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Demystifying Soft Skills

“Soft skills.” This term burst onto the corporate lingo scene in the late 1990s and has not lost its prominence. Everyone is vaguely aware that soft skills matter. They might not know exactly what the term means, but they know its importance. Students are not immune from the soft skills phenomenon. Their counselors, teachers, parents, and coaches talk about how important soft skills are, but no one ever defines the term. So, that’s what we’re going to do in this post. We’ll also explain how soft skills differ slightly from Executive Function (EF) and how our unique academic coaching program sets students up for long-term success.

What Are Soft Skills?

In today’s interconnected world, technical competencies are vital but not sufficient. The term “soft skills” refers to the personal attributes, interpersonal skills, and qualities that define how we relate to others and manage our own personal development. They’re the nuances that allow one to play well with others, overcome obstacles, and create a harmonious work environment.

While it may be difficult to describe soft skills, almost everyone knows what they look like. Everyone, students included, can point to someone who has excellent soft skills. They can also point to someone who has horrible soft skills. Why? Well, Maya Angelou was right when she said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” In school or work settings, the person with the best soft skills gets remembered.

Soft skills encompass a broad range of capabilities. Adaptability speaks to one’s resilience in the face of change. As industries evolve, those who can pivot and adjust to new scenarios quickly and efficiently often find greater success. Problem-solving, on the other hand, is the ability to analyze a situation, identify its core challenges, and develop strategies to address them. Emotional intelligence, a term also popularized in the 90s, captures one’s aptitude for recognizing, understanding, and managing our own emotions while also being considerate and responsive to the emotions of others. Communication, another vital soft skill, transcends the simple transmission of information. Effective communicators can articulate ideas, provide feedback, and listen actively. In a diverse workplace, the ability to communicate across cultures, generations, and backgrounds is especially valuable. Then there’s teamwork and leadership: the capacities to work collectively towards a shared goal and to inspire, motivate, and guide others.

Executive Function: The Unsung Hero

The relationship between Executive Function (EF) skills and soft skills is intricate and synergistic. EF skills provide the foundational structure, the framework upon which soft skills flourish. Imagine a tree: while the roots give it stability and nourishment, the leaves and branches represent the skills that are visible and often praised. In this analogy, EF is akin to the roots, often unseen but vitally important, while soft skills are the leaves and branches that interact with the world around them.

Executive Function is, as you rightly put it, the command center of the brain. It oversees complex tasks such as organizing thoughts, making decisions, adjusting to changes, and maintaining self-control. These cognitive processes are often taken for granted, yet they are indispensable for success in both personal and professional spheres.

When we think of organization in the professional realm, it’s easy to mistake it for mere tidiness. However, its essence is much deeper. A well-organized professional doesn’t just keep a neat desk but also meticulously plans tasks, sets clear and attainable goals, and optimally allocates available resources. Such proficiency in organization stems from a well-developed Executive Function. It aids professionals in leading with purpose, ensuring that every step taken aligns with the broader objective.

Time management, another crucial component of EF, is pivotal to a successful career. The modern world bombards us with endless tasks and distractions. Being able to discern what’s crucial from what’s merely urgent is a skill rooted in effective EF. Navigating a workday, meeting deadlines, and still finding time for personal pursuits require not just the ability to track time but to use it wisely. It’s here that EF skills intertwine seamlessly with soft skills. An adept professional not only efficiently allocates time but also communicates effectively, delegates appropriately, and ensures that both personal and team objectives are met.

The dynamism of today’s industries necessitates professionals who are agile in their learning. It’s no longer enough to just acquire knowledge; one must also apply it innovatively. This continuous cycle of learning, adapting, and applying is significantly influenced by EF. The cognitive flexibility to unlearn outdated methods and embrace new techniques is a testament to robust EF skills.

Lastly, the importance of perception cannot be overstated. In an era where branding is pivotal, professionals are their own brands. Every interaction, every feedback session, every presentation molds one’s image. While doing commendable work is essential, how one communicates, relates to peers, and positions oneself often determines the trajectory of one’s career. These intricacies of personal branding are deeply influenced by soft skills, which, in turn, are anchored by a solid foundation of Executive Function.

EF skills and soft skills are two sides of the same coin. While EF provides the structure, soft skills offer the finesse, making individuals not just efficient but also effective in their professional endeavors. It’s important to note that while soft skills are universally relevant, their prioritization may vary by industry. Creative fields, for instance, might prioritize open-mindedness, creativity, and collaboration. The ability to brainstorm, give and take constructive criticism, and build on others’ ideas is vital. In contrast, roles centered on data or technical knowledge might stress analytical thinking, precision, and clear communication. However, the underlying thread across all sectors is the significance of Executive Function. It’s the framework that supports and amplifies the application of all soft skills.

Academic Coaching with SAOTG

At Staying Ahead of the Game, we recognize the profound interconnection between academic success and personal development. While hard skills and foundational knowledge are pivotal, the holistic development of an individual equips them for real-world challenges. Our commitment is not just to academic excellence but to nurturing well-rounded individuals ready to make their mark on the world.

Reach out to learn more about our unique academic coaching program. Alternatively, read more about EF skills on our blog or resources page.

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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