Why soft skills matter to your success


Why do we insist on calling learned traits like trust, communication and discipline “soft skills?” Is it simply because they can’t be measured in the same way that “hard skills” like, say, accounting can be? Organizational culture and leadership consultant Brian Knight poses these questions in an interesting piece on the blog at Focus 3.

Rather than being “secondary, afterthoughts, and nice-to-haves,” life skills, what many would call emotional intelligence, should come first, Knight argues. They’re prerequisites for developing business or technical skills, and they are much, much harder to master. He continues:

“…people continue to invest too little attention, time & energy on the highest value skills: how their mind works, how to build new habits, how to empathize, how to handle stress, how to connect with difficult people, how to respond to adversity. They’ve become conditioned to see these skills as ‘soft’ and therefore not as important.”

“People continue to invest too little in the highest value skills: how their mind works, how to build new habits, how to empathize…”

The thing is, there’s a growing body of scientific evidence to back Knight up. Researchers continue to demonstrate that emotional intelligence is what makes or breaks individual leaders as well as their teams. Studies out of MIT, for instance, have shown that some teams are smarter than others—that is, demonstrate higher collective intelligence in problem-solving exercises—not because they are comprised of smarter people, but because they demonstrate higher emotional IQ. From the first of the MIT studies (and note, “c factor” stands for collective intelligence here):

“This ‘c factor’ is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.”

“Studies out of MIT have shown that some teams are smarter than others, not because they have smarter people, but because of higher EQ”

Relationship-building falls under the “soft skills” Knight is talking about, and, as we’ve discussed here, relationships are the foundation of successful businesses; they drive revenue, brand awareness, culture, you name it. So, like Knight, we have to wonder, when will we start putting our life skills, what we’d call the “really, really hard skills,” first?