With the shift in the attitude towards emotional and cultural intelligence, revising our views on the so-called soft skills is not an entirely new concept, but there is still much to talk about. The discussion on hard and soft skills usually pops up in the fields of education and career, inevitably touching some cross-cultural topics as well, as in today’s globalised workplace, these topics have become inseparable. But I think we can safely have a look at these soft skills in the context of cross-cultural communication, expat life, and intercultural relations, as each of these is important and relevant enough to stand on its own as a topic for discussion.
Hard vs. Soft Skills
We all know the difference: you know programming, you have a hard skill, you know how to talk to people, you have a soft skill. You know to account, you have a hard skill, you are a good listener, you have a soft skill, etc. Hard skills are the ones you can learn, while soft ones are rather intuitive, but they can be learned to some extent. Soft skills can be strengthened and polished, but they are rarely thought in schools. Of course, this is changing and the problem with this hierarchy has been spotted in the past decades, which is a good tendency. It’s become obvious that soft skills are indispensable for a healthy and happy life. Being a good leader, or knowing how to be a good team player, having a strong work ethic, knowing how to communicate in different situations, and all these skills are just as important as the ones listed on your CV. But add intercultural skills to the equation, and let’s see what it brings us!
Soft Skills Worldwide
What do you do when you suddenly find yourself in a new country, surrounded not simply by strangers but people with an entirely different cultural background? You might have all the necessary hard skills, be the greatest at your job, speak their language, and be very thoroughly prepared, but your contentment will most likely not depend on these. We are social beings, and while it’s true that the extent to which we need human interaction varies and depends on individual needs, we still need human contact to live a healthy life. And that’s where those “soft” skills become really important, and in new, unfamiliar surroundings even more so!
Take communication skills, for example. In my opinion, we spend our entire lives strengthening them, as the more we know about the world and people in general, the better communicators we become. In an international setting, however, it becomes more challenging. You might have spent decades of your life getting to know “your people” and still have challenging situations which make you think “what do I do now?”, “how do I tell them that…” etc., because this is how human interactions work in general. You never finish learning. But in your home country, you still have common ground and your shared culture to back you up. Whereas in a different country you have to strengthen your communication skills by constantly learning about the cultural differences.
What I want to emphasize is that communication skills are really important and fragile at the same time, even when you are home, but they become even more so when you move. And they are most certainly indispensable for social survival. One of the most common expat problems is feeling lonely or feeling an outsider. Both of which can make people really unhappy and sick in the long run, so I would revise this view of communication skills as soft or secondary skills as compared to hard knowledge. I am fully convinced that they are one of the most important skillsets that keep you alive as a human being.
Flexibility And Adaptability
Or think about flexibility and adaptability, being able to fit in. Once again, a soft skill that is responsible for keeping you alive. We know that humans’ ability to adapt to new situations is what kept us alive during history. And it’s just as true on an individual level. Being able to find your way around no matter what life brings you is why you are here – no matter where, on Earth.
But it again becomes harder as you leave your home. Fitting in abroad is tricky, and the more flexible you are, the easier it gets. Yet again, a soft skill that I wouldn’t think of as something secondary after hard knowledge.
What About Work Ethic?
Work ethic is something else you won’t last long without at a job, for example. It’s sort of easy to know what it means in your home country, as you are aware of the core values of your own culture. But this is a perfect example of how values that seem absolute in your home might be completely different someplace else. Attitude towards work is something that really differs across cultures, and you will have to learn and understand how it all works in your host country. You can have all the knowledge and be the best at your job; if your work ethic doesn’t fit, you will have a hard time.
And Of Course Team Work
The same goes for teamwork as well. It depends on the culture how it all works and what makes a good team player. And it is also one of the most important aspects of fitting in at your new workplace. You can’t just go and assume that everything works the same way as it does back home.
Intercultural Skills Are The Core Skills
These are just a few examples. The point is that these so-called soft skills are actually the basis for our living in a civilised society, and they can and should be learned and strengthened no matter where you live. But if there comes the point in your life when you leave your home, they become even more important, and you need even more to back them up by learning. For example, there are countries like Denmark, where empathy is taught in schools as a separate subject, and there is a really good reason for it. And if we think of how high Denmark ranks on the happiness report year by year, it’s easy to see the connection, isn’t it? And as for the global workplace and globalised world in general, I would say that intercultural soft skills are the core skills for living a contented, healthy and successful life.
- In a different country you have to strengthen your communication skills by constantly learning about the cultural differences.
- Fitting in abroad is tricky, and the more flexible you are, the easier it gets.
- You can have all the knowledge and be the best at your job, if your work ethic doesn’t fit, you will have a hard time.
- So-called soft skills are the basis for our living in a civilized society, and if you leave your home, they become even more important.
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