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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 are those rounded edges that make us human. They can be things like empathy, situational awareness, and my personal favorite (which is also equally hard to define) is common sense.
Another term for soft skills is EQ. Where EQ means you're emotional intelligence or your emotional quotient. 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 or on an airplane seat or in the office of one of the executives or customers.
Perhaps soft skills could just be the new "Art of the Conversation"
Below are a few examples of where you can learn soft skills. The key point to take away here is that there is no right or wrong way.
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. 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 complement of soft skills. They just haven't focused on them and sought to engage or otherwise develop them.
Here are a few ideas and areas where you can build your soft skills:
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.
Soft Skills Make a Hard Difference - Courtesy, Etiquette, and Common Sense go a long way to humanizing you.
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.
Where does one attain soft skills?
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 introvert in order to learn, use, and grow your repertoire of soft skills.
Really you just need to have a desire and interest in developing your 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 want to learn them. Your time and commitment to learn soft skills will pay dividends in the long run. There is no statute of limitations on soft skills. You can start learning them today and putting them into 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.
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 LinkedIn, Facebook, 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 Daily, Yahoo, US News and to the Personal Branding Blog