In the Soft-Skills Gap, Context is Crucial

One of the most important lessons about working with other people is that the context of interactions influences others’ responses tremendously. The same request is greeted enthusiastically or skeptically depending on who says it, when the request is made, and the outcome of previous interactions. A proposal in a negotiation is treated differently, depending on a company’s recent string of successes and failures as well as their best alternatives to that proposal.

Many of us assume other people will share the same context we do, so we interpret statements, requests, and offers in the spirit in which we think they were intended. But that can mean plenty of guesswork. It’s difficult to recognize when other people’s context differs from your own.

Experts who intensively have studied literature and history have learned how important—and often hard to reconstruct—a role context can play in understanding statements, ideas, and events. In the workplace, this same skill is crucial for people to communicate effectively. That doesn’t just mean using the “right words” to convey your meaning. It’s also about understanding the context in which those words will be interpreted.

In general—and while that’s finally beginning to change—people are hired on the basis of their technical, business, or financial expertise. That’s left organizations with gaps in their knowledge of the ways individuals, groups, and cultures behave and interact. Understanding the consequences—employees, clients, and customers—can help companies continue to close the soft-skills gap, not just by hiring “people” people, but also by rethinking the ways they make some of their biggest decisions from within.

Summing-up: Soft skills are very critical in the workplace today. The human dimension has always been a part of business. Now it’s time to pay it the attention it deserves. To fill the soft skills gap, context is crucial.

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