Soft Skills Can Be Hard!


Soft Skills Can Be Hard!

Soft skills are the interpersonal traits that allows us to effectively relate to how others think and act. These skills enhance our personal interactions and lead to greater social, personal, academic, and work performance and satisfaction. Unlike hard skills, which are the technical and knowledge skill set we bring to our work or classes, soft skills are interpersonal and can be applied in many more situations.  Soft skills encompass personality traits, such as optimism, communication skills, teamwork, listening, responsibility, social skills, personal motivation, advocacy, problem solving, giving and receiving feedback, decision making, flexibility, and conflict resolution skills and abilities which can be practiced, such as empathy. Like all skills, soft skills can be learned, once taught.

Definition of Soft Skills

Soft skills are personal attributes that allow us to effectively relate to others. Learning, practicing, and applying these skills helps us build stronger personal, social, and work relationships. Often schools place the focus of our career development efforts on hard skills – technology skills, knowledge, and other skills that specifically relate to our ability to get work-related tasks done. This means we may neglect to develop our soft skills. However, some of us have a particularly difficult time learning soft skills and need to learn them through direct instruction, such as the classes offered at the As a result, they are an investment worth making.

Empathy and the Emotional Intelligence Quotient

When we demonstrate empathy, we create connections with others, which can help to build teamwork or otherwise create shared goals and mutually enjoyable experiences. Empathy also helps to develop stronger interpersonal connections between peers, team members and colleagues, which is as important as shared goals or complementary skills when it comes to accomplishing tasks in our personal, social, school, or work lives.

Empathy is one component of what is known as Emotional Intelligence, or EI. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage our feelings so that they are expressed appropriately by society. Exercising emotional intelligence helps to create caring, reciprocal, productive relationships.

There are four key components to Emotional Intelligence:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to recognize our own feelings and motivations
  • Self-management: The ability to appropriate express (or not express) our feelings
  • Social awareness: Our ability to recognize the feelings and needs of others, and the norms of a given situation
  • Relationship management: Our ability to relate effectively to others

Taken together, these skills make up our Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQI). The EQI is a measure of your ability to exercise soft skills such as empathy.


Professionalism is simply the ability to conduct ourselves with responsibility, integrity, accountability, and excellence. Acting with professionalism also means seeking to communicate effectively with others and finding a way to be productive. Professionalism involves what may seem to be small acts, such as:

  • Always reporting to work on time and returning promptly from breaks
  • Dressing appropriately
  • Being clean and neat
  • Speaking clearly and politely to peers, customers, and clients
  • Striving to meet high standards for one’s own school or career work
  • Performing in a manner consistent with our own moral and ethical standards

Learned vs. Inborn Traits

Because soft skills are talked about as traits of a person’s character, it may seem as though you have to be born with them. While some soft skills come more easily to one person than they might to another, soft skills are not inborn. Like all skills, they can be learned. Because we all have our own preferences and ways of moving through the world, some soft skills may be more difficult to learn than others. But if we think back, there are also aspects of our hard skill set that were difficult at first, though they now seem to come quite naturally to us. We develop soft skills in the same way we develop hard skills- direct instruction and practice. You don’t have to be born with great listening skills to become an amazing listener – you can learn and build these skills throughout your life.

Make that first interaction a memorable one; be respectful, make eye or facial contact, shake hands firmly, listen closely and respond to questions. 

Dr. Eric Nach

Dr. Eric Nach, Ph.D., M.Ed., A.S.D. Cert. Developmental and Behavioral Specialist and Associates