Most of us get that soft skills, including communication, listening and empathy, are key to our success in life and work.
So why do we still need so many studies proving their importance?
Because – perhaps – the unpredictability, the individual variations and the vulnerability of soft skills make us uncomfortable. There’s an “ick” and “ugh” factor that most folks won’t admit. We think we know how to communicate, so why do anything more than that?
We all have soft skills – which doesn’t mean they’re excellent, nor that we’re excellent at using them.
If you’re not working to improve your soft skills, you’re already falling behind in the competitive workspace.
Our work environments tend to be more diverse, and a heightened awareness and skill set serves us and others around us.
Top notch soft skills are necessary for the really hard communication situations: navigating conflict, seeing things from a different perspective, truly listening to others so that they feel heard, moving through meetings with high emotions, etc.
One problem stems from this kind of definition:
The Collins English Dictionary defines the term “soft skills” as “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude.”
Hard skills are the ones often defined as “teachable and acquirable” skills that are needed for the workplace.
First off, soft skills most definitely need to be taught and acquired – if communication were truly about common sense, then the “ick” and “ugh” factor wouldn’t exist.
Learning soft skills is about moving toward others instead of making them come to you. If you aren’t working on your soft skills, you aren’t paying attention to others – you are asking folks to come to you – not meeting them halfway.
Don’t be distanced by the term “soft” – and also don’t try to change it. Let’s embrace the soft, vulnerable, and open. The hard and soft skills are connected – interdependent upon each other. There is no weakness in soft skills, and there is no inherent strength in hard skills.
It’s about learning to communicate with others who are different from us. Soft skills are advanced training for surviving in the world.
What are the benefits of soft skill training?
The benefit, and sometimes we say the necessity of soft skill training, is because we need to learn how to communicate effectively and efficiently, not just nicely.
Nice is about us caring for ourselves, and kind is about caring about others. Additionally, most of us have only learned to communicate with those similar to us. We’ve not learned to finesse communication when a variety of differences are present – including, but not limited to gender, race, ethnicity, past work experience, where we grew up, were we went to school, etc. And that’s really only for the dominant culture – because most people, other than the dominant culture, have had to learn and adapt and fine-tune intense soft skills for their message to be heard and not misunderstood or interpreted as offensive.
The more diverse our workplace becomes, the more important training around soft skills needs to be. Because self-awareness is one of the key factors of soft skill training, and one of the key factors of good leadership, we have to learn how to give and receive feedback about how we’re really coming across. Soft skills allow us to be self aware and self reflective, curious and intentional – for impact. We call it, “the key tool of SCI-Fi.”
If you have masterful hard skills, yet no one can work with you and you can’t share ideas, then you’re really not as helpful as you could be. And vice-versa, if someone is able to master their soft skills and can match you in the hard skill department, then they will be promoted, hired, and invited onto amazing projects.
Let’s reclaim the softness of soft skills instead of seeing it as a negative bias.
Softness comes from a gentleness and a vulnerability. The world is demanding that our leaders be authentic and open (that does not mean oversharing), and there’s a power in a softness and openness.