A Practical Definition We Can Apply Right Away

Last time I shared the definition of soft skills from the Oxford dictionary, “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” While I think that provides us with a fairly decent starting point for what soft skills are, I don’t believe it’s quite enough to take action on… At least it’s not for me.

We started down this path by answering the question, What Do They Really Mean by “Soft Skills”.? then we worked through some comparisons of Soft Skills vs Hard Skills. If we combine all of that with what Chris Rollins shared about the origins of the concept, I think we’re ready to build a practical definition that we can each work into our daily routines. Once we have that, there’s no reason at all for not putting it into action and achieving measurable results - just like we’d expect to see from learning any particular technical skill… 

Before we do that,...

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What Skills Matter Most?

Alexandra Levit, workforce futurist and author of Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workplace of the Future, was quoted in a recent SHRM article as saying “While most people are hired for their technical abilities, their soft skills give them career durability.”

In the last post, I challenged what I’ve seen to the traditional thought process of expecting a tangible return on investment from technical training while having far less clarity on how the rubber should meet the road after any type of training on those perceived softer skills. To me, it just boils down to developing the discipline to know what to look for and clarifying how those powerful skills should be applied.

Let me be very clear here: BOTH types of skills matter in every industry. But answering the question What Skills Matter Most? really depends on the specific role we’re hoping to fill. 

Our son, Matt, has an outstanding work ethic and caught onto the technical...

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If We Can’t SEE It, We Don’t Usually Expect It...

Last time I suggested that the only real difference between soft skills and hard skills is that most hard skills only tie to certain fields where soft skills have the power of impacting nearly any type of work we’ll ever engage in. None of us come out of the womb being amazingly equipped with either type of skill; they ALL require cultivation throughout our lives if we ever hope to master them. And we should absolutely be seeing measurable results from the action steps we take in applying what we learn as we study any new skill!

The most common disconnect I’ve seen with this over the last twenty years has been that most of us have learned how to measure technical tasks; it’s fairly simple to track how many widgets can be produced in an hour or how many procedures can be completed each day. Measuring the effectiveness of what most people refer to as soft skills isn’t quite as straightforward because it rarely produces a stack of something at the end of an...

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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 Forbes.com 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...

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An Unexpected Revelation

I closed last time by promising to share what I learned a few years ago about the origin of soft skills so let’s dive right in!

Many of the civilian folks I’ve interacted with for the majority of my life have had the perception that people in the military, especially those in commanding roles, are brash and dictate orders for everyone around them to follow without any consideration for those pesky feelings. I suppose movies like Full Metal Jacket have helped build that perception in many of us who have not served in the military. Truth be told though, I can’t point to a single military veteran that I’ve worked with who’s barked orders to the people reporting to them. In fact, I’ve seen the exact opposite!

The first former military manager I worked with, Terry, was also a West Point graduate. If anyone should have had that command and control approach, it should have been him - right? I mean, West Point has a reputation for being extremely tough on...

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A Solid Framework to Build On

An article I recently read on the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) website titled In Search of Soft Skills: Why you should teach employees to be more resilient, communicative, and creative opened by stating “Being gifted at performing the technical aspects of a job can take an employee only so far. To become a stellar employee or an admired leader requires an arsenal of skills that are harder to measure but critical to success.”

I agree with most of that statement, kinda… To me, the idea of gifted implies that someone is naturally good at something. While we all know a few folks who seem to pick up on certain technical skills faster than the rest of us, I’ve seen far more people who master their craft through an intense amount of dedication and effort. I’m betting that calling those folks gifted and acting like they didn’t work hard to become great at what they do will piss them off! I do, however, agree that mastering the technical...

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What Do They Mean by “Soft Skills”?

In his Forbes.com article titled Here Are The Top 5 Soft Skills I Look For In Candidates, Mark Pena opens by saying, “In an automating workforce, soft skills are the irreplaceably human element of work - and the thing employers are desperate to find.”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the idea of soft skills referenced throughout my career, but I’ve rarely heard anyone provide tangible examples of soft skills that I could learn quickly or apply immediately. I’m not suggesting that it’s not possible or never happens, I’m just saying it’s rare… Soft Skills seem to almost always be something that’s ambiguous, or something that you either have or you don’t. I’ve just never been willing to buy into that idea, especially when I hear things like “you get hired for what you know but you get fired for who you are…” (There’s even a Psychology Today article with nearly that exact...

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