Skills: Hard or Soft?

Sometimes I am late (and yes, sometimes very late!) to learn about things.  In this case, the concept of “hard skills” and “soft skills” is new to me.  Whether you already know all about this, or are just learning, like me, I hope you find something new in today’s post.

What got me started was this great post, Develop Your Soft Skills for Workplace Success (from The Fast Track) in which I learned that “soft skills, including interpersonal communication and conflict resolutions, are becoming increasingly important in the workplace” and that “71 percent of employers say they value emotional intelligence over IQ.”  The post goes on to discuss soft skills, why they are important, and how to develop them.


Soft (Photo credit: katerha)

Obviously, it’s time for me to learn more about this “hard” and “soft” skills thing.  In People Skills Training: Are You Getting a Return on Your Investment? I learned that

“[H]ard skills” are technical or administrative procedures related to an organization’s core business. Examples include machine operation, computer protocols, safety standards, financial procedures and sales administration. These skills are typically easy to observe, quantify and measure.  They’re also easy to train. . . ”

In contrast, “soft skills” (also called “people skills”) are typically hard to observe, quantify and measure. People skills are needed for everyday life as much as they’re needed for work. They have to do with how people relate to each other: communicating, listening, engaging in dialogue, giving feedback, cooperating as a team member, solving problems, contributing in meetings and resolving conflict. Leaders at all levels rely heavily on people skills, too: setting an example, teambuilding, facilitating meetings, encouraging innovation, solving problems, making decisions, planning, delegating, observing, instructing, coaching, encouraging and motivating.

OK, so my take away from this is that we need both—in ourselves, as leaders and managers, and in the people we hire and supervise.  So when you’re hiring, don’t just ask things like “how familiar are you with Excel?” but also ask questions to help you learn how cooperative they are, how they communicate, and resolve conflict.  And yes, it’s true, it’s harder to learn about soft skills in the interview!  (And don’t just ask, “how do you resolve conflict?”  Make them give you concrete examples.)

Now, how do you go about evaluating your own soft skills, and determining which ones you need to improve?  Here’s one way:  The Soft Skills Quiz will help you identify your strengths and where you need improvement in the soft skills arena.  Additionally, have your staff members take the quiz too.

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