Why Soft Skills Are Harder Than They Look

Move over, cloud computing and mobile development. The skills that matter most today are the ones we mistakenly call “soft.”

But there’s nothing soft about them.

In fact, soft skills are quickly becoming the difficult skills to recruit for and develop in our organizations. And they’re the ones that turn our everyday work into hard dollars.

It’s time we take a fresh look at these soft skills to understand why they’re more difficult to find and more valuable to build than ever.

The Soft Skills In Demand

Each year, recruiting giant LinkedIn uses its vast bank of data to create a list of the 10 most in-demand skills employers will be looking for in the year ahead. Trainable tech skills like “data mining” consistently rank high on the list.

But in an April 2018 CNBC interview previewing the data, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said that “somewhat surprisingly, some people may not realize [that] interpersonal skills is where we’re seeing the biggest imbalance.”

In fact, LinkedIn’s data, covering 100 major cities and surveying over 2,000 business leaders, identified these four critical people-focused skill gaps:

1. Leadership

2. Communication

3. Collaboration

4. Time management

Weiner goes on to quote Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who after cutting back on his production expectations after automation efforts failed, said, “It turns out human beings are underrated.”

Why Soft Skills Are So Hard To Find At Work?

It isn’t the need for more humans that’s getting in the way of our progress. It’s the need for more of us to feel it’s safe, acceptable and desired to combine these human talents with our learned, technical or professional skills. In short, it’s not the skills that are lacking. What we lack are workplace cultures that allow those skills to shine.

Based on my professional coaching work with leaders and teams, I’ve identified three cultural expectations that are getting in the way of more people applying their much-needed soft skills to today’s hard work. Until we tackle these reasons, we’ll continue to limp along believing we have a skills gap, when the talents may already exist in our people right now.

1. Soft skills require we make decisions — and be wrong.

In a world overwhelmed with choice, we’re under more pressure than ever to make the “best” decision we can.

But we mistakenly assume that the “best” can only be measured in terms of future results, and so we postpone and procrastinate, waiting for more data to tell us the future. If we make a decision now, there’s a chance we’ll be wrong. And so, we don’t decide.

In cultures where good communication and open leadership are practiced, people operate differently. They make faster decisions because their culture accepts that they might be wrong. The consequences are anticipated, whether they be good or bad. And being wrong doesn't lead to being unemployed.

When leaders encourage frequent, faster decision making and create safety nets for the future, they stimulate people toward more collaboration and better overall communication.

2. Soft skills require we take risks.