Please can we stop calling them soft skills

Review processes

All the companies I’ve ever worked for have had some sort of a personal review process, usually an annual or bi-annual review. And though we dread the process, I’m sure most of us can see some value in it. It is a chance to reflect on ourselves and, if we’re (mis)fortunate enough to be managers, our teams as well. Everyone reading this is familiar with the process. You do a critical assessment of yourself, you hear the feedback from your manager and then you talk through your previous objectives and set a bunch of new ones. I don’t mean to trivialise the process as I do truly believe in it, uncomfortable as it may be. But being a lightning post, I want to arrive at my point rather rapidly to save you, the reader, from the mundane waffle.

It is this final part on objectives that I wish to share my thoughts on. Most yearly objectives are made up of one or two company strategy aligned objectives, maybe one or two around the delivery of work or targets and then a personal objective – we all know this last one, it is the one that you’re going to spend the least amount of time on and the one that your manager will forgive you for not meeting. Yet it is the only one that really matters.

Personal objectives usually come in the form of learning something technical, doing some online course or half arse-ing your way through something else. It is the new year’s resolution of yearly objectives. But every so often I hear managers and employees talking about developing “soft skills” as part of one’s personal objectives.

So, what are soft skills? Here’s a list to name but a few:

  • Communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Public speaking
  • Leadership
  • Conflict management
  • Decision making
  • Time management

And whilst you’re at it, why not add advanced calculus, chaos theory and quantum mechanics. OK, that’s a bit extreme. My point is, there is nothing soft about these skills. Public speaking, for example, there is nothing soft about overcoming crippling fear, calming your nerves and controlling your breathing to stop your voice from shaking, all while trying to deliver an effective presentation or talk.

Time management is another one, a skill that still eludes me. It is a discipline that only the few really master. That doesn’t just mean they get all their work done, it means they are effective at prioritising what’s important, making decisions about what they are going to do but more importantly what they are not going to do.

Finally, the coup de grâce, leadership! Leadership skills are seen as this part-time goal that can be achieved through minimal to no work! Most people don’t realise that leadership is not a destination to be reached but a lifelong journey to embark upon, something to strive towards with determination knowing full well the end may never come.

Arriving at my point

I don’t have a problem with the name as much as I have with the message it sends. By naming these skills “soft” we’re essentially giving ourselves and our colleagues permission to fail at achieving them, especially when they are up against our “hard skills”. Having been a manager for the last 4+ without any training or coaching on leadership (usually because it’s reserved for managers in very senior positions) I’ve decided to do something about it for any new or up and coming managers by creating a CRAP Talks offshoot called CRAP Future Leaders. A place for new/aspiring/seasoned managers to learn about what it means to be a leader.

I guess my point is let’s stop calling them “soft skills’ and perhaps start using a term which is more fitting, “LIFE SKILLS”. After all, these will be the skills you need for life and your future roles as leaders.


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