October 8, 2019 ~ 4 min read

Human Skills Are Not Soft Skills

Weekly TipsSpeakingWritingListening

One of my biggest pet peeves is the description of skills like leadership, communication, and collaboration as "soft skills".

The word "soft" is used as a contrast to "hard" skills like software development, user interface design, or SEM marketing. And the connotation is often that these skills are less understandable, less teachable, and often also less valuable.


Human Skills

Instead of calling these skills "soft skills", I prefer a term I learned from Ignacio "Nacho" Moreno: Human skills.

These are skills that have to do with interacting with humans.

That means that to learn how to lead, you have to learn about people. To learn how to communicate, you have to learn about people. To learn how to collaborate, you have to learn about people.

Instead of "hard skills" and "soft skills" I prefer "technical skills" and "human skills".

Both may be equally "hard" to learn. Both can be equally based in science, models, or theories. Both are understandable, teachable, and valuable.

The primary difference is "technical" skills have to do with interacting with specific technologies or "things" in the world. And human skills have to do with interacting with people.

Human Skills Are Valuable Everywhere

One other big difference between technical skills and human skills is that technical skills are often only valuable in particular situations, while human skills are valuable everywhere.

If you are a super skilled software developer, that is helpful to you in a work setting where there is a well-known need that can be solved well by software. It's not very useful in dealing with your significant other, or in volunteer work, or while you're traveling, or if you end up in a place where there aren't any software jobs.

On the other hand, if you're a super skilled communicator, that skill is valuable to you in every environment. It will help you in your work as a software developer (or whatever else your specialization is), but it will also help you in your relationships, in volunteer work, on the road, and in any other job you might have to go into.

Almost every situation you will ever find yourself in will involve humans. And in every one of those situations, your human skills will help you out.

Learning About Humans

Ok, so if you're with me so far now you probably want to know how to learn more about humans!

Yay! That's exactly what SpeakWriteListen is about... learning about how people work in order to better communicate with them.

I'll be exploring this topic a lot more over the coming weeks, but here's a three key points

  1. All humans have some similar cognitive limitations. We all have limitations in working memory and tend to overgeneralize how we view people.
  2. All humans also have some similar needs. Even going beyond our physical needs, we all seek safety, belongingness, and self-esteem.
  3. All humans have different experiences and goals, which leads to very different perspectives

From these three key points we can figure out a whole lot about how to communicate with people.

We an explore tactics to best overcome or cater to our common cognitive limitations.

We can dig deep into how stories and different types of language speak to our shared needs.

We can find ways to gain perspective and change our words to speak to someone else's perspective.

I'm excited, and I'm glad you're along for the ride! If there's any particular area of this that speaks to you or makes you curious, send me a quick email and let me know!

P.S. There will be no SpeakWriteListen newsletter tomorrow, October 9th because of Yom Kippur. I'll be back with another article on Thursday!

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Kevin Ball

Hi, I'm Kevin Ball (alias KBall). I'm a software engineer turned trainer and coach focused on communication and leadership skills. You can follow me on Twitter, or check out my software-focused work at Zendev.com.