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Soft Skills: Should We Start Calling Them by Another Name?

Soft Skills: Should We Start Calling Them by Another Name?

Start a management degree at American Public University.

By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management, American Public University

As I read my LinkedIn feed one recent afternoon, I came across a topic that I hadn’t seen for a while. It came from a question posed by Veronica Fangue, an associate professional in talent development.

She asked, “When referring to ‘soft skills’ training, what else can we entitle this type of training that truly defines topics such as professional development, team building [and] communication skills?”

Later, I stumbled across a blog article by author and communication coach Carmine Gallo. He wrote that soft skills are the number one attribute that workers need to succeed in this age of artificial intelligence (AI). He defined soft skills as critical thinking, communication and collaboration.

What Is Authentic Communication in the Age of Artificial Intelligence and Social Media?

In a conversation with a friend about a future interview I would conduct, I couldn’t quite find the words for what I wanted to describe. So I coined the term, “authentic interdisciplinary dialogue.”

I attempted to explain “authentic interdisciplinary dialogue” as a way to use social media as a platform for encouraging dialogue on diverse topics among various audiences. This term refers to the effort to get back the communication skills we have lost.

Authentic interdisciplinary dialogue involves communication by ordinary people. Those people are willing to listen and hear a different perspective. They don’t always think, “It’s my way or the highway.”

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

How do we promote a return to deeper thinking rather than immediately adapting ideas and perceptions that focus solely on our own experiences?

While our journeys and experiences are essential and significant to our growth, we also learn from our interactions – both good and bad – with others. The majority of our experiences leave some type of imprint on how we develop our beliefs.

Soft Skills: How Should They Be Defined and Developed?

Communication is an important aspect of soft skills, but we should also acknowledge that there are more pieces to this puzzle.

What are those pieces? That depends on whom you speak to.

Soft skills assist people to search within themselves to produce something outside in the environment. We collect our thoughts, analyze a situation and then act. We create action plans that will change a situation or adapt to a process.

Why Do We Still Struggle with Defining Soft Skills?

Not everyone agrees with the term “soft skills.” Some believe the term is an overused fad phrase, while others think the term implies that soft skills are not as important as technical abilities.

What can we call something that we can’t quite describe, yet agree that it has value in ensuring success in the workplace? How do we emphasize the fact that our businesses are still reliant on how well our employees interact to get the job done?

In today’s economy, we can define that interaction as the “human touch” in complex environments. Dr. Robert Rubin, Professor of Management at DePaul University’s Driehaus College of Businesses, said in a recent interview that “Technical skills get you noticed, but it’s interpersonal skills that get you promoted on average.”

I agree. Based on my experience, employees with strong soft skills excel in their jobs and can master a company’s system. Those employees are flexible and adapt to a situation.

Regardless of the industry, all employees need managers. Management is going to be around for a while longer.

Management Involves More Aspects Than Mere Leadership

However, the study of management is much more than leadership. It’s about relationships and how they survive in the midst of change, given the increased use of technology. People need to be able to relate to one another and meet others where they stand, rather than attempt to force someone to meet us where we stand.

How do we prepare individuals to go beyond themselves? How do we make them able to collaborate and communicate with others who might have the same or different mindset? Can they mutually benefit by making a positive change in an organization?

That type of thinking goes beyond just having a grasp on the technical aspects of the job. We need to understand that we do not always have to master the standard operating procedures for getting things done to shine. Instead, we have to use soft skills to observe and assess what is going on in the workplace environment and decide on the best course of action at any given time, regardless of the situation.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.