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No More “Soft Skills”?

October 24, 2019

The term “soft skills” implies weak or non-essential and so I say, ‘No more soft skills!’.

I am on a mission! I have been on this mission for over a decade! I am hoping you will join me. The mission is to have the term “soft skills” be replaced with new term such as “essential human skills”

The fast pace of change and with the future as a constant moving target it is imperative that we help people by developing their “essential human skills”

The history of “soft skills” can be traced back to the US Military in the ’60s and ’70s. The military had excelled at training troops on how to use machines to do their job. They noticed that a lot of what made a group of soldiers victorious was the skills that each leader had to lead the groups. The military set out to distinguish the difference between working ‘hard’ and the skills used to inspire and engage the teams.

Paul G. Whitmore and his team came up with the distinctions between working with something that is physically hard like a machine and compared to that which is soft to the touch. From this research three criteria were created to judge if a skill is ‘soft’ or ‘hard’.

They determined that any interaction with a machine that was specific to machine behavior was a ‘hard’ skill and anything else that did not require interaction with a machine was ‘soft’.

And so, the term ‘soft skills’ became the term applied to skills that were more intangible to measure such as communication skills, conflict resolution skills, understanding personality styles, and then later on Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence.

The problem with calling human interaction skills ‘soft skills’ is that it implies that the skills are not as important or as valuable as technical or so-called ‘hard’ skills.

The future of work requires a ‘people first’ focus AND to get their everyone needs to upgrade his or her operating system to have a very high ability to leverage ‘essential human skills’.

If you say to someone, “You need to work on your ‘soft skills’,” I can promise you that their inside voice is saying, “Soft means non-important” and therefore they do not see the value of investing time into being better at it.

Also the term ‘soft skills’ has often been labeled as feminine and this too has created a push back response by ‘driver’ type personalities.

The skills that are going to drive the business forward and create the future of work are the human skills that connect us as human beings. Do you know someone who has high technical skills, high levels of IQ and yet they cannot get along with others?

Years ago workplaces could tolerate people who had certain technical skills without ‘essential human skills’ – today with the fast pace of change people need to be able to adapt and respond to a variety of situations.

The increasing diversity in the workplace, increase in remote work, increase in virtual teams, increase in freelancers requires people who have high ‘human awareness’.

Human awareness is an essential component of ‘essential human skills’ – the more aware we are on how to connect with people of diverse cultures, opinions, and values the better we can collaborate and innovate.

If we were to completely shift the language to “essential human skills” we would see a mindset shift in that people would view the skills as essential, they would view them as necessary and the measurement of them would have greater import in performance assessments.

The future is very human. As technology continues to exponentially shift the way we live and work the focus will be on how we as humans are connecting, collaborating and solving the world’s problems.

So will you join me? Every time you hear someone say ‘soft skills’ please invite them to start saying ‘essential human skills’. Talk to your company about shifting the language.

Every time someone dismisses communication, or collaboration as ‘soft’ please invite them to the viewpoint that top performers have these attributes and that they are ‘essential’ to driving the business forward.

In my book, “NextMapping – Anticipate, Navigate and Create The Future of Work” I share research on how it is the ‘human behavior’ trends shaping the pace of disruption. As technology simplifies and automates a lot of ‘hard’ tasks the imperative is for us as humans to uplevel our ‘essential human skills’.

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