Tip #873: Soft Skills are Hard!

“Let’s call them real skills, not soft.” Seth Godin

I’m tired of the false distinctions that are often made between soft skills and hard skills. The choice of adjectives implies that soft skills require little effort while hard skills are physically or mentally difficult.

Some define hard skills as technical competencies learned through education or training, while soft skills are more subjective personality traits that you are either born with or develop through life experience.

I agree that there are some soft skills that fit firmly in the category of personality traits: adaptability, self-confidence, dependability, compassion, honesty, perceptiveness, and coordination. So, let’s call them personality traits, not skills.

There are many “soft” skills that are clearly not personality traits and need to be learned. For example: communication; teamwork; problem-solving; time management; critical thinking; decision-making; stress management; conflict management; negotiation; persuasion; presentation; public speaking; positive reinforcement; and leadership.

If we look at the skills involved in leadership, we see many more that need to be learned and practiced, such as: people management; project management; remote team management; talent management; meeting management; coaching; conflict or dispute resolution; cultural intelligence; deal-making; decision-making; delegation; facilitation; giving clear feedback; managing difficult conversations; mentoring; strategic planning; supervising; team building; motivating; and performance management.

There is nothing easy about any of these supposedly “soft” skills!  I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that few people are born with these skills- nor do they naturally develop through life experience.

If hard skills are learned abilities acquired and enhanced through education, practice, and repetition, then these “soft” skills are also hard skills. Individuals need to take classes, get certifications, and even earn academic degrees to achieve these skill sets.

I would prefer if we dispensed with the adjectives “hard” and “soft” in relation to skills.

Instead, what if we recognized that all skills require training and practice to master?  After all, that is how a skill is defined.

And what do you think about placing skills into five categories: technical skills, self-management skills, interpersonal skills, management skills, and conceptual skills?

Technical skills would be what we do to perform practical tasks in the areas of science, the arts, technology, engineering, and math. Examples might include programming, drawing, information security, and artificial intelligence.

Self-management skills would be what we do to regulate and control personal actions, feelings, and thoughts. Examples might include stress management, time management, self-confidence, and organization.

Interpersonal skills would be what we do to communicate and interact with other people. Examples might include verbal communication, listening, negotiation, and assertiveness.

Management skills would be what we do to lead people, programs, and organizations. Examples might include planning, delegation, motivating, and meeting management.

Conceptual skills would be what we do to identify, hypothesize, and solve intricate problems. Examples might include analysis, critical thinking, creative thinking, and strategic planning.

I realize it would be easier if we could use just two categories to identify skills. I considered technical versus people skills, but that leaves out self-management and conceptual skills.

I just need other adjectives than “hard” and “soft” to describe skills.

Question: How would you distinguish between the different types of skills?

May your learning be sweet- and safe.


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