Defining Essential Life Skills

There is no definitive list of life skills. 



Certain skills may be more or less relevant to you depending on your life circumstances, your culture, beliefs, age, geographic location, etc. However, in 1999, the World Health Organization identified six key areas of life skills:


1.Communication and interpersonal skills. This broadly describes the skills needed to get on and work with other people, and particularly to transfer and receive messages either in writing or verbally.


2.Decision-making and problem-solving. This describes the skills required to understand problems, find solutions to them, alone or with others, and then take action to address them.


3.Creative thinking and critical thinking. This describes the ability to think in different and unusual ways about problems, and find new solutions, or generate new ideas, coupled with the ability to assess information carefully and understand its relevance.


4.Self-awareness and empathy, which are two key parts of emotional intelligence. They describe understanding yourself and being able to feel for other people as if their experiences were happening to you.


5.Assertiveness and equanimity, or self-control. These describe the skills needed to stand up for yourself and other people and remain calm even in the face of considerable provocation.


6.Resilience and ability to cope with problems, which describes the ability to recover from setbacks, and treat them as opportunities to learn, or simply experiences.


It is also true that different life skills will be more or less relevant at different times your life. For example:


When at school or university, you'll need study skills. These may include understanding how to organise yourself for study, do research, and even write up a dissertation or thesis. These are not skills that everyone will need, but writing skills are likely to be useful in a variety of careers and jobs.


When buying a house, you may need to employ negotiation skills, and you will certainly need plenty of patience and good temper. These skills are also likely to be high on your ‘essential life skills’ list if you have children!


You'll need to work on your employability skills to get a job, and will also need to think about how you apply for a job, and how you might cope in an interview;


When you have a job, you may need to develop leadership skills, especially if you need to lead teams or groups;


When you start a family, you'll need parenting skills. You may also find that time management and organising skills become much more important.




...perhaps the most important life skill is the ability and willingness to learn.


By learning new skills, we increase our understanding of the world around us and equip ourselves with the tools we need to live a more productive and fulfilling life, finding ways to cope with the challenges that life, inevitably, throws at us.


Most people associate learning with a formal education, but learning can, and should, be a lifelong process that enhances our understanding of the world and improves the quality of our life.


Looking Beyond the Obvious

It will be clear that Skills You Need has many pages that can help you to develop these important life skills, and lots more.


These skills fall into a number of areas, including personal skills, interpersonal skills, writing skills and numeracy skills. Each of us already has a number of these skills; equally, we will all recognise that there are particular areas that could be improved.


Personal Skills

Personal skills are the essential life skills we need to help maintain a healthy body and mind.


These skills include many of those on the World Health Organization’s list, such as resilience, self-control and self-awareness. They include skills such as how we recognise, manage and cope with emotions. You can find out more about your personality type using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI) on www.personalityperfect.com.


Being able to manage anger and stress can also be essential life skills. Learning about anger and stress, recognising what may trigger them (in ourselves and others), what the symptoms are and how to control or manage such emotions can greatly enhance the quality of our lives. We have an article on Anger and Anger Management.


Many people battle with low self-esteem and confidence, which can cause stress and prevent them from reaching their full potential.


Interpersonal and Communication Skills

The second important area of life skills is interpersonal and communication skills. These are the skills that we use to make connections with other people and are therefore an important part of what makes us human.


Communication skills are generally seen as a subset of interpersonal skills, as are decision-making and problem-solving, but both are important enough to consider in their own right too.