Why We Need to Stop Calling Them Soft Skills
You just graduated at the top of your class from the most prestigious pastry school in all of France. Forbes listed you as one of the top 30 culinary stars under 30, and you can make macarons blindfolded with your arms tied behind your back. What’s next?
You decide to open your own bakery in New York City. It seems like a natural progression, right? You’re a world class baker with the technical chops to stand up to Pierre Hermé, Christina Tosi, and Florian Bellanger.
However, no investors have been willing to take a chance on you. In fact, one of those angels, gave a $250,000 investment to Susie Thompson, who grew up seven miles away in Hoboken, doesn’t have any formal culinary training, and learned everything she knows about baking from her grandmother.
No one is doubting your baking ability, so why did that investor take a chance with Susie but skip out on the most technically savvy pastry chef of our generation?
The answer is quite simple: your pitch didn’t go well, you came across as arrogant, and you had an answer for every single question the investor asked you. Meanwhile, Susie was polite, a good listener, and admitted that she didn’t know how to properly bake chocolate soufflé, but promised the investor she would work hard until she figured it out.
You might be the superior pastry chef, but Susie had the soft skills needed to succeed.
There’s no doubt that successful people possess hard skills, or the skills you learn through formal education, certification programs, and on-the-job training. After all, a baker who doesn’t know how to measure, mix, and bake a cake probably won’t make it very far.
But where trained professionals can stand out is in their soft skills, such as the ability to communicate, be empathetic, think creatively, work with their teams, manage their time, and solve problems in a pinch.
In order to be really successful, no matter the career, most people need a certain level of expertise in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, adaptability, and leadership.
These soft skills aren’t so soft after all.
Soft skills are hard to learn. There are few dedicated tracks in formal education systems specifically teaching soft skills, yet they’re the skills hiring managers look for in candidates, according to the latest LinkedIn research. In that same report, 92 percent of talent professionals said soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills when they hire.
Soft skills require continuous improvement. You shouldn’t expect to climb the corporate ladder by communicating with future managers the same way you learned to communicate with your initial manager at the first job you ever got. And if you’re still working with your team the same way after several years, you probably haven’t helped your team advance in any way.
Soft skills are transferable. No matter where you work or what situation you’re in, effective communication, time management, and problem-solving skills will help you get stuff done. As a bakery owner, would you rather hire someone who knows how to bake chocolate soufflé like the back of their hand but can’t seem to communicate with any customer who walks through the door, or someone who is an effective, transparent communicator and tells you that they don’t know how to bake certain pastries but are willing to learn it? I would say nine times out of ten, the communicator sees more success throughout their career.
Soft skills are hard to learn, they require practice, and they are crucial for professional success, so we should stop referring to interpersonal skills as soft. They’re not soft. They’re hard, human skills—skills we need at this job, and the next, and the one after that.