Let’s Stop Calling Them Soft Skills


Soft. Talk about a loaded word.

What do you think of first when you hear that something is “soft”?

Marshmallows. A baby’s bottom. Squishy, right?

None of these could even remotely be considered a descriptor you want in your HR file. “Well, she’s a little soft on the real issues.” Ouch. “His selling skills are a little on the soft side.” Ah yes, the soft side.

Q: When did ‘soft’ become associated with skills?

A: In 1972 by the Army, no less. An Army training manual at the time identified soft skills, which they also called ‘people skills’, as opposed to hard skills – like combat technology. They explained the difference: hard skills are something you know a lot about and soft skills are something you know very little about. You know – squishy. Not quantifiable or measurable. Certainly not for G.I. Joe.

Now, decades later, even the military sees the benefit in these so-called soft skills. They teach them and even market the learning of soft skills as a benefit that can be carried over into civilian life. Given time, even G.I. Joe can become enlightened.

So, what are ‘soft’ skills anyway?

They are communication (both written and verbal), leadership, self-motivation, time management, integrity, professionalism, problem solving, adaptability, and responsibility, among others. Wait, these are ‘soft’? About as soft as a Manhattan socialite’s botoxed cheeks, in my opinion.

Yet these are the skills that get you promoted. They are skills that help you build relationships in your workplace and community. They get you noticed among the herd of blowhards and procrastinators.

I think it is time we communicate the value of these skills with a more accurate descriptor. We could just say ‘skills’. But that would not differentiate them from the ‘hard’ skills like accounting or orthodontics. How about leadership skills or career-building skills or, even better, essential skills?

Don’t forget the personal.

The importance of essential skills in a professional career is easy to argue. In actuality, they are just as important in your personal growth. Communication skills are a prime example – critical to relationships with family and friends. Wouldn’t you agree? Time management is a skill from which many people’s lives could benefit. I can just feel the working parents everywhere nodding in agreement right now.

And what about problem-solving capabilities? Did you realize we solve at least ten problems a day just getting around? What is the best way to get to the hotel? Who do I call to get my disposal fixed? What will happen if I respond to that idiot on Twitter?

How do you measure your skills?

The Army was right about one thing back then, however. These skills are hard to measure. It’s because essential skills are evident by their results over time. It takes time to identify someone’s leadership ability or their problem-solving capacity. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

One thing I have learned – you might not want to go to the guy at the water cooler, your best friend or your mother for feedback. It’s vital to have someone who will tell you the truth in a helpful way. You need an honest appraisal.

The process of developing or recalibrating essential skills is not an overnight fix; it’s a journey. I talk about this in a practical way in a previous article.

When you’re ready, you can always reach me for a reality check.

However ‘good’ or ‘bad’ you consider your reality to be, all these skills we’ve examined here can be learned and honed. They are critical to getting along in the world successfully, whether you are a corporate leader, an entrepreneur or someone looking for personal growth. We just have to stop calling them soft. They are essential skills.

Take stock of your own portfolio of essential skills. Where are you strong? Where could you use a little guidance? Make sure you have what it takes to succeed in your professional and personal life. My website is a powerful resource for ideas and meaningful assistance.

Leave ‘soft’ for baby powder and fabric softener ads. The skills you need are not soft; they are essential.

About me

Boyd Falconer

Boyd Falconer

People have described Boyd Falconer as a secret weapon for navigating success. He specializes in coaching executives, entrepreneurs, athletes and celebrities.

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