Recently list of the top soft skills desired for managers included resolving conflicts, negotiating, correcting people, planning, organizing, preventing errors and solving problems. What piqued my interest was the fact that the last four are not really soft skills. They are based more on cognitive knowledge than on the ability to understand and influence people. They require breaking down goals into tasks that have to be completed, the ability to estimate required amount time and resources, the foresight to see what could possibly go wrong, and ability to think creatively. These are skills requiring more logic than emotional intelligence. So why would they be considered soft skills?
People who excel at problem solving are often considered arrogant; they tend to not be humble and exaggerate the importance of their own work. If they did not, they probably would discard innovative solutions and follow the road of conforming with the majority. This means they are often not easy to work with and there is an essential conflict between the working of the creative mind and the mind that excels at influencing others. However, even if the ability to solve the problem may have little to do with people skills, the ability to get others to buy into a creative solution is often dependent on them.
That is the quandary of dividing skills sets. When you refer to them as soft or hard; emotional or cognitive, or people or technical, you are creating an arbitrary dividing line. Some of both skill sets are necessary. Problem solving is difficult because it requires people to switch back and forth between “emotional” thinking needed to deal with people, and “logical” thinking needed to deal with processes.
In a national survey, employers said that technical skills were not as necessary as the following: listening and oral communication, adaptability and creativity, confidence, motivation, initiative, and pride in one’s work. However, try telling that to people who have been disciplined for overstepping the boundaries of their position due to initiative and sense of pride in what they do.
People who are self-motivated often take off in their own direction based on what they see needs to be done. If they communicated their intentions before the results came in, the answer would often be “No.” Managers may want the results of creativity, taking initiative and pride that drives a person to excellence. But they often find employees with these qualities hard to deal with. It seems as if the insistence of the importance of soft skills over hard skills basically boils down to the employers wanting employees who embody two opposite skills at the same time.