OK, let’s not think about skills, but focus on soft? What does that word conjure up for you? How do you interpret it, particularly in comparison to hard.
There’s an ongoing debate about the term soft skills, that goes something like, “when soft skills are the most important C21st skills why do we use this demeaning term?”
The term soft skills makes sense…
it is not demeaning!
But it’s interesting to consider why this thinking persists.
- When linked to skills, the term hard does not mean difficult. Hard skills are knowledge or technical aptitude, skills which we learn, or are ‘input’, as they don’t originate with us. In this context, hard means solid, tangible, specific.
- When linked to skills, the term soft does not mean easy. Soft skills are the traits and abilities of attitude and behaviour, which we ‘access’ and develop, as they are basic human capabilities. In this context, soft means open-ended, fluid, context-dependent.
Using these two contrasting terms provides us with a neat distinction.
So why the interminable, negative rumblings about the word soft?
At Barrier Breakers we thought long and hard about the wisdom of aligning the term soft skills to our work, recognising that, however undeserved, its bad name could have a detrimental impact. Many sensible people advised us against using it — particularly when it came to our Inspiring Soft Skills Development tagline — and suggested we’d be better off with terminology that had more inherent gravitas.
So why did we ignore their sage advice and choose to embrace the controversial term so wholeheartedly?
In questioning why there’s widespread resistance
to the term soft skills
we reveal why there’s resistance to the skills themselves
As we’re about breaking barriers, we reckoned we had to address this fundamental one!
When you think of soft, what comes to mind?
Is it something easy?
The ‘soft option’?
Perhaps it’s limp or flaccid?
Or soggy and floppy?
Is it weak?
Or maybe it’s…just too feminine?
Here are some counteracting thoughts:
- soft skills are enormously complex, challenging and potent
- soft skills are about highest level human functioning
- soft skills underpin all human activity, including our ability to acquire hard skills
And if you find yourself thinking that soft is inferior, remember this:
Water is fluid, soft, and yielding.
But water will wear away rock,
which is rigid and cannot yield.
As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding
will overcome whatever is rigid and hard.
This is another paradox:
what is soft is strong.
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