Age, ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic, political, social and lifestyle diversity is a reality in today’s workplace. In this episode of the Serious Soft Skills Podcast, we will discuss what being culturally aware means and how to avoid being culturally unaware.

Among the topics Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss in this episode:

  • Dealing with diversity in the workplace and how it affects performance, innovation and meeting customers’ needs
  • The example in computers and how they look differently for a 60 year old vs. a 20 year old
  • Why we need to try to see the world more broadly than only through our own eyes
  • How opportunities are lost when we go blindly or avoid situations
  • Awareness of where diversity issues arises is the first step
  • When we put people in a place of being an outsider and how it hurts us
  • Something as simple as food can raise issues or diffuse them
  • How Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence set the stage, but does not full cover cultural awareness
  • Individual and organizational responsibility for recognizing and leveraging people’s differences
  • How mentoring and one-on-one interactions, and even our peers, can help us become more adept
  • Finding similarities can overcome great challenges

Hints for Being More Culturally Aware

  1. Avoid doing anything that could marginalizing one or more individuals.
  2. Ensure your organization is setting a tone for inclusion
  3. Engage in self-reflection to become better (see Episode 14)

Next week

Serious Soft Skills will celebrate its first anniversary with a look at the last year, what’s coming up for us  in the new year and a celebration.

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss the soft skills necessary to foster good one-on-one communications.

Bob Graham ‘0:00’: Coming we’re going to talk about the specific soft skills that can make or break your discussion with another person. That and more in just a few seconds.

The Opening

Graham ‘0:17’: Welcome to Episode 6 of Serious Soft Skills. I am Bob Graham and with me is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. We each teach college, we collaborate on researching soft skills and we have both used and seen others use soft skills in a variety of jobs over our careers. We think that experience and expertise give us a unique lens to look at soft skills through. And that’s what we are about to do.

Podcast Housekeeping

Graham ‘0:48’: But first, Toby, I need to do some housekeeping. I was doing some driving earlier today and I happened to listen to our Episode 5 in the car. I know. It sounds very self-absorbed or something. I just wanted to see how it sounded in a car because I hadn’t done that. It’s now available as a podcast on iTunes so I was able to download it, which was cool. I was fascinated when I realized that I could play my voice at 1.5 or 2 times the speed or at half speed. I won’t tell you that I almost crashed my car while I was doing it. But I almost crashed my car doing it. I wanted to share that with our listeners. You can actually accelerate our voices and get through our 18-20 minute podcasts in as few as 10-12 minutes. 

Where You Can Find Us

Graham ‘1:50’: One last thing, Toby: You can also see our episodes, literally see them. We have videos of each of these podcasts on our website, SeriousSoftSkills.com. You can also see our show notes for each show there. We have elaborate show notes for each show. I am literally writing out a lot of what we do in each show. It’s taking a bit of time, but they are really great show notes. I find when I am putting them together, I get some new insights from what we say. Those show notes are for each episode and they are on the Blog/Podcast tab on SeriousSoftSkills.com. We also write some blog posts there, as well, on other topics related to soft skills.

Framing Our Discussion

Graham ‘2:34’: Let’s get on with the show. Toby, why don’t you start things off and frame where we are here in the whole world of soft skills because we are working through them over a series of episodes, starting with Episode 5.

Dr. Tobin Porterfield ‘2:45’: We last time laid out the Individual soft skills, those skills that are really critical for a person to engage successfully in their work environment. Things like taking responsibility, being responsive, being a learner. There was a long list, almost 20, and we have that list available on our website. But those type of skills that are really about the individual. Today, we wanted to stretch that out further and look at how people engage one-on-one with others in the work situation. So we have that next layer and we have used the term Nexus to describe this. I am going to throw it back to you to explain the term Nexus, which they might not have heard before.

What Are Nexus Soft Skills?

Graham ‘3:27’: Nexus, if you know anything about the word Nexus, is a word I had not used a lot. But I had seen it. It’s actually a connection between people or things. In our use of it, it fits perfectly with this one-on-one communication because we are really talking about that connection between one person and another person. Just as you said before, but I want to underscore it, we are not saying that all soft skills are related to one-on-one communications. We are breaking the soft skills into four different categories to make it easier to understand and appreciate and develop them. Last week, we talked about Individual soft skills that we really position as the soft skills that you use internally, that you come to the table with, like loyalty, being proactive, time management. These are things that you do on your own. They are foundational. We build on those. The second group that we have are the one-on-one soft skills or Nexus, as we call them, which are really showing up when you are dealing with one other person. Before this show, Toby and I had about a 10-minute exchange, where we talked about what we are going to do with this show and made some jokes about guitars. We had to come to an understanding about what we were going to talk about. We each gave our ideas. We had to listen to each other and all those other things that Individual soft skills describe. But then we had to go to the next level. Does that get us where we need to be to start, Toby?

Porterfield ‘5:12’: It does. The Nexus soft skills are a shorter list. Let’s go through those and really identify specifically those skills that we are going to talk about. When we look at those Nexus soft skills, certainly, it’s that interaction with another person and it starts with communication. So we have those skills related to oral communication, written communication and I add onto that, not that it’s separate, storytelling. It’s so important today. Not just the bit of information, the sound bite, but the context of it, sharing it in such a way that it’s compelling information for that other person. That term storytelling is really becoming popular. A couple of others we use when we interact with another person — patience, empathy, respect for the other person and customer focus, depending on the type of relationship we have with the other person. And then we have that one that so many people talk to us about — emotional or social intelligence. That’s one that’s gotten a lot of attention over the years. It’s not all encompassing, but it’s certainly part of that soft skill portfolio. It’s so crucial to those one-on-one or Nexus interactions.

Storytelling Is More than the Story

Graham ‘6:28’: You talked about storytelling and I was focusing on that one because I like how it involves my world and I do some marketing work that’s all about storytelling. That one jumped out at me in the sense that we have to be able to communicate in ways the other person responds to, that grab them emotionally. The worlds that come to me is creating emotion about whatever we are talking about. If we are just giving you this list today, you probably don’t care. But if we can tie a story to it, if we can give some sort of something that makes you catch it more deeply than just a list of skills, if we can help you see where it fits in, then you are likely to hold onto it longer. We see that in this podcast, on TV and in movies. It’s that emotional connection. That also sets us up for how we have to deal with other people. To create an emotional connection with someone else, we have to use those Nexus soft skills to understand that other person.

At its core, Nexus soft skills are really about understanding that other person.

Graham ‘7:51’: When we talk about patience and some of the other Nexus soft skills, it’s really that one-on-one.

Porterfield ‘7:57’: Let’s tie them all together. Nexus soft skills are much more integrated than the Individual soft skills we talked about in Episode 5. When we are talking about storytelling, that is knowing your audience. That’s empathy and patience. Let’s talk for a moment about emotional intelligence. They have heard the term; they have seen Goleman’s book out there or several books out there. It was such a revelation that we need to be aware and sensitized to not only our own emotions, but the emotional context of the person we’re dealing with. That all comes into that storytelling. If you are going to draw someone into the conversation, you need to understand where they are. You really need to bring them to where you need them to be.

An Example of Learning Emotional Intelligence

Graham ‘8:42’: Let me tell you a story about emotional intelligence. I debate whether I should tell this story. There are at least three women that I worked with about 10 or 15 years ago who, if they hear this, will be quite fascinated. It was one of my first management jobs. I went to this job and I had a really difficult time connecting with them in positive ways. I was supposed to lead them and we were supposed to be achieving tasks. My employer was nice enough to get me a coach to help me with my communication skills. This coach said to me at the first meeting, “Bob, you’re talking in Bob Speak. That doesn’t work for these women.” It was a revelation to me. No way, I am using the words. I am using perfectly good language. But she showed me at various meetings how what I said wasn’t what they heard. She tell me to describe a situation with these employees, where I was communicating, the words I said. She’d then ask me to tell her all the ways it could be interpreted. I thought there was one way to take it. Sometimes I could find 5 or 10 different ways to interpret what I said. She’s say, “That’s the problem. You think you are saying it in your words and they are hearing it in their ways. And there is no connection.” I really took that to heart and as I have matured, I’ve started to realize that Bob Speak doesn’t work really well. In fact, it doesn’t really exist in the realm of success because if I talk in Bob Speak and you don’t understand what I am saying, we have no success. We have no communication. That nexus, that connection is null and void. That’s what I learned from working with these three women. I blamed them. Then I realized it was on me as the manager, it was my job to figure out the words I needed to use to help them understand.

Validating Soft Skills Value

Porterfield ’10:47′: That’s right on target. The value of those inner connections, that personal emotional, that social intelligence, is really valued and we saw it today in the Wall Street Journal in an article on the Stern School of Business, up at New York University. They have enhanced their Master’s of Business Administration degree application process, where they are actually requiring people to go beyond just providing those references where we have our boss fill it out or have someone who supervised us over time. They are asking specifically for a recommendation of someone that you have had a high level of one-on-one engagement with who can speak to your ability to use emotional intelligence in your interactions.

That’s a huge message out to us that if a school of that caliber is started to put soft skills like that into their selection process, it’s something that we all need to be more aware of.

Graham ’11:52′: This news gives validation to the whole idea of where soft skills fit into things because when you start talking about an MBA program looking at soft skills, that’s really something. I know you actually looked at the NYU application for that MBA program. Can you tell us more about that?

Porterfield ’12:10′: I was amazed at the way they had focused it in and sharing our perspective. I will quote from it. “We seek exceptional individuals who possess both intellectual and interpersonal strengths.” That’s what we have been saying pretty strongly.

It’s that combination of technical skills and the soft skills in an individual that are really going to be necessary for success in today’s business world.

Porterfield ’12:30′: When you see a program like that seeking these soft skills from applicants, you are really saying something loud.

Graham ’12:38′: MBA programs are very selected as you and I both know. They are looking for a way to further narrow their pool and they are using these interpersonal aspects as a way to find the perfect person who has more than just technical skills, the aptitude to the work stuff. They want someone who can do the work stuff, but also contribute in their classrooms and also take the things they learn in the MBA program, the tactical stuff, and marry it to the soft skills they develop there.

Helping Non-MBA Candidates

Porterfield ’13:20′: For our listeners, you’re not necessarily applying to the MBA program at NYU. But if you went to someone and said, “Can you give me a recommendation on how well I exhibit those soft skills our interactions?” — would they say you are a really good listener, you really understand where I am coming from, you are able to articulate information and tell stories. Would someone in your circle give you that kind of recommendation. Or would they zero right in on facts and figures, what jobs you had? You want them to talk about how you interacted in that position. 

Graham ’14:09′: That’s a great takeaway. Maybe having someone that you respect and trust giving you that inventory of those Nexus soft skills, those interpersonal skills, could really help you understand how you are perceived. Like Bob Speak, I really believed in my heart I was saying all the right things. So we all have our Name and Speak tied to it. Finding out what we do well and what other people see we do well, and sometimes it doesn’t match up, is a place where we can start to build. 

Nexus Soft Skills Again

Graham ’14:45′: Toby, can you run through that list one more time. It would be helpful to look at it one more time so we can have it fresh in our mind as we go on with our day.

Porterfield ’14:56′: One thing to keep in mind if you can’t remember them all is that they are the things that enable that good communication. We are talking about:

  • written communication skills
  • oral communication that brings us to storytelling
  • patience
  • empathy, taking on that understanding of where they are, their history, their perspective and incorporating that into how you approach them
  • respect for others
  • customer focus
  • emotional and social intelligence

Graham ’15:37′: That’s quite a list. The other thing that comes to mind is that it’s a continuum. We can always improve on these things and get better over time using self-reflection, mentoring and just being aware, which is really the first step.

Next Week’s Show

Graham ’16:01′: I am just going to do a little preview of next week’s show. Next week we’re going to dig into the third category of soft skills, one we call Group soft skills, and how they help us become more effective at work. We hope you will join us next time. Until then, thanks for listening, good day, and good soft skills.

 

 

 

 

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explain what soft skills are, using powerful examples from business.  Bob Graham ‘0:22’: We’re going to explain what soft skills are in general, and explain them in a way that gives people a better understanding. Let’s start with the big question first. Why soft skills now? Dr. Tobin Porterfield ‘0:58’: We know from our research that soft skills go back almost 50 years. So they are not new. But what is new is, we are in a hyper-competitive market now, where technology and globalization have saturated how we do business. The speed of change if you are working at Apple, SAP or a company like that, is greater. The hyper-competitive world is hitting all of us, from a small business up to a global corporations.   The environment we work in is different. Then, within our organizations we are facing a multi-generational workforce; the people we work with and the way we work are different. Where Soft Skill Are Affecting Small Business Graham ‘2:03’: Give me an example or situation where soft skills are playing a role with a small business? Porterfield ‘2:09’: We know even the term small business can a landmine, because we can be talking about a hardware store or some other business with 3-5 employees up to a small company with 100 or 150 employees. But those soft skills still come into play. We’re in an environment where we have to be able communicate with our customer, we have to be able to listen, we have to be able to respond to changes in the marketplace. Graham ‘2:47’: That makes sense. I have certainly seen that in my own small business. Things change, customers change. You have ownership changes; you have management changes, or even you have companies that change their focus like overnight. One day they are doing A and the next day they are doing B. It’s the soft skills that really allow us to adapt to those things. Porterfield ‘6:04’: I think you make a great point. We are involved in a virtual world. What Soft Skills Really Are Porterfield ‘3:23’: We are throwing around the term “soft skills” and most people are familiar with it it.   Our argument is that soft skills are what make us responsive and allow our organizations to not be complacent in the face of all of these changes going on in our hyper-competitive business world. Is Soft Skills The Right Phrase? Porterfield ‘3:43’: Soft skills can be a challenging term. We have had people respond to us, Don’t even use that term. Don’t even call them soft skills because it makes them seem second class. IT makes them sound unimportant. Use critical skills, communication skills, managerial skills, and I know there are a lot of other terms out there.   Graham ‘4:14’: Non-technical skills is a term we see a lot in literature. Contrasting Soft Skills with Technical Skills Porterfield ‘4:19’: These soft skills are not your technical skills. For a marketing person, those technical skills might be understanding the message and how to take that message out to the market, how to develop that message. Graham ‘4:40’: The tools that you would use, whether you would send out a press release and other types of specific things that you can put your finger on. Porterfield ‘4:50’: If you were an architect or an engineer, those hard skills or technical skills become more obvious because I need to understand tension strengths and all kinds of other technical details of my work. So then, you might say the soft skills are everything else.   But I like to use a working definition that soft skills are the portfolio of skills that allow us to work or operate within the context of an organization.   The soft skills are the glue that allows us to move those technical skills into the marketplace. Graham ‘5:31’: Soft skills allow us also to work with other organizations. I might go to professional seminars or events, get involved in networking, or interact with others who do what I do. I start talking to people and we might develop partnerships or we might do other things together.

So soft skills are not just confined to my company; soft skills can be used with the world at-large.  

Porterfield ‘6:04’: I think you make a great point. I use that term organizations, but we are in a virtual world these days where our organization is not bound to the four walls we sit within. It’s our customers, our suppliers, that whole microcosm that we operate in, everyone we interact with, and soft skills are what make it possible for us to work within that context. Finding 50 Different Soft Skills Graham ‘6:20’:  Can you name more of the soft skills so we can start putting our finger on them? Porterfield ‘6:39’: When we started on his project a couple years ago, we found that soft skills are a lot of different things. When we dug through research on soft skills, we found over 50 different specific items that are defined as soft skills. That runs the gamut, everything from what I would call a personal or very close soft skills like loyalty, perseverance and listening skills, things that are really unique and individual to the person. Then we can go out from there to talk about soft skills that help us interact with other people like conflict management, written and oral communication, and at the higher level, things like change management, leadership and project management, teamwork, to work with ambiguity. That list we have is pretty extensive, and that takes something like soft skills, where most people are familiar with the term, and it starts to really granulate it. What are those soft skills? Have I developed those soft skills? Do I need those soft skills in a particular situation? That’s what’s really important.

We have to ask ourselves, what are those soft skills, which ones do I have and which ones do I need to be successful?   

Graham ‘8:10’: You are very kind to say that we did that research when you did most of it. But I remember when we had breakfast and you brought that list to me and it was over 50. I was prepared for 15 or 20 soft skills, and it was over 50. And we immediately started talking about how it was overwhelming to be dealing with 50 soft skills. The thing we are trying to do and our research is really showing this is that we are trying to define those soft skills in groupings that will lead us to better clarity and better opportunities to employ them. Porterfield ‘8:57’: We don’t want that large array of soft skills to make people feel overwhelmed and say I am just not going to deal with it. That’s not the case. We have to deal with them, to identify them and really to develop them, and when necessary, to hire to fill those gaps in our organization. But we need to dig in and deal with soft skills. Graham ‘9:36’: That’s a lot of why we are doing this podcast. We want people to be able to learn with us and share with us as we work through soft skills and what they mean to career development and our organizations. I look forward to a community of discovery that allows us all to get better at using soft skills because it’s really important. We keep saying it, because it’s true.

Soft skills are the key to the future of organizations.  

Graham ’10:10′: Let’s talk about what technical skills are so we can make that strong contrast with soft skills. Porterfield ’10:15′: The place to start is nearly 50 years ago when Fry and Whitmore confirmed that we use soft skills. Fry and Whitmore did an ingenious thing. They looked at the operations of a soldier and said hard skills are those skills that relate to working with machines — the technical aspects of working with artillery, weapons and the like. They are skills that members of the military must have in order to do what they do. They very clearly said those are those technical skills.  And then for us, they coined that term “soft skills.” They said everything else — how we manage people, how we have loyalty, how we work together as a team — those are soft skills. They kind of teed it up for us. Graham ’11:38′: We should mention that they used the phrase “hard skills” for what people do while working with machines. What gets lost often is that there is a clear difference between what we call technical skills and soft skills. Technical skills versus soft skills seems disingenuous and puts soft skills in the subservient role, when they thought of it more as hard skills and soft skills, with hard skills being the things you do with a machine, which is kind of technical, especially when you think of the military, that really tactical stuff, and soft skills being the people stuff. I was floored when we found this, because those guys were way ahead of their time. Here we are 50 years later and everything is technology, everything this computer-driven, and we have gotten so many routine tasks being done by computers and software, and for them to see 50 years ago that we were going to be in this place where I would have a computer in my pocket that I could communicate with is just staggering to me. And it speaks to how long it has taken for us to sort of accept as a society the role of soft skills. It has been almost 50 years and that’s a long time, and that’s a long time when you think about it, for something to evolve. But it’s not like these guys thought about it and no one else did for the last 50 years. Porterfield ’13:25′: You make a good point that we suddenly didn’t jump 50 years to where we are right now with soft skills and suddenly we have this big lens to look at them with. There were a lot of other key steps and the next big one was in the 1988 when Porter and McCubbin, other researchers, were looking at education and all these technical skills. But in order for graduates to succeed today, they need soft skills. They caused us to rethink how we do MBA education, in particular, and curriculum was put together. They were a big wake-up call to the academic world. The next big point was the discussion of emotional intelligence in the late 1990s. Books came out at a time when people were ready to understand what’s going on with competitiveness, why aren’t our businesses as successful as we want them to be. Daniel Goleman came out with a series of books that everyone read. The message he was giving was we need to understand our emotions, our drivers. We also need to be aware of and sensitive to those same aspects of the people we work with. Goleman really opened our eyes to these soft areas of not just what’s your latest innovation, what’s your latest product you are going to launch, but how do I integrate with these people to successfully launch a product. So emotional intelligence is part of the overall portfolio of soft skills. Goleman really woke us all up to its importance and got it into the discussion. What’s Going On With Soft Skills Now? Graham ’15:34′: Has there been anything going on with soft skills since that time, which was the late 1990s? That’s like a 20-year gap. Did we go to sleep and wake up like a cicada to the importance of soft skills today? Porterfield ’15:44′: That’s what we found we had to dig through all of these studies, and there were lots of studies done in the last 20 years on soft skills — surveys, research and case studies that started to unwrap soft skills. But what we found was that people were pecking away at it. They were saying these non-technical things are out there, but what are they and how do we use them. We have seen some research into child psychology that really looks at how a child develops those abilities to interact with others, to persevere, to make ethical decisions carries all the way through to our adulthood and our work. But the research is a little compartmentalized. Our effort is to bring all of those together so we can look at this greater body of soft skills research and information. There have literally been hundreds of studies since the 1980s and 1990s that have gotten at pieces of this, but it’s time to pull it all together. Graham ’17:03′: That gives us a great point to stop this episode and tell people in the coming weeks, we will be looking at In the coming weeks, we will delve deeper into what soft skills, how they empower workers and organizations, with some concrete examples of where they are and are not working. Next week, we will look at who needs to employ soft skills. Is it just for managers and leaders, or can every worker in every organization benefit from employing them? All that and more in Episode 2 next week. We hope you will join us. Until then, thanks for listening, good day and good soft skills.