Soft Skills vs Hard Skills

effective communication effective leadership leadership return on investment soft skills definition soft skills example soft skills vs hard skills technical Sep 01, 2021
Soft Skills vs Hard Skills

Now that we can answer What Do They Mean by “Soft Skills”?, let’s start building a comparison between Soft Skills and Hard Skills, the impact both types of skills can have in nearly any role, and then we’ll look at how we can ensure any skill development we invest in provides us with a tangible return.

I believe one of the main reasons so many individuals and organizations struggle to tie tangible return on investment is that we rarely even see an accurate comparison. An article I read on recently titled Are Hard Skills or Soft Skills More Important to be an Effective Leader? shared this:

Hard skills are teachable and most often technical skills, such as economic analysis, strategic planning or design. Soft skills fall in the interpersonal realm and include listening, team-building, and leadership development. They are not so much taught as cultivated. 

While that sounds reasonable at face value, I’m going to challenge you to think into that a bit deeper… I believe the suggestion that “hard skills are teachable and most often technical skills” implies that soft skills are not teachable or measurable. To me, this is a catch-22 scenario; since so much of society has failed to understand how to measure soft skills, the assumption is that soft skills are difficult to teach and even more difficult to quantify. Hogwash!

I’ve never met anyone who was born with the natural ability to perform economic analysis. That’s a skill that has to be learned. I’ve also never seen a newborn baby who could talk; that’s also a skill that each of us were taught over time. I’d also argue that even the most technical skills we can think of absolutely must be cultivated, whether that’s within ourselves or in the individuals we’re teaching those skills to, if we hope to ever truly master them. The difference really lies in whether or not we have a clear expectation for what learning any new skill should do for our overall performance. We’ll go into that more next time. For now though, let’s stick with this basic comparison idea…

The more I’ve studied the idea of soft skills, the more convinced I’ve become that those skills are really no different from hard skills other than the roles and responsibilities they apply to! I also don’t believe one set of skills is any more difficult to develop than the other, they just require different kinds of application and effort. But honestly, so does learning to be a carpenter and learning to be an electrician… The one thing I’ll toss at you here to consider is that what so many folks consider to be soft skills can actually impact our roles in any given industry!

Next time, I’ll dig into how we typically visualize the impact of hard skills training and how we should do the same thing in order to expect to see a tangible impact of soft skills training. I’ll wrap up now though by sharing a statistic that I believe helps build the case for considering soft skills as Power Skills instead… The SHRM article I referenced before cited LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report as showing that “89% of recruiters say when a hire doesn’t work out, it usually comes down to a lack of soft skills.” If you’ve ever heard me reference the costs of turnover, you know how big of a deal that is. The point I’ll close with is just how much those soft/power skills really do apply to any role in any industry...