The Hard Truth About Soft Skills

I have a serious issue with the term "soft skills." You know, those skills that the United States Department of Labor lists as Communication; Enthusiasm and Attitude; Teamwork; Networking; Problem Solving and Critical Thinking; and Professionalism. Every one of those skills is absolutely critical to success in today's business environment, and calling them "soft" subtly diminishes their importance. Like A Boy Named Sue, soft skills have an image problem, and we need to change that.

"Hard" skills don't have that image problem. "Hard" connotes tangibility, certainty, and measurability. You have that knowledge, you have that skill, and you are hired to use that knowledge and perform that skill and bring value to the company. Hard skills are essential, because without skill and knowledge nothing gets done.

But today, relying solely on hard skills won't get the job done either. As we move away from the literal and figurative bricks-and-mortar production model, and toward a more virtual and collaborative work space, soft skills are arguably more essential than hard skills. After all, when breakdowns happen at your organization, is it because your employees didn't have the specific knowledge or skill to do the job? Not really. We can determine hard skills fairly easily and get people in the right jobs. Failures are far more likely to arise when there's a communication breakdown, a toxic team dynamic, or a lack of critical thinking. Soft skills don't seem so soft when you think about it that way.

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