Corporate trainer Sangeetha Elizabeth Panicker on the increasing importance of soft skills in the globalised world

At a conference room in Technopark Club, a bunch of smartly dressed young men and women, the men in formal wear and the women in uniform saris, listen intently as soft skills trainer Sangeetha Elizabeth Panicker talks to them about the aspects of non-verbal (visual) communication – how to use their body language and gestures to their advantage and get ahead in this competitive world. One by one the youngsters, all of them final year students of Berchman’s Institute of Management Studies, SB College, Changanassery, perhaps unconsciously, stop slouching in their seats and sit up straight. The students are here in the city for a extra-curricular course on ‘placement training’ or soft skills, led by Sangeetha.

Over the next three days, the students got to learn first-hand about what’s in store for them if and when they enter the corporate world, through sessions on confidence building, interview preparation, business etiquette, career planning, goal setting, team bonding, and so on, apart from sessions on vocal and visual communication skills.

As most of the students have taken finance, marketing, and/or human resources as their specialisation subjects, they also got first-hand insights into the corporate world from top level managers from the IT industry – chief executive officers (CEO), chief financial officers (CFO), sales managers, and human resources personnel.

“All these are practical aspects of the corporate world that cant be taught in classrooms,” says Sangeetha, who’s been a corporate trainer for over five years now, after working in the corporate world for 16 years in India and abroad. Sangeetha, who has a post-graduate degree in English Literature and a management degree from Symbiosis University, Pune, is the director and chief trainer of city-based Sharp Skills, an organisation that caters to English and soft skills training requirements of individuals, colleges and corporates.

“Soft skills are increasingly becoming an important part of corporate culture in India. Going by personal experience after working in sales in India and in Dubai, I noticed that most of my Indian colleagues were academically and technically very sound but poor when it came to communication skills. And because of that, despite being hard workers, they would often get passed over when it came to career advancements. It’s as if they hold themselves back for fear of making a mistake! Stooped shoulders, weak handshakes, aggressive body language, even the quirky way in which we Indians tend to nod our heads in agreement/disagreement can be a detriment when working in this globalised world,” she adds.

In fact, these days most companies in Technopark regularly call in (or have in-house) soft skills trainers to teach/update their new recruits or employees about business English, communication skills, interpersonal skills, and all manner of etiquettes related to telephone, e-mail, cross-culture, dining, meetings, and so on. “Most of these companies deal with international clients for most of whom etiquette is a big deal. For instance, in the corporate world in the United States it’s generally frowned upon to straightaway jump into the topic of discussion before exchanging pleasantries as mundane as ‘How was your weekend?’. It’s all a matter of channelling our abilities to project ourselves better,” says Sangeetha.