Soft Skills Are Dead – and why you need to stop talking about them

Posted on September 8, 2017. Filed under: Uncategorized |

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Soft Skills is the term used for all things communication and dealing with people, including emotional intelligence.  Talk to any people leader or manager and they will tell you that dealing with people in the team is the hardest and most challenging part of their role.

That’s why we have to stop talking about soft skills. Skills of:

  • Dealing with conflict
  • Delivering tough messages
  • Building and maintaining rapport
  • Encouraging without overstating
  • Dealing with different personalities
  • Handling complaints
  • Remaining calm in a crisis
  • Managing personal issues
  • Operating within a complex set of legislation about how to deal with people
  • Making decisions and dealing with the consequences
  • Leading change especially when that change is tough for the leader too

And the list goes on and on. How could anyone describe the skills needed to do these things well as soft skills? Just because these skills are not taught at technical school does not mean that are invalid. Think about your choice of GP. Every GP has been through medical training and some of them clearly show that communication skills and “bedside manner” are not on the curriculum!

Soft skills are dead. People skills are king! Let’s stop using the phrase soft skills as it undermines and understates the significance of this skill set and its immense influence on success at work. The core essence of people skills could be described as:

  1. Managing self. Dealing with difficult situations in a professional manner regardless of how you as an individual are feeling. Colloquially known as resisting the temptation to scream or swear or throw things
  2. Managing to adapt to effectively interact with a variety of other people. Known as being able to display a range or breadth of communication skills.
  3. Managing to lead and encourage others to be more effective dealing with others. Also referred to as role modelling and coaching.

We all know people who possess strong people skills and have seen the incredible impact these skills have. Thinking about people I have coached and worked with the most common times when people skills are observed at work are:

  • Leading Change effectively is essentially about managing self, others and role modelling. Think about the leaders you have observed doing this well and effectively navigating the often turbulent times that implementing major change creates. These individuals have the skill to deal with a range of stakeholders, to remain calm and also to be a positive and respected influence on others around them.
  • Resolving Conflict may not be something that those with highly developed people skills are seen doing because they manage themselves and others in ways that prevent tensions from escalating into conflict. These leaders quietly discourage gossip and actively deal with personality clashes in their teams.
  • Mentoring and coaching others to the next step in their career, even if that is with another organisation. Leaders with strong people skills can handle robust career conversations and will support the development of those around them without a sense of obligation or disappointment when good staff develop their career beyond the current organisation
  • Routinely and openly discussing performance in every aspect with team members. Leaders with strong people skills have no surprises in formal performance reviews because they provide honest and regular feedback to their team members.

Soft skills must not be spoken of anymore; we must change the language to people skills – or another phrase that more truly represents the power and importance of these skills. They can be taught. They can be learned. Like any skill, they may come more easily to some than others.

As technology increases its reach and people spend less time with each other, leaders with strong people skills are going to become more important in the workplace of the future. Individuals accustomed to screen time rather than face time will need support, role models and consistent leadership to be effective at work and also to develop a skill set that they may not have applied very much prior to joining the workplace.

When the majority of my coaching and mentoring clients raise people management related issues in our meetings then I can tell that this issue continues to be one that we need to work on and develop.


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