Who says these skills are “soft?”

Why are they called soft skills when it’s so hard to do them right? It seems that whenever you hear someone talking about the importance of soft skills it sounds like they’re apologizing. Hard skills are the ones that get all the respect. Selling. Programming. Statistical analysis. These are hard skills, the ones that are hard to master and require constant upgrading and training to maintain proficiency. Soft skills are, well, soft. Fuzzy. Intangible. Less important.

Well it’s time to turn that notion on it’s head and it starts with the terminology. Soft skills are neither soft nor easy. They are critical and cut across all functions. They are Strategic. To be effective in any of the functions mentioned above you need the Strategic skills of communication, leadership, teamwork, influencing, adaptability, and so many others. The so-called hard skills are what I call Tactical or Functional skills because they are the ones related to success in a specific function. These are narrowly focused and rarely stretch across multiple functions.

I don’t mean to put them down, but I have long maintained that it’s the strategic skills that make people successful and effective in their endeavors. Certainly you need both. I wouldn’t want an accountant who’d never passed math ┬áBut in the long run, it’s the strategic skills, the ones that cross functional lines, that prove invaluable.

Just my opinion. Would be interested in yours.
Only the best,

2 thoughts on “Who says these skills are “soft?”

  1. My field, social work, is all about soft skills which are, as you say, not fuzzy or cuddly or easy to master at all. A profession such as social work is difficult to define to others not in the field precisely for this reason. You can sum up what an accountant does in a few minutes (no pun intended) but when someone asks me what a social worker does, it’s actually tough to explain. So thanks for giving credibility to “soft skills”, it’s very validating!

    • Emma, Every field has its own function specific skills. A field like social work has an even greater reliance than most on the so-called soft skills. We need to change the dialogue about what we do and use the words that best define us rather than letting others define us.

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