.
We know from CliftonStrengths that we have different strategies to approach talent themes that are not in our tool belt. We can either compensate or cooperate.
To compensate means to use one or a combination of strengths that we actually have access to and mimic what the other talent theme would do naturally. The outcome might look pretty much the same, but the underlying motivation and tools are different.
We all know that Learner naturally fulfils the soft skill of Willingness to Learn. Think for a moment how Adaptability might do the same, or a combination of Input and Responsibility?
Now go to your own strengths and look for a way you approach Willingness to Learn. Could you find one?
If not, there still is the possibility to outsource this soft skill in your team and cooperate with somebody that has the according strengths set.
By the way, how about doing this exercise for a few if not all of the above soft skills? That would certainly help with your next job interview as you could point out what you bring to the table!
So let’s have a look whether women have a better stab at soft skills than men, as it is often portrayed.
Frankly, I do not think so. Here are a few reasons why.
First, we just saw that soft skills can be approached with different strengths or strengths combinations, such that most people will be naturally able to fulfil some of the soft skills, and somehow work out others, while having to cooperate for some with other people. Just as it is with strengths themselves.
Then, there are so many different soft skills. When people talk about women being better at soft skills than men, they usually only refer to the social soft skills.
Let’s have a look at that.
The distribution of talent themes does not vary much between women and men, but there are some expected differences: Empathy as a strength shows up more in the top 5 of women, and Strategic as well as Competition are more frequent for men. This can be seen in the frequency report provided by Gallup. But most other strengths are pretty much equal or similar in their frequency. Thus, there might be a slight advantage for women in social soft skills, while men might have an edge in some personal and methodological soft skills.
So let’s get to other personality tests to find out whether the same holds true there:
From studies using the Big 5 we learn that women are more people-oriented, while men lean towards things more. But this is only true in the order of one deviation of the normal distribution. What does this mean?
An average woman and man will not differ much, but at the extremes, we will find much more women and men respectively, saying that out of a hundred people, the 3-5 most people caring will be women, the 3-5 most things oriented will all be men, usually.
This does undergird our hypothesis, but also shows that the differences are smaller than we assume.
It does lead to a paradox phenomenon though. It has been found that in countries with great gender equality, women tend to flock in traditional female jobs, while men tend to go into the traditionally male professions.
Studies have been done that determined the grade of gender equality for many countries, ordered them accordingly, and looked at the percentages of women in jobs that are people-oriented like nursing or choosing STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) as field of study as opposed to the humanities or languages.
What they found baffled them, but there is an explanation for it:
- In countries with little gender equality, women were found in people-oriented jobs almost exclusively because those are available to them.
- In countries with emerging gender equality, women are going more into jobs and studies that are things-oriented, as they are finally allowed to, but somehow also expected to do so to conquer traditionally patriarchal ground.
- In countries with high gender equality like the Scandinavian countries, Denmark and the Netherlands, women are back in people-oriented jobs and studies. They now have gained the freedom to choose what they truly are drawn to.
These studies again undergird that there are certain leanings in soft skills, motivations, and desires between different gender. But again, that only spans certain types of soft skills.
How about the connection to Spiral Dynamics?
Spiral Dynamics is a model to show the evolution of the human mind. Humans are the only creature with a prolonged infancy. Horses walk 20 minutes after birth, and chimps grab on to their mothers within minutes too. We humans need several months to learn to do the same. It is as if we prolonged the fetal state external to the womb, and that makes sense as the growth of our head and the narrowing of our hips due to upright walk do not allow for full maturation in the womb.
But the growth of our head has given us other capabilities. Since homo sapiens, our hardware, our bodies have not adapted much, but we have grown in our ability to abstract. Abstraction has helped us to develop tools and even refine them as well as apply them to problems we have not encountered before. This made it possible for us to thrive in climates that we were not naturally adapted for using a thing like clothing, just to give you an example.
This ability to abstract is akin to adaptability in Darwin’s evolution. Adaptability is linked to the slow adaption of body features, of hardware over generations, while abstraction can be likened to the adaption of the mind or software.
Spiral Dynamics describes the major steps that humanity undertook in their adaptation of the mind. These steps are defined by the challenges the environment posed to us at a certain age and the values and tools we used to solve them.
I used the word age on purpose, because it can be shown that humanity, societies, and the individual grow through the same stages in their respective lifetime. Individuals usually do not outgrow the society they live in, because usually, societies are well adapted to the challenges they face. But there are times when those challenges change and we need to adapt again.
We call these stages value memes. Memes because we learn mimetically, that is by copying and imitating, from those around us, and like a meme in the internet, values will thus proliferate through a society by imitation and copying.
Several such memes can be present in a society due to three facts:
- some members of society might still be on their way to reach the value meme their society has its center of gravity in,
- some might have decided long ago that they refuse to change their worldview and thus have constructed a sub culture,
- and we all include previous value memes into our worldview, to the degree that we might live from different value memes in different areas of our lives like family, work, politics, and religion.
Therefore, it makes sense that we have different business models within the same society. Let’s name a few:
- Family businesses group around a patriarch that sees all employees as family members. There is a hierarchy of age and wisdom. This corresponds to the purple value meme.
- Start-ups depend on a hierarchical system of power usually, with the founder being the person the buck stops with. This corresponds to the red value meme in Spiral Dynamics.
- Institutions have strong bureaucracy and processes and usually work with a hierarchy by appointment, similar to the feudal system of the middle ages or the anointed by God in religions. Blue.
- Most businesses today will have an orange model with a hierarchy of merit and a strong emphasis on personal success and hard skills (some soft skills start to emerge into importance).
- Some businesses will have grown into green, with team management, bosses becoming coaches, an emphasis on consensus, sustainability, and soft skills. There will be self-management emerging.
- Even fewer will reach yellow and integrate all of the above into a toolset that allows them to show up accordingly depending on who they are dealing with plus find solutions that apply tools from different value memes at the same time in a both-and manner. They will strongly emphasis self-management and therefore have great need for the full set of soft skills.
For further information, you might want to read the book “The Turquoise Brick Road” by Rhys Photis.
We can see that the importance of soft skills will grow, as much as the importance of our knowledge of our strengths. Both are tools in our adaptation to more complex systems and the evolution of our mind.
To bind all this together:
Soft skills will gain importance. We all have more natural mastery of some soft skills, depending on our strengths, can compensate for some, and need others to complement us in some areas. It is in the mix of the team that we will have all we need. Women have a slight tendency towards some soft skills, namely those that are people oriented, while men tend to be more oriented towards things. This difference is not very big, but will paradoxically show up more in societies with great gender equality, as women are more allowed to be truly themselves without societal pressure applied. In modern societies (orange), hard skills and certain classes of soft skills are emphasized, while in post-modern (green) societies, other classes of soft skills, namely social soft skills, come into focus.
How now do we grow into all this?
As I said, we learn mimetically, by imitation. So let us look for examples and role models we can imitate. We also learn when there are new challenges in our environment that pressure us to adapt. We need to look out for new classes of problems and throw our ingenuity at them. And we learn dialectically, if there are multiple hypothesis or worldviews, by coming into the realization that we need both-and solutions, not either-or, maybe not even compromise. With culture war 2.0 going on between blue, orange, and green in the West, we are in the best place for this to happen. Leave your filter bubble and allow for inspiration by the other.
All this to say that we as humanity are on track into something great. If we allow for it.
Would you like to dive in even deeper? Don’t hesitate to contact me.