Emotional intelligence is rooted in them, business leaders swear by them, and they remain in high demand. I’m speaking of soft skills, those frequently misunderstood and undervalued skills that power career success. And because so often they’re judged unfairly, they battle some hard-to-accept realities that may surprise you.
Here are five surprisingly hard truths about soft skills.
1. They’ve been given an unfortunate misnomer.
Soft skills—like awareness, curiosity, and the ability to connect—refer to personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. Often contrasted with so-called hard skills (which refer to technical expertise like engineering, graphic design, or accounting), soft skills have gotten a bad rap, dismissed as less valuable, and viewed as secondary to hard skills.
Experts agree that this may partly be due to their name, which suggests these skills are a cinch to obtain and maintain. Yet there is nothing easy about soft skills; in many cases, they can be harder to master and take more practice to achieve than technical knowledge.
According to Philip J. Hanlon, President of Dartmouth College, a more accurate descriptor is “power” skills. Hanlon argues that these hard-won skills are powerful, and the use of “power” indicates something much more important, meaningful, and necessary than “soft” does.
2. They’re defining the future of work.
Earlier this year, LinkedIn released its annual Global Talent Trends 2019 report, which explores the four big trends fueling the future of the workplace. Topping the list? Soft skills.
This finding underscores a fundamental truth: Business is about relationships at its core. No matter your job function or title, you must interact with other people to succeed. And those who find a way to combine their hard skills with soft skills create environments that empower and ignite their teams, delight their customers, and fuel sustainable growth.
3. They’re cited by leaders as superpowers.
For Gary Vaynerchuk and Oprah Winfrey, it’s empathy; for Richard Branson, it’s listening; and for Reid Hoffman, it’s collaboration.
Whether they’re using them to understand others or foster trust better, each of these leaders openly touts soft skills as crucial to their success. Not surprisingly, they also search for evidence of these powerful traits when hiring new team members. (See number 2.)
4. They matter more than you think.
According to the aforementioned Global Talent Trend report, 92% of talent professionals say soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills when they hire, and 80% say they’re increasingly important to company success.
Scott Hartley, a venture capitalist who previously worked at Silicon Valley tech giants Google and Facebook, agrees. In his book, The Fuzzy and The Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World, Hartley makes the case that the business world is heavily reliant on the human touch that soft skills bring, even—and especially—with its increasing focus on technology.
Entrepreneur Mark Cuban concurs and believes that to remain competitive in the future job market, employees will need one critical skill: the ability to think creatively. “I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming,” said Cuban in a recent interview.
5. They can always be improved.
The wisest leaders adopt a growth mindset where they’re eager to refine and expand their skill set; they’re lifelong learners. They understand that consistency and discipline are necessary to master soft skills, much like other business knowledge and tools. And by regularly practicing these interpersonal skills, they inject humanity back into the business and put people first.
This article has been reprinted with permission from Amy Blaschka’s Forbes page.