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Soft Skills Are Back in Style

From Maria Simpson’s Two-Minute Training listserv

In this digital world, the so-called “soft skills” are suddenly getting a lot of attention and being recognized as a key element of organizational development and improved performance.

  • A column in the Marketplace section of the LA Times cites communication, conflict management, listening, and resolving issues as among the skills that you can discuss in an interview and that will improve your chances of being hired. (I call that collection of skills “mediation.”) 
  • An article on “Digitizing the Organization” in TD magazine recommends “prioritizing soft skills” as part of the process of bringing the organization into the digital era, including “critical thinking, communication, and developing a network.” The focus is on maintaining the organization’s cultural values by emphasizing good communications during the change process. (TD magazine)
  • A survey 1,000 U.S. workers “found that the skill managers most need to improve is [sic] communication and diplomacy.” Communication was rated more important than technical skills or even leadership. (TD magazine)
  • In a presentation on whether HR managers should practice mediation in the workplace, John Ford quoted Jeswald W. Salacuse in Leading Leaders who, when asked, “How do I reduce the negative consequences of conflict and at the same time enable contending persons to make a maximum contribution to the organization?” replied “Leaders need to become mediators.” 
  • An HBR column suggested that welcoming disagreement and differences in perspective can improve team performance, (with which I agree, if the team leader has the skill to manage the disagreement).

While these may seem to be new ideas for organizations, the idea that communication ties us together is not new at all. In 1966 Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann published The Social Construction of Reality, which was groundbreaking. They contend that civilizations and cultures are constructed around the ideas that are communicated, repeated and agreed-to by members of a group, becoming over time “beliefs.” When people don’t agree and form their own beliefs or belief systems, they can become outcasts of that group and, perhaps, start their own group.
Communications draw us together or drive us apart. Effective communications are not casual; they are thoughtful, careful, and practiced. Thoughtful and respectful listening isn’t just a matter of nodding and saying “Uh-huh” while you think of your next clever response.
To be effective, communicators have to be adept in all the various media and formats, from conversations, to writing, webinars and digitization. And all these communications have to be used strategically. Of course it’s a big task, but the best leaders and most respected professionals have put the effort into learning how to manage the task and even harness its power.


Maria Simpson

Maria Simpson, Ph.D. is an executive coach, consultant, trainer and mediator who has worked extensively with the corporate, non-profit and conflict resolution communities to promote incorporating conflict resolution into organizational systems and training people in the skills and approaches of mediation. MORE >

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