Building Soft Skills

AAEAAQAAAAAAAALYAAAAJDlmMTEyYTdhLTU5ZGYtNDE2Yi05NTk3LTJhNjkwMjc3NzQyNwIn this age of competition, soft skills are necessary for any student to make even a slight impression in the industry. The need becomes even more evident since students come from diverse backgrounds, whether it is geographical area, or schooling. Many students don’t have the opportunity to study in the metros, where presentation skills are paid a lot of attention. So training them in this area becomes necessary to get the students ready for their jobs and the corporate world.

There exist several deficiencies in the manner in which students generally present themselves. Apart from being weak at decision making, they are unable to talk fluently in English. They either use slang, or Twitter language, or there are serious lapses in their language skills. Even the way they talk, they are seriously lacking. They are either too aggressive, or too submissive and diffident. They need to be taught that they need to have an even tone while in discussion with others. They need to develop a habit of making objective points in a persuasive style.

The above can be possible when there is a consistent effort to raise their level of self-esteem and confidence. According to my experience, it is possible to practice communicating in a particular language. At ICFAI Business School we have a language lab which is not mechanized, but works under the guidance and supervision of able instructors. Under the instructor led process, students can practice their skills and polish them with particular and pointed feedback.

While working in a particular language, written skills are equally important. So also with English, especially for management students. I have seen student’s written presentations suffer from the use of inappropriate tones, and sometimes the quality of language is so poor, it is a pitiable situation. There have been innumerable such instances where students have been unable to write a decent letter of application. What these students need is constant practice and individual feedback to help improve the situation.

Another skill that management students need to develop is the skill of working together. Cooperation is very essential when working with a group at work. It is a critical skill to have in the corporate sector, which also invests a great deal in team-building activities. Unfortunately, by the time students enter a B-School, they have been through such competitive rat races that there exists a dog-eat-dog policy among all of them. A reason that adds to this feeling is that there is stiff competition when it comes to placements. These rough edges need to be rounded off, with group and experiential learning. Once students learn how to work in a group, leadership skills will follow.

Pro-active leadership is soon becoming the order of the moment. The days of receiving instructions are over. Decisions have to be taken on the spur of the moment, wherever one is. Skills of self-leadership, self-awareness, acting confidently and making decisions under stressful circumstances and different situations need to be inculcated. These skills should be such that they enable the leader to guide and if necessary, subtly influencing others if need be. These skills in turn would enable students to corroborate and compete with each other.

The above skills will make sense only if they are presented well, not only in terms of language, but also in terms of attire. Students should learn how to be ‘reasonably’ normally dressed. I say this because I have seen students go out to extremes in terms of attire. Sometimes they are so casually dressed, even for an interview that the panel does not take them to be serious about anything. On other occasions, they are overdressed, due to which they are overwhelmed, and are unable articulate due to that discomfort. We at IBS encourage students to learn how to carry themselves and be confident and comfortable with whatever they wear. Along with attire, great attention needs to be paid to basic etiquette, including how to behave in different situations, how to sit, voice modulation and so on.

Simultaneously with the soft skills, creative thinking ability needs to be encouraged among students. Every single person is creative in his or her own way, but our education system, unfortunately, is structured in such a way that the requirements are extremely rigid. It suppresses the abilities of the students. A combination of developmental activities and changes in the teaching-learning process can create the scope of creativity. We have a branding activity that students engage in, where they choose a brand and market it. It keeps them thinking throughout the time they spend at it. They make billboards and other pitches and a jury of selected members judges the activity. Just imagine the thought processes and the effort that goes into such an exercise. This kind of identification stays with the students throughout the year. My suggestion to all faculty members is to create conducive conditions in their classrooms to unleash this creativity.

Creating the opportunities for students to develop these skills is essential, since students need guidance on it. In my experience, I know that change is possible, but the degree of the change depends on the person. However, as educators, we must try.

This article originally appeared in FREE PRESS JOURNAL.

Contributed By : PROF. Y K BHUSHAN

Prof Y K Bhushan is Senior Advisor & Campus Head at ICFAI Business School, Mumbai. He has held several positions of leadership in professional bodies of management education in India and in the South Asian region. He is the Past President of AIMS, AMDISA and ISTD. He is currently a President Emeritus of ISTD. He is a founder member of SAQs and is on the SAQs Awarding Committee.

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