Lets stop this “soft skills nonsense”

I was pleased to see an article in HR Magazine today that outlined the case for developing soft skills, the contribution they make and the impact if we decide not to take their development seriously.

The article talks about soft skills, and the CBI talks about attitudes and attributes, and I often hear it as a label for all the other stuff that does not fit into the job specific or regulatory skills that we may require to do our jobs.

As often I draw inspiration from my environment and once more I find myself watching my youngest son swimming, and if he was to become a swimmer, it wouldn’t be critical that he developed his interpersonal or soft skills. Maybe his personal resilience and other areas that might help him to perform, but its largely an individual discipline. But in business, how many individual disciplines do we have that can rely on the individual not having to participate in group problem solving, influencing and persuading others, giving opinions, and taking on board the ideas of others?

In business, once we move from the initial engagement, most likely as an individual contributor we move through a series of transitions to being a team member, a leader of a team, leader of teams, leader of a business unit etc etc. The more we interact, the more those softer skills come into play and start to differentiate performance.

So we do need those soft skills, but they are not soft, they are hard skills which is opposite to the catch all label I hear. They are “essential” or “even “fundamental”. We all know people we have worked with, top of their game in terms of their technical skills, but who rub us up the wrong way, volatile with their moods and emotions, and for whom we make excuses or excuse them because they are good at their job! Well are they good at their job, they might leave a trail of devastation behind them, they create extra work to work around them, or stifle the initiative of others, they can just be tiring!

So I think its time we stopped this “soft skills” nonsense and started to have a different conversation. They need to be hardwired in, not just seen as something we address when we are not getting the performance we desire.

Lets hope this consultation talked about in the article really does bring some change in thinking. I fear not, but lets hope!


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