Importance of “Soft Skills” in Work and Life

Many people have felt the need to work overseas. For some it is because of missionary ministry. Others it may be due to immigration, or needing to send money home as an overseas foreign worker (OFW). But what qualities are likely to make one more effective working in a cross-cultural work setting?

Consider the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) that did a study as to who is most effective in serving overseas (cross-culturally). The three top things listed in Duane Elmer’s book, CROSS-CULTURAL SERVANTHOOD: SERVING THE WORLD IN CHRISTLIKE HUMILITY (IVP Books, 2006), pages 96-97.

  1. “… Ability to initiate and sustain interpersonal relationships with the local people.”
  2. “… A strong sense of self-identity, which allowed people to be real with each other.”
  3. “… Positive, realistic predeparture expectations.”

If one looks at these three— the first two are very much tied to Pastoral Care and Counseling. Even the third one could be seen as tied to PC&C when one realizes that it is, in part, based on a grounded understanding of self within the context of one’s limitedness.

Pastoral Care and Counseling (especially in the context of the group process in Clinical Pastoral Education) is focused on developing healthy relationships (with others, with God, and with self).

While there are those who see the goals of PC&C as “soft” or about being “feel good.” But in truth, this is not true. When it came to work for overseas workers, these ‘soft skills’ were more critical to job success than ‘technical skills’— the skills that would be classically put on a resume to show that one can ‘do the job.’ In fact, having these technical skills are considered important— but only 4th on the list.

Why would technical skills be fourth after the other three? Frankly, technical skills are actually the easiest things to train. On the job, the advice “fake it until you make it” can often work when it comes to these job description skills. However, when it comes to relationship skills and sense of self, attempts to “fake it” is unlikely if these skills and self-understanding are in one’s “blind spots.” You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. And if one knows the problems and chooses to put up a false-front rather than dealing with these issues, this false-front is tiring and often breaks down over time.

Although the CIDA report focuses on overseas work, there seems little reason to think that working within one’s own culture. Patrick Lencione has noted in “The Ideal Team Player” has noted that a member in a working group has three major qualities. One of these is “Great Social Skills.” This is a “soft skill” and the other two are also not hard or technical skills— Humility and Ambition. <Note: Lencione uses the terms “Smart,” “Humble,” and “Hungry” for these qualities.> It is relatively easy to teach a teammember the “hard” skills of a job, but very difficult to teach “soft” skills. This sounds backwards— but the fact that training programs focus on hard or technical skills for jobs not on the other (despite the fact that they are greater indicators of success) should make one suspect which one is easier.

Duane Elmer’s book speaks of the process of learning. That book speaks of three areas of learning within the context of gaining an understanding of a different culture. These are (1) Learning About, (2) Learning From, and (3) Learning With. While this relates to acculturation, one can also look at that in terms of relationship skills and self-understanding. One can learn these by reading up in these topics, and taking evaluative tests and such. However, one must also listen to what others tell us— discovering blind spots. And one learns best interactively— learning in a small, ‘safe’ group.

This is why CPE and other forms of growth groups can be a big help in many areas of life.


The Moth Joke— Revised

Norm MacDonald recent passed away. I found him to be a great comedian, with the ability to be funny… even when it seems like he wasn’t trying to be funny.

A joke that he did was known as the Moth Joke. It was one of those jokes that wasn’t inherently that funny, but he could make it funny in telling it.

I want to use that joke, and revise it. I apologize for it probably not being funny— humor is not my expertise. However, I think the joke may make a point in this version.

Photo by Pixabay on

One evening, Ptr. Jim was sitting at home reading. It was around 10pm and he hears a knock on the door. Perhaps Ptr. Jim should be more cautious this late, but he went to the door and opened it, and there was a moth.

The moth said, “I am sorry but I have been going through a lot. Can I come in and talk to you about it?”

This was new to Ptr. Jim, but he adjusted quickly and welcomed him into the living room. He said, “What should I call you?”

“Mr. Moth is fine. We really don’t have first names.”

Ptr. Jim said, “Well then, Mr. Moth, tell me what is going on in your life?”

“Well, you see I damaged my wing so I really have trouble flying.”

“Oh. I see how that can be a difficulty,” replied Ptr. Jim. “It sounds like you need some sort of professional medical help for that. I don’t know… an entomologist perhaps?”

Something like that I suppose. But I am having trouble with one of my children. He does not return home before sunrise. Sometimes, he stays out all day. He has been failing night school, and with my wife and myself separated, I just don’t have the time or resources to take care of him as I need to.”

Mr. Moth, that is a real challenge. Have you talked to the school principal or a social worker about this situation?”

“Well, No. And I have been so anxious lately. I do okay at work I guess, but I feel like everyone there thinks I am a fraud. I suppose it is ridiculous, but I hear people laughing at the office, I really feel sure it is about me.”

“That must be hard for you. You may need to talk to a psychologist— a moth psychologist I guess. But tell me, Mr. Moth, I am not an entomologist, or a social worker, or a psychologist. Why did you come to me?”

“Because your porch light was on,” responded Mr. Moth.

Yes that long joke was all to get to the (perhaps) humorous point that moths are attracted to porch lights. However, I think there can be a point to it as well. Pastors, pastoral counselors, and chaplains are part of a helping ministry. Part of this may be in strictly religious things—- rites, sacraments, and dogma within the church— especial for pastors. Pastors, pastoral counselors, and chaplains may also deal with issues of morals and ethics, as well as the great existential or religious questions that have challenged mankind for millennia.

But people will commonly go to these religious professionals for a wide variety of concerns beyond these, and will go to them long before going to a professional who specializes in the exact concern they have. There can be different reasons for this. For some, the religious care provider is thought of as one who is trustworthy when they are not so sure about others. For some, it is that they see the religious care provider as one who can help “for free.” For still others, the fact that they share a common faith a worldview is important. Finally, it may simply be that they know the local pastor or chaplain, but do not know the other specialists.

Regardless, this opportunity does lead to some responsibilities:

  1. Being trusted is nice, but religious care providers need to ensure that the trust is earned. If others trust, one should be trustworthy— trustworthy in terms of professional ethics especially.
  2. Being honest in one’s limitations. No one is good at everything. A religious care provider should know his or her own limitations and know who and how to refer clients or members to others. It is not weakness to recognize limitations. Going to secular specialists is not suggesting superiority of these. Rather, most people would do well with working with the religious care provider AND one who specializes in the are of the problem.
  3. Being trained to be competent. Since people will come with a wide variety of problems, it is good to have basic competencies. It is good to refer to experts… but the pastor, pastoral counselor, or chaplain is often a bridge between the one in need and these. The religious care provider should be prepared and practiced to provide support in a wide variety of areas. In fact, a properly trained religious care provider can take care of many many problems (but not all problems) without bringing in specialists. This requires intentional training and mentoring/supervision.

Religious Care Providers should be prepared for anything. One never knows who will see your porch light on.

Oh yeah… and one more thing— There is also an interesting article (opnion essay in the NY Times) on Norm MacDonald as a comedian who was a Christian, but who did not market himself as a Christian comedian. You can read it “Norm MacDonald’s Comedy Was Quite Christian.”

Cultural Psychology and Maslow

Consider for the moment Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Image result for maslow's hierarchy

As the theory goes, one cannot go to the next level of need until the lower ones are satisfied. This is not so much a proven truth, but a useful way of looking at things. However, typically, this hierarchy of needs is also used by many as a guide for healthy thought and living.

But is it?

Consider a different way of showing this pyramid.


In this case, moving “up” the pyramid is moving to the right on the graph. The blue line shows whether the focus is on a person as a social being or as an individuated being. For PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS, one is focusing on what keeps body and soul together… so clearly the focus is on the individual (food, water, shelter, air, etc.). As one moves towards SAFETY AND SECURITY, one is now moving towards the more emotional and social aspects of a person. Few if any really feel safe or secure alone or socially disconnected. As such, there is a greater recognition of the person as a social being.

As one moves to the next level, LOVE AND BELONGINGNESS, there is the greatest recognition of a person as a social being. We were meant to be part of WE, not an aggregate of I’s. We are meant to be with others and part of others.

As one moves to the next higher level, SELF-ESTEEM, the social aspect of a person is focused on less. Abraham Maslow saw self-esteem as having an internal component and an external component. The external component is status and respect given to a person from one’s social web of connections. The internal component is the feeling of self-worth one gets through internal personal evaluation and validation.

<Note:  Some don’t agree with this. They suggest that one should not allow external influences have an impact on one’s self-esteem. However, since perhaps the only ones who can truly live through internal validation alone are the truly shameless, or perhaps the sociopathic, I am not so sure that this school of thought is worthy of embracing (at least at its extremes).>

The top level is SELF-ACTUALIZATION. This is “the full realization of one’s creative, intellectual, or social potential.” While Maslow did point out some famous people he considered to be self-actualized, he noted that fame had nothing to do with their status… it was about reaching their own individual potential, regardless of outside identification. As such, we have swung back fully to the individuated self and away from the social being.

But is this true?

Consider a story from the TV Show “House”  (Season 3, Episode 13).

In this episode, Dr. Foreman was working to diagnose and treat a 16 year old male of Romani (“gypsy”) heritage. He is found to be quite knowledgeable and intelligent and is seen by Dr. Foreman as having great potential in medicine if he would get further education and move into medical work. However, the young man has no interest in that. He is tightly connected to his family and Romani clan. As such, they have a strong influence on what he does. He doesn’t want to go against them or separate from them. The story ends somewhat unresolved. Dr. Foreman is saddened that the teenager rejects the possibility of living up to his potential in terms of a medical career. He also, however, seems a bit saddened to realize that in his quest to advance his career, he has given up a lot… in fact leaving behind family, and lacking, in many ways any deep relationships. Who has chosen the better path?

If one looks at the Hierarchy of Needs:

Both are okay in terms of physiological needs and safety and security (at least after the Romani teen was healed of his illness).

Both also seem to have decent self-esteem. Dr. Foreman is recognized as a very competent physician. If he lacks self-esteem, he hides it well enough. The Romani teen also seems to have good self-esteem. He appears to be very affirmed by a loving family, and seems to like the trajectory his life is on.

There are, however, differences. Dr. Foreman has a social deficient life… living alone, invested in his job over all other aspects of his life, and rather disconnected from his family. Still, he might be seen by Maslow as self-actualized since he appears to be living out his calling and potential as a physician.  For the Romani teen, he seems to be well positioned in a loving and supportive family so he has no problems in terms of love and belongingness. However, he would never be seen as self-actualized since his potential in terms of medical science will never be achieved if he stays on the path he is on.

Now consider this story as a parable in terms of East versus West of what is ideal. Dr. Foreman expresses the ideal of Western culture. He is highly individuated (as the term is used by Murray Bowen) from his birth family. He has found what is he is good at and gained expertise in it, and has achieved external fame, and appears to be  living up to his potential. He is living the ideal of Western culture. The teenager is of Romani heritage, which has many aspects of Eastern culture. In it, family and community have greater import. He is far less individuated. However, it is within that supportive structure that he finds his place and his meaning. As such he has great self-esteem that comes from affirmation of loved ones, and the opportunity to live out his potential as a social being, even if not as an individuated being.

I guess I would argue that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if it is used in terms of Positive Psychology, is culturally inadequate. One might suggest the following modification:

Maslow 2

With this figure, the bottom three steps stay the same. We all need these. However, when we get to Esteem there there can be a bit of a cultural split. With an Eastern focus, one may gain esteem more guided by affirmation from one’s social web— particularly family. The Western focus is less on external affirmation but on internal. Of course, these are not separated because in all people, esteem has an external and an internal component. It is just that the Eastern worldviews emphasize the external and the Western emphasizes the internal (at least in theory). From there things separate. In the Eastern worldview social actualization can be achieved in terms of finding one’s place in the world. One knows where one belongs in connection to others. In the Western worldview self actualization can be achieved in terms of finding one’s potential and achieving it.

Which one is better? I can’t say, but I doubt you can either. Each has its value but also its problems. On one side a person may feel trapped while on the other one may feel desperately lonely. The lack of perfection should hardly be surprising in an imperfect world. For this reason, there has been work in recent years on contextualized psychology. Bowen’s concept of individuation in family systems, and Maslow’s concept of self-actualization may be cultural ideals rather than universal ideals.

However, I think it is worth noting that the church may fit better into the Eastern worldview in terms of social self-actualization. While a lot has been written about how Christians can achieve their God-given dreams, actualizing their calling and gifting, much of the Biblical understanding of the church is in terms of social actualization. It is not about you or me or about your dreams or my dreams, but our place as members of one body, carrying out our social roles within a community structured more on love and belongingness than on merit and success.  This does not discount the other side, but I would suggest that far too many churches are filled with far too many disconnected and lonely people (“… where do they all come from.”). Perhaps it is time to consider a different model for church life and individual growth.

New Pastoral Care Book

Congratulations to Dr. Sim Dang-Awan Jr, for the publishing of his book, “Pastoral Care Response to Alcoholism in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.” It is the first book published under “CPSP-Philippines,” and is the book form of his doctoral dissertation. We hope that in the next few weeks we will have some copies in our office for purchase. For now, it is available (both in paper and kindle form) HERE

Doc Sim, among his many other activities and accomplishments, is the president of the board of trustees of Bukal Life Care.

Addressing Questions of Suffering

Here is a quote by Howard Stone from “The Word of God and Pastoral Care”

Over the years, while making pastoral carecaution2bagainst2bbad2badvice visits and especially hospital visits, I have sadly encountered many people whose well-meaning friends and acquaintances have responded to their why questions with theological answers that left them terribly upset and proved actually to be destructive: ‘This is God’s punishment on you and for your sins.’ ‘This is God’s will; you have to accept it.’ ‘This has happened to bring you to the Lord.’ ‘God wanted your dear one with him in heaven.’ ‘If you hadn’t skipped out on your wife, this wouldn’t have happened.’ ‘If you had stayed home with your children where God wants you to be, they wouldn’t have started taking drugs.’

More recently I have also come across another whole class of answers — more psychological than religious — to theodicy issues: ‘You are responsible for your illness.’ ‘You are sick because of your destructive thoughts.’ ‘The cancer inside you is pent up anger; you’ve got to release it to get well.’ ‘You are what you eat; if only you had cut out salt and exercised more.’ Some people are so eager to give their answers that they scarcely wait for the questions to be asked. The results are often quite grim.

When I first began pastoral care work, I would have thought such pronouncements were rare, or occurred only in the more conservative denominations. Not so! Things such as this happen everywhere, regardless of the conservative or liberal orientation. Simplistic and damaging answers flow from well-meaning people at a time when their hearers are in considerable distress, vulnerable, and unable to talk back. I raise the issue here because if ministers care only for people’s emotional pain and do not respond theologically to the issue of theodicy, parishioners will inevitably get their theological education elsewhere, and it may not be the kind we would have wished for them. In other words, if ministers will not respond, sooner or later, to the vital questions of theodicy, neighbors and friends are likely to do so, and not always in a helpful manner.                                       –page 165

Pastoral Theology at PBTS

Dr. Doug Dickens of Gardner-Webb University is spending 2 weeks at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary (PBTS) to teach a module in Pastoral Theology. Dr. Dickens is a Diplomate Supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education/Training with CPSP in the US. We have found his previous visits a great blessing and are thankful for spending time with us.