Hard skills vs soft skills
In the world of work, “hard skills” are technical or administrative procedures related to an organization’s core business. Examples include machine operation, computer protocols, safety standards, financial procedures and sales administration. These skills are typically easy to observe, quantify and measure. They’re also easy to train, because most of the time the skill sets are brand new to the learner and no unlearning is involved.
By contrast, “soft skills” (also called “people skills”) are typically hard to observe, quantify and measure. People skills are needed for everyday life as much as they’re needed for work. They have to do with how people relate to each other: communicating, listening, engaging in dialogue, giving feedback, cooperating as a team member, solving problems, contributing in meetings and resolving conflict.
Leaders at all levels rely heavily on people skills, too: setting an example, teambuilding, facilitating meetings, encouraging innovation, solving problems, making decisions, planning, delegating, observing, instructing, coaching, encouraging and motivating. Obviously, people come to organizations with interpersonal behavior patterns already thoroughly ingrained, and they weren’t learned in a classroom. Instead, individuals learn how to deal with relationships and other life challenges “on the street” at a very early age. They observe how the people round them do things, they experiment, and they stick with what works for them. So everyone ends up with a unique portfolio of people skills; some behaviors may be effective, but others cause problems. By the time employees get to a training room, they’ve already worked hard for decades to reinforce the way they deal with people.