Thursday, June 9, 2011

Business Schools Move to Soft Skills - Good for a Business English Lesson!

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article called "'Soft Skills' Business Courses Aim to Prepare Students for Management Roles." There are many good English expressions in the article.

Before we get into the article further, let's discuss the term "soft skills." Who out there has heard of this expression? It's all the stuff of being an understanding boss, a sensitive manager -- listening to people, empathizing with employees, delegating well. The "hard skills" are things like knowledge of finance, accounting, business strategy ...

Now let's look at a piece of this Wall Street Journal article. Parts we will discuss are highlighted in bold:

Business schools are tapping into their "soft" side. This fall, students at Columbia Business School will be invited to learn the art of meditation. Emotions will run high in Stanford Graduate School of Business' long-running "Touchy Feely" course. And professors at the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business will try to teach students to rein in their type-A personalities, lest they upset fellow classmates ...

Although business schools have traditionally excelled at teaching "hard skills" like finance and accounting, those skills become less relevant as an employee ascends the corporate ladder and moves away from crunching numbers to overseeing employees, companies and experts say.

    Expressions for study:

to tap into - to connect with; to get in touch with; to use as a resource for your own benefit

Example: If you're looking for a job, experts say the best way is to tap into your personal network.

touchy feely - openly expressing emotions, such as affections

Example: Sandy is a touchy-feely manager. She's constantly asking her employees if they need a hug.

Note: This expression is usually used in a somewhat negative way. Although it's nice to be described as sensitive and empathetic, it's less nice to be described as "touchy feely." It implies that there's TOO MUCH affection going around!

rein in - to control; to cut back on

Example: Our marketing budget has gotten too large. We need to rein in ad spending.

type-A personalities - very competitive people, who are often aggressive and very ambitious (often these people can also be described as "workoholics").

Example: John is a real type-A personality. He's always in the office by 6 a.m., never takes vacations, and expects the same from his staff.

corporate ladder - the order of position or title in a corporation. You will often hear this phrase with "climb," ascend" or "work one's way up" in front of it.

Example: Andrew is really working her way up the corporate ladder. At just 30, she's already a marketing director at Procter & Gamble.

to crunch numbers - to perform financial calculations (often complex ones, or for a long period of time)

Example: Joe quit his job as a financial analyst at Donox. He was tired of crunching numbers all day.

And a special note on "crunching numbers" -- people who crunch numbers are, very appropriately, called "number crunchers." In the old days, MBAs were often criticized as being just a bunch of number crunchers. All that has changed now. Or, as this article tells us, is in the process of changing. Corporations don't just want a bunch of number crunchers -- they want sensitive people who know how to lead! More soft stuff, less hard stuff.