Soft skills

Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes, career attributes,[1] social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients, among others, that enable people to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills.[2] The Collins English Dictionary defines the term "soft skills" as "desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude."[3]


Since 1959, the U.S. Army has been investing a considerable amount of resources into technology-based development of training procedures. In 1968 the U.S. Army officially introduced a training doctrine known as "Systems Engineering of Training" covered in the document CON Reg 350-100-1.[4][5]

PG Whitmore cited the CON Reg 350-100-1 definition: "job-related skills involving actions affecting primarily people and paper, e.g., inspecting troops, supervising office personnel, conducting studies, preparing maintenance reports, preparing efficiency reports, designing bridge structures."[6]

It is through a 1972 US Army training manual identified formal usage of the term "soft skills" began.[7] At the 1972 CONARC Soft Skills Conference, Dr. Whitmore presented a report[8][9][10] aimed at figuring out how the term "soft skills" (in the areas of command, supervision, counseling, and leadership) is understood in various CONARC schools. After designing and processing a questionnaire, the following tentative definition was formulated: "Soft skills are important job-related skills that involve little or no interaction with machines and whose application on the job is quite generalized."[8][10]

They further criticized the state of the concept then as vague with a remark "in other words, those job functions about which we know a good deal are hard skills and those about which we know very little are soft skills." Another immediate study by them also concluded in a negative tone.[8]

Psychologist Nicholas Humphrey famously stated that it is social intelligence that defines humans rather than quantitative intelligence. Many industries today give prominence to the soft skills of their employees.


Soft skills are a cluster of productive personality traits that characterize one's relationships in a milieu. These skills can include social graces, communication abilities, language skills, personal habits, cognitive or emotional empathy, time management, teamwork and leadership traits. A definition based on review literature explains soft skills as an umbrella term for skills under three key functional elements: people skills, social skills, and personal career attributes.[11] National Business Education Association deems soft skills as critical for being industrious in today’s workplace.[12] Soft skills complement hard skills also known as technical skills, for productive workplace performance and everyday life competencies (Arkansas Department of Education, 2007). Hard skills were the only skills necessary for career employment and were generally quantifiable and measurable from an educational background, work experience or through interview.

In the 21st century, soft skills are a major differentiator, a sine qua non for employability and success in life.[13] A study found that 80% of achievements in career are determined by soft skills and only 20% by hard skills. Experts say soft skills training should begin for a person when they are students, to perform efficiently in their academic environment as well as in their future workplace. A public interest study conducted by McDonald’s in UK predicted over half a million people will be held back from job sectors by 2020 due to lack of soft skills.[14]

Enumeration and categorization

A person's soft skill is an important part of their individual contribution to the success of an organization. Organizations which deal with customers face-to-face are generally more successful if they promote activities for staffs to develop these skills through wellness enhancing programs. Training or rewarding for personal habits or traits such as dependability and conscientiousness can yield a significant return on investment for an organization. For this reason, soft skills are increasingly sought out by employers in addition to standard qualifications. Studies by Stanford Research Institute and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation among Fortune 500 CEOs established that 75% of long term job success resulted from soft skills and only 25% from technical skills (Sinha, 2008). Hence, soft skills are as important as cognitive/technical skills (John, 2009; Zehr, 1998).

If hard skill is an engine than soft skill is a lubricant on which the hard skill engine runs!

Soft skills for business executives

Following is a "top ten" list of soft skills compiled by Eastern Kentucky University from executive listings.[11]

  1. Communication – oral speaking capability, written, presenting, listening, clear speech & writing.
  2. Courtesy – manners, etiquette, business etiquette, gracious, says please and thank you, respectful.
  3. Flexibility – adaptability, willing to change, lifelong learner, accepts new things, adjusts, teachable.
  4. Integrity – honest, ethical, high morals, has personal values, does what’s right.
  5. Interpersonal skills – nice, personable, sense of humor, friendly, nurturing, empathetic, has self-control, patient, sociability, warmth, social skills.
  6. Positive attitude – optimistic, enthusiastic, encouraging, happy, confident.
  7. Professionalism – businesslike, well-dressed, appearance, poised.
  8. Responsibility – accountable, reliable, gets the job done, resourceful, self-disciplined, wants to do well, conscientious, common sense.
  9. Teamwork – cooperative, gets along with others, agreeable, supportive, helpful, collaborative.
  10. Work ethic – hard working, willing to work, loyal, initiative, self-motivated, on time, good attendance.

See also


  1. "Identifying your Skills & Attributes". Retrieved 5 December 2016.
  2. Workforce connections: Key soft skills that foster youth workforce success, Child Trends, June 2015
  3. "the definition of soft skills". Retrieved 5 December 2016.
  4. CON Reg 350-100-1 (PDF), Fort Monroe, Virginia: UNITED STATES CONTINENTAL ARMY COMMAND, 1968, retrieved November 21, 2016
  5. Silber, K.H. & Foshay, W.R., Handbook of Improving Performance in the Workplace, Instructional Design and Training Delivery, John Wiley & Sons 2009, ISBN 9780470190685, p.63
  6. CON Reg 350-100-1, as cited in Whitmore, Paul G., "What are soft skills?"
  7. Katherine S. Newman, Chutes and Ladders: Navigating the Low-wage Labor Market, Harvard University Press 2006, ISBN 0674023366, p.351
  8. Whitmore, Paul G., "What are soft skills?", Paper presented at the CONARC Soft Skills Conference, Texas, 12-13 December 1972
  9. Fry, John P., "Procedures for Implementing Soft-Skill Training in CONARC Schools," Paper presented at the CONARC Soft Skills Conference, Texas, 12-13 December, 1972
  10. Whitmore, Paul G.; Fry, John P., "Soft Skills: Definition, Behavioral Model Analysis, Training Procedures. Professional Paper 3-74.", Research Report ERIC Number: ED158043, 48pp.
  11. Marcel M. Robles, Executive Perceptions of the Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace Archived 2016-08-12 at the Wayback Machine, Business Communication Quarterly, 75(4) 453–465 (pdf)
  13. Heckman and Kautz, Hard Evidence on Soft Skills, 2012
  14. "McDonald's Backing Soft Skills". Retrieved 5 December 2016.

Further reading

  • Peggy, Klaus (2008), The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They'd Learned Sooner, HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0-061-28414-4
  • Giusti, Giuseppe (2008), Soft Skills for Lawyers, Chelsea Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9558926-0-8

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