Magazine article Techniques

Power Skills

Magazine article Techniques

Power Skills

Article excerpt


Every article I read regarding workforce development has the same message: People are hired for their hard skills, but are fired for their soft skills. Yes, we know that. Yet every new article seems to have been written by someone who stumbled on a new finding that results in the same old message.

Frankly, I think a lot of people don't know what "soft skills" are. Perhaps what's contributing to the confusion around the term is the sheer number of ways they're referred to: "employability skills," "success skills," "non-cognitive skills," and, lately, "essential skills." These are vague terms, without clear definitions or meaning.

After doing research and completing my doctoral thesis, I renamed them "power skills" because of the power they hold for all students--the power to communicate with and relate to the world around them. Without a working knowledge of these skills, students are at a disadvantage in the globalized economy. If students do not learn these skills around the dining table, then I propose the educational system needs to incorporate them into the curriculum, which many are doing. This is the only way to create an equitable workforce and, therefore, an equitable life.

The Common Core State Standards have incorporated listening and speaking standards (i.e., power skills) into mainstream education, thereby expanding education's objective to prepare students for both college and career success. These skills can be organized into three broad categories: interpersonal (teamwork), thinking (problem solving) and personal (self-management). In other words, the standards include interpersonal behaviors, language ability and relationship strategies, all of which, when combined, ensure positive and successful human interactions.

I am writing this article to increase the educational community's awareness of power skills; however, before I offer my recommendations for teaching these skills, I want to share some educational, personal and professional aspects of my own story so that you can understand why I am so passionate about this growing field.


I went back to school in my mid-30s to study theater. When we did character research, we were instructed to study people in their ordinary lives, paying close attention to details such as facial expressions, body language, nonverbal communication, gestures and myriad other human behaviors. We were also trained to study verbal sounds that do not use words; in fact, we learned to speak gibberish to each other so that we could communicate in our own made-up language.

For example, the character that comes to mind is Col. Frank Slade, artfully played by Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, who continually exclaims, "Whoo-awww." We never really know what that means, but we can guess that sound was to show excitement; it is part of that character's personality and is significant throughout the movie.

Being trained as an actor showed me the important role power skills play in all sides of life.


My daughter is autistic and by definition has trouble communicating and socially interacting with others. The doctors did not know she was autistic until she turned 14, but as her mother, I instinctively knew something was wrong with her social messaging. When she was in eighth grade, I would turn off the sound of the TV during The Dating Game and ask her to guess which bachelor was being chosen just by watching the facial expressions and body language of the bachelorette. Sometimes she guessed correctly, other times not.

Because of my theater education, I realized where she needed help perceiving and understanding the social cues normal children could read by observing nonverbal gestures, body language and tone of voice. Because her handicap was a mystery to me, I read a lot about soft skills, or what researchers refer to as "social skills. …

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