What do you think of when you hear the word "soft"?

What do you think of when you hear the word "soft"?

Here’s my question to you today. What do you think of when you hear the word "soft"?

Personally, I think of my bed and my buttery smooth sheets. (I'm a bit of a bedding diva.) When I hear "soft," I think of clouds and bunnies. My mind drifts to the light and intense flavor of a souffle.

I think words are important. Very important. When you write them, speak them, or sing them, they start to paint a picture in the other person's mind.

Now I want to think about the work you do. Would you choose the word "soft" to describe any of it? Kind, thoughtful, curious, encouraging, yes, I'd hope so. But soft? I'm pretty sure that'd be a no.

Why, then, do we use the term "soft" skills? We're talking about things like leadership, communication skills, and innovation. The "soft" moniker doesn't help to conjure up images that match—there's nothing "soft" about those skills at all.

The other day, when I was in front of a group, I proposed the idea of replacing "soft skills" with another phrase. The response was overwhelmingly positive, but almost no one could come up with a suitable alternative. One woman offered the idea of "strategic skills." It's a step in the right direction, but to tell you the truth, I'm a bit bored with "strategic." I think its meaning’s become diluted now that almost everyone says that they are—even if they aren't.

So here's what I'd like to suggest. Let's rebrand "soft skills" to "human skills."

Here are a couple of reasons why I think the word "human" is a better, more accurate choice.

  1. It's what sets us apart from the machines. This is a bigger deal than you think. Automation has been coming for decades, and the technology being created today is more "human" in its abilities than ever before. But even with the magic of AI, the "human" element of the work we do cannot be automated. Want one of those non-automated jobs of the future? Fully knowing and talking about your "human value" will set you apart and allow you to collaborate with these emerging technologies.

  2. "Human skills" can be cultivated by anyone, regardless of your title and the number of people reporting into you. Strategic applies mostly to those in leadership and senior roles. Your ability to communicate, to have empathy, to lead, and to inspire should be the goal for all people, working inside an organization or not.

So are you with me in leaving the word "soft" for bedsheets, clouds, and bunnies?

To stop using a word that implies skills like communication, empathy, innovation, and the ability to inspire are just fluff?

Should we start asking people to articulate their human skills in the interview process? Should we have more conversations about how the complicated and complex "human skills" are critical to success in the 21st Century?

I think so. Come and join me. #humanskills

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