Soft Skills for Generation Awkward (You Know Who You Are)

Soft Skills for Generation Awkward (You Know Who You Are)

By Daniel Seifert
Why are Millennials falling behind in soft skills, and what can they do about it?
In a world where chatting online rather than IRL (In Real Life) is the preferred mode of interaction, it’s no wonder that many have dubbed Millennials as Generation Awkward. Companies are complaining that Generation Y lacks soft skills, a term that encompasses everything from communication to compassion, teamwork and lateral thinking.

In qualification-obsessed India, where IQ (intelligence quotient) is often more lauded than EQ (emotional intelligence), the problem is even worse. Research by the global management consultancy Hay Group found that Indian graduates don’t rate people skills very high, with 57 percent “not seeing the value of ‘pandering to the feelings of others’”.

Meanwhile in our global survey, nearly one in five Indians said success is a key factor to living a fulfilled life — and being a people person is an invaluable skill. In fact, when the Stanford Research Institute surveyed Fortune 500 CEOs, they found 75 percent of long term job success depended on people skills, and only 25 percent on technical skills.

So what is it that’s making Millennials more awkward, and how can we fight against it by improving soft skills?


We’re called the selfie generation for a reason. When we shoot ourselves with a camera, we shoot ourselves in the foot — self-portraits mean we look inwards and become ever more self-obsessed.

The solution to being less egotistical and more empathetic? Drop the duckface. Try putting a ban on selfies and shoot outwards: photograph other people and you will become more curious about the world. You could even make it a work project that showcases your company on social media. Why do you think the Humans of New York Facebook page boasts over 17 million likes? Because the photographer tells other people’s stories, not his own.


Entertainment is a drug, and a fiendishly addictive one at that, as any Game of Thrones fan will tell you. Unfortunately, binge-watching Netflix while ordering food delivery on an app and snapchatting a buddy means that our tolerance for downtime is ludicrously low. We want fun, and we want it 24/7.

What’s so bad about that? Well, it’s killing our creativity and lateral thinking, both valuable soft skills. More than one study shows boredom fosters creative thought by giving us time to daydream.

One researcher notes that without dull downtime, we “miss out on many emotionally, cognitively and socially rewarding experiences. Boredom is both a warning that we are not doing what we want to be doing and a ‘push’ that motivates us to switch goals and projects.”

How can you edge towards making boredom a daily practice? Try ‘monotasking’ — whether you are eating, walking to work or cooking, focus only on that activity. Also, try recognising the next time you reach for your phone to fill a few empty seconds (like when you are standing in a queue) and just live in that moment. Yes, it will feel unbearably hard, but make it a regular practice and you will go from #WTF to #winning.


In a world where you can download entire albums in minutes, Millennials are not good at waiting. We now, research claims, boast feather-light average attention spans of just eight seconds (down four seconds from 2013).

“If a conversation with my boss lasts for more than five minutes, I notice I’ll zone out a couple times a minute,” says personal assistant Druvi Narayen. “I find myself mentally bellowing to the person, ‘I’m pretty sure you could boil this briefing down to five tweets!’”

Improve your attention span:
No, we won’t tell you to meditate. Just rehydrate! Research shows just two percent dehydration impairs tasks that require focus. So drink up.


For a generation so attached to their phones, it’s odd that Gen Y shy away from phone calls, seeing them, according to one Wall Street Journal article, as “an interruption”. Makes sense: when you can plan and edit a Facebook update to within an inch of its life, a ‘live’ call can be intimidating.

Alas, textspeak only gets you so far. As the author of The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace writes, “If you want to be in a leadership position, you’re going to have to get good at live interactions.” Start with baby steps and get confident enough to speak to colleagues and clients.

How? Think of it as a way to get instant feedback ­— which Millennials love — and don’t pressure yourself to be witty with every one-liner, as in your Whatsapp chats. It’s a conversation, not a chat show.