“Soft Skills”–Necessity in Hard Times

Mention that you teach writing, a key business skill, and a software instructor will say, “Oh, a soft skill. I don’t teach those–I teach software.”

The generally accepted belief is that software requires an instructor with special knowledge, but skill like listening, writing, presenting, running a meeting or solving problems come naturally, or can be picked up by being in an office.

Soft skills are hard to come by without instruction. Soft skills need practice and support. You don’t learn them by listening alone; you learn them by practice. As with most change in life, the people who surround you are not eager to have you change, because it demands change on their part, too.

Learn a computer program, and something happens on the screen. It’s easy to see, and if you want it to happen again, you repeat the process. What you learn is the keystroke to create the desired result.

Soft skills don’t work that way. You learn by doing, and each time you take the action it feels more natural and the results get more obvious. Practice counts in soft skills. Practice involves making mistakes, learning how to fix them, moving on.

Soft skills are hard. I think soft skills don’t get respect because of their name.Look at the power in words that have ‘hard’ in them–hardball is playing tough, hardcore is uncompromising, hardshell it tough and protective. Hardheaded is single-minded and persistent. Hard news is important, soft news is cheap, starchy filler. No one wants to be soft-headed, softhearted, or an old softie.

images5.jpegBut the very skills called “soft” are the ones desperately needed when the few are pressed to do the work of many. Listening skills and problem solving aren’t taught in school, but they make businesses successful. And the results of listening and problem solving are often presented in writing.

Judging from the number of unintelligible emails, confusing instructions, unclear requests, and rambling directions I’ve read in the last two years, there are a lot of people who need to learn how to write, and write clearly.

Before you think “soft skills” are not important, think about the power of writing–almost all Web content is writing, after all. Writing clearly and concisely is a vital business skill. Make it a “must have” on your training schedule. It’s a portable skill that you can’t do without.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who develops writing courses for businesses. She teaches Writing for the Web; How to Write A Good Article, Beginning to Publication; Writing and Giving Powerful Presentation and other, well, soft skills courses. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

–Image of soft-serve ice cream: http://www.cactice.com