Recent News

March 05, 2014 - Patty Nagelkirk, Community Impact Manager

Play to your strengths – Soft skills opens doors

Have you ever heard someone say, "Play to your strengths?"

When you hear this, I bet you think about strengths in a broader context than "hard skills" – things like reading, doing math, playing a musical instrument, and using technology.

But if I asked you about your own strengths, you’d probably include skills and traits that are considered "soft." I’m talking about things like the ability to "work a room;" to make hard choices in the midst of a complicated and continuously shifting environment; to build relationships and keep them; to provide comfort with a quiet, empathic presence in the face of someone else’s pain; to build a project team with diverse opinions and somehow move all of them to consensus and compromise; to set goals, execute and adapt as needed; to pick up the pieces after a terribly hard fall; to stand your ground instead of going along with the crowd; to view a problem from multiple perspectives before taking a course of action; to be kind even when someone else is behaving badly.

Right? Aren’t things like this some of our best and most brilliant strengths?

If you’re like me, you probably thought some of those things just came about naturally. They were part of your personality, possibly shaped by experience, but mostly part of your innate gifts. And you might have even dismissed a few of them. Being kind? Yeah, that’s a nice thing, but it doesn’t help me in business … does it?

Get this –all those soft, less emphasized, under-appreciated skills could actually be our best competitive advantage, and not just as individuals – as a region! Those very skills that seem so soft are actually critical to academic success, life success and job success. Here are just a few key points resonating here at United Way of Greater Cincinnati:

Kids who are socially and emotionally competent (meaning, they have some important soft skills) are better able to take advantage of classroom learning opportunities and experiences.

In fact, students who have experienced high-quality social and emotional learning programs actually have improved academic performance. A landmark review found students who receive certain types of social-emotional instruction improved an average of 11 percentile points on standardized achievement tests compared to students who didn’t receive such instruction.

The Gallup Student Poll is tracking the hope, engagement and well-being of students across the United States. 

Gallup picked these because they can be reliably measured, they have a meaningful relationship or impact on education outcomes, and they aren’t associated with a student’s free and reduced lunch status. Hope in high school students drives attendance, credits earned and GPA. Hope predicts GPA and retention in college, and hope scores are more robust predictors of college success than high school GPA, SAT and ACT scores. Who would’ve thought!

Employers have long-known the importance of traits related to soft skills. In fact, they’re hiring for it. 

To move up in this world, you have to be able to work with others, to communicate clearly in writing and speech, to manage your emotions in the face of adversity, and to make good decisions and solve problems in a murky world. In a new study in partnership with American Express, Bloomberg Businessweek found over 60 percent of managers agree that soft skills are the most important when evaluating an employee’s performance.

As we work to reach the Bold Goals for Our Region, we know we’ll pay attention to more than academics. In addition to strengthening families and communities, we will be building the soft skills in our children and youth. We will keep thinking and working … and hope you do, too.


Patty Nagelkirk,
Community Impact Director
United Way of Greater Cincinnati