soft skills, tech skillls, hard skills, professionalism, coworkers, EQ, emotional quota
Why are Soft Skills so Hard to Learn?
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Jeff Shuey
Business Adviser

You've probably heard the term "soft skills" on the news and in various media outlets. But, what do they mean when they say soft skills? What does it mean if you have them or if you don't have them? Why does anyone need soft skills?

It's simple: Soft skills that make us human. 

Soft skills can include the following:

Another term for soft skills is EQ.  EQ is your emotional intelligence or your emotional quotient. The ability to recognize and manage your own and others emotions. This was the term popularized a few years ago by Daniel Goleman in his seminal book entitled "Emotional Intelligence - Why it can matter more than IQ"

But, you might be thinking …  I went to school and I learned hard things!

Your school, your university, your college experiences prepare you for a more academic and more rigorous endeavor. And this is a good thing. But, it's not enough.

Whether you're trained to be an engineer, architect, doctor, psychologist, or whatever else you went to school for, those are the hard skills that you learned in order to do that specific job and some of the ancillary functions that surround it. 


So, why do you need soft skills?

Soft skills include those things that allow you to have a conversation. Whether that conversation is around the water cooler,  on an airplane seat or in the office of one of the executives or customers. Having soft skills will help you have better conversations, work well with managers or co-workers and enjoy your work environment. Hard skills are important, but when you develop soft skills you can excel as a leader. 

Everyone has gaps and blind spots in their own skill set. There are two ways to think about this. One is to focus on your strengths (see Marcus Buckingham's book "Now, Discover Your Strengths") and the other is to flesh out your least developed skills. The key point to take away here is that there is no right or wrong way. 

For me personally, I focus more on strengths, but I also realize that there are times where you need to fill in gaps for where you are weak. For some people, this may be in the area of soft skills. What I have found is that most people have an innate ability and a compliment of soft skills. They just haven't focused on them and sought to engage or otherwise develop them.

Here are a few other ideas and areas where you can build your soft skills:

1. The Soft Skills That Will Get You Hired - Master the art of the handwritten note. Also, consider picking up the phone once in awhile. A lot of nuance can be conveyed in the voice that cannot often be inferred from an email or worse a text.

2. Soft Skills Make a Hard Difference - Courtesy, Etiquette, and Common Sense go a long way to humanizing you.

3. 6 Steps To Improving Your Current Employees' Soft Skills - This is written for managers and also for people that have been in the working world for a while. Soft Skills can go stale. An occasional refresh is never a bad thing.

Soft skills can be learned, but they are also somewhat inherited. Not everyone is a natural communicator just as not everyone is a natural introvert. There are gray lines between that overtly outgoing person and that overtly inwardly focused person.

The point here is that you don't need to be an extrovert or an introvert in order to learn, use, and grow your repertoire of soft skills.

How can you develop soft skills?

1. Recognize that a change needs to be made. 

Everyone has weaknesses and can make improvements. If you find a hard time recognizing what you need to change, you could ask your boss or co-workers. It might hurt to know what they have to say about you but knowing what you need to change will benefit your future and help you enjoy your working environment.

2. Make goals and create a plan to change.

After you have gained awareness of what needs to be changed, write down a measurable goal and work hard to achieve that goal. If your big goal is to communicate better then perhaps your measurable goal is to have a conversation with 5 coworkers a day. 

Whatever your goal may be, make sure you hold yourself accountable. One great way to do that is to reward yourself for achieving your goals. This will help you be more motivated and it's a fun way to accomplish a goal. 

3. Practice makes perfect. 

 Practice every day on that goal. If you feel like you have mastered that weakness then make a new goal and start working on that. Over time you will develop the skills you need to become a better employee, team member, and friend.

4. Keep a positive attitude. 

Changing your mindset so you can see the positive in others or in situations will have a significant impact on the way you treat others. So if all else fails, keep a positive attitude, it will take you a long way!

5. Sign up for ProSky.

ProSky is a platform designed to help candidates showcase their skills and abilities. You can do certain challenges on ProSky that will test for soft skills and then participate in projects that will help you develop those soft skills. 

 To go back to the question posed by the title:

Why are soft skills so hard to learn?

The simple answer is, just like almost anything else, they aren't. You just have to have a desire to learn them. Just like you have to go to the gym consistently to get stronger, you have to be consistent to develop soft skills. 

Soft skills don't all come at once, practicing and applying every day is crucial. Your time and commitment to learning soft skills will pay dividends in the long run. You can start learning them today and putting them to use in your personal and business interactions.


So, are they hard to learn? Not really, but for some people they just need to put a little time and effort into learning them.

Article updated 10/4/2018


Jeff is business advisor, mentor and community engagement expert. He has spent most of his career in the Enterprise Content Management industry. He brings over 20 years of Channel Sales, Partner Marketing and Alliance expertise to audiences around the world in speaking engagements and via his writing. He has worked for Microsoft, Kodak, and K2.

Tweet him 
@jshuey or connect on LinkedInFacebook, or Google+ He is active in the Microsoft Partner Community and is the co-founder and President of the IAMCP Seattle chapter.

He is a contributing author to 
Entrepreneur, Elite DailyYahooUS News and to the Personal Branding Blog