Recent studies, findings and employers have taken note that developed soft skills are lacking in new hires. The tech industry has been quick to jump in with their solution to the problem- just add more technology. But when trying to develop skills that bring about higher levels of emotional intelligence, authentic bonds between people, more coherent communication and other necessary soft skills, can a purely technology based approach really solve these problems? Or, are the range of soft skills best enhanced through a practical and human approach? Can stepping away from technology actually allow us to develop skills which are becoming more in demand by employers, partners, friends and family? I have a daily practice that allows be to do just this, and I have found that it has enhanced my life in ways both big and small.
I power down every day for periods of time. Every day I set aside time and actively put my phone away. I hit the silence button, put my phone in my bag or pocket and step away from it. I silence it while I'm driving. I don't check updates until I've finished my trip. If I am in a cafe or public space waiting for a friend, I put my phone away and take in the space I am inhabiting. I notice the people who share the space with me. If I am home I will often make a cup of tea, sit on my porch and listen to the sounds of my neighborhood. What do I earn for being present each time I do it? Stronger soft skills. Just from powering down and making a conscious effort to observe the space I'm in, three soft skills get an immediate boost.
I became a better listener, by taking in and processing audible information around me. This can be as simple as active listening in a conversation or as complex as hearing changes in the weather before you see it. When I stop and listen to the space around me, I'm able to also notice how I react to certain situations. Taking time to be present and listen, has also made me more focused and engaged when interacting with friends. I listen to what they are experiencing now, verses glazing over conversations and not really connecting authentically. The developed skill of listening has made me a stronger asset at work and has afforded me job growth not given to many in my field.
Powering down my device increases my over all awareness. I've noticed that I'm most relaxed, at home and experience higher levels of gratitude when I'm sitting on my porch listening to the sounds of my neighborhood. I notice that I see more acts of kindness, love and charity when I'm sitting in a park just watching people pass by. I also observe people and behaviors that can also be difficult, but I use them to remind me where humanity still has progress to make. Observing and being present, strengthens my awareness and gives me a deeper sense of connection to world around me. This also benefits my relationships both personal and professional. My strong awareness often allows me to anticipate stress, struggle or strife among colleagues and family. I can often even tell what the source of strain is and work to find solutions. I noticed enhanced awareness benefitted my professional relationships though better communication and connectivity. In short, increased awareness allowed me to be engaged in truly authentic experiences, leading to more productive and positive encounters.
Being present gave me greater patience and more tolerance with delayed gratification. I notice when I'm on a device, down time feels like wasted time. I'm searching "for the next thing," and if it's not an active task or requiring technology (even if this act is more leisure based), it feels less valid. When I make the decision to set time aside to be present, all small things become valid. I'm ok with a slower pace or with waiting for something because I'm actively engaged in just being present.
An amazing side effect of this work is I became more inclined to make eye contact. I noticed people more. I saw and felt a connection just by being engaged in a small act of being present. This simple exchange has probably made the biggest impact on my life and allowed me to feel more connected to my community and more centered in my life. This is an incredible soft skill to strengthen and one that becomes very simple once you become comfortable in the act. It can feel very strange in a dense urban setting where most people are rushing or looking down, but it can really change your perspective about the world once you try it.
There are many articles out right now breaking down the value of soft skills and which are the most valuable ones to possess. The truth is all soft skills are valuable but many are hard to work on if a foundation of being present hasn't been established. There are many solutions coming on the market that are technology based in how they approach soft skill training but the truth is, technology cannot master the authentic energy that comes from being present and engaged in the moment with another human being. Luckily, there are steps that can be taken. Take classes that teach a manual skill. Skills like pottery, wood working, cooking, painting, music... these all require being present to learn the specific skill.
At our company All Hands In, we realized the valuable connection between the tool of puppetry and soft skills development. We created an environment in our workshops where participants must be focused and present, while completing practical tasks with the tool of a puppet. Participants are actively engaged in soft skill strengthening on multiple levels all at once, together as a group. The tool of puppetry and the specific style used allows for a technology free, authentic and sincere way to develop skills that are based on human connectivity.
I noticed puppetry enhanced my soft skill development when I was able to easily stay present in moments with my peers. My puppetry training allowed me to receive information in multiple ways and to delegate that information as well. I began to stand out among colleagues because I wasn't distracted and could problem solve more easily than others who stayed glued to devices. As a result, I was tasked with more leadership roles AND asked to collaborate more with others because I could be flexible about my role within a team. Puppetry helped me grasp many of the more complex skills employers are struggling to find right now. But most importantly, the practical tool of puppetry allowed me to power down, become less dependent on technology and be truly present, which is really when my soft skills began to excel and enhance my life.
I still live with a smart phone. I still have a computer. I keep up with Netflix, Game of thrones and the going on's of loved ones on social media, but it's balanced with sitting in a park and observing my surroundings, or waiting for a Department meeting to begin without being buried in my phone. I'm able to engage with others in real life, where it matters most, in a meaningful and sincere way. But the best effect of strengthened soft skills through being present, is probably the simple fact that my life feels fuller and more purposeful, which is something every human should be allowed to experience.