The Soft Stuff is Hard

I was reading my fraternity’s magazine the other day and came across an article on skills that employers look for when hiring.  The list included things like: relationship building, balancing opposing views, team and collaboration, co-creation and cultural sensitivity.  All of these are commonly referred to as soft skills.

Members of my career mentoring site have often heard me say that soft skills are hard – hard to master, but when you master and use them effectively they will lead to hard business results and career success.

In 1988, researchers at the Department of Psychology at UCLA identified five soft skills critical to success…

  1. Initiating relationships.
  2. Self-disclosure.
  3. Providing emotional support.
  4. Asserting displeasure with others’ actions.
  5. Managing interpersonal conflicts.

The first three – initiating relationships, self-disclosure and providing emotional support — are ways to build and nurture relationships.  The last two – asserting displeasure with others’ actions, and managing interpersonal conflicts — are ways to resolve conflict in a positive manner.

Self-awareness is necessary if you’re going to learn and use the five soft skills.  It’s the first step in building positive relationships and in resolving conflict in a positive manner.

Self-aware people understand how they are similar to, and different from other people.  They use this insight to help them initiate relationships with a variety of people; determine how much they should disclose about themselves at various points in a relationship; and determine the appropriate amount of emotional support they should offer others.  Self-aware people also use their knowledge of themselves and others to determine when and how to assert their displeasure with another person’s actions, and to manage and resolve interpersonal conflicts.

If you understand yourself, you can better understand others.  I’ll use myself as an example.  I make intuitive leaps.  My mind goes from A to B to F.  A lot of people I know process information sequentially.  Their minds go from A to B to C to D to E to F.  When I am with these people, I don’t blurt out my intuitive leaps.  When I have one, I go back and fill in the B to C to D to E before I come out with F.  In this way, I am better able to get my point across to my sequentially thinking colleagues and clients.

One more: I am happy to leave my options open, and to change my mind somewhat late in the game.  I know a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable with this.  They have strong needs for closure.  Once a decision is made, they want it to stay made.  When I’m dealing with these types of people, I ask myself if the change I’m thinking about will make a real difference.  If not, I don’t propose it.  If I think it is necessary, I bring it up.  However, when I do, I am very clear that I am revisiting a decision that has already been made, that this might be frustrating to other people, but that I think it is necessary to rethink the decision – and then I give very specific reasons for wanting to revisit the decision and how such a conversation can yield better results.

The point here is simple common sense.  Successful people build and use soft skills.  They share information about themselves, are emotionally supportive of others, and share their feelings positively.  Developing soft skills begins with self-awareness.  The more you understand yourself, the better you’ll be able to relate to others.

Your career mentor,


PS: I write this blog to help people create the life and career success they want and deserve. Now I’m going one step further. I’ve created a membership site in which I’ve pulled together my best thoughts on success. And, as a reader of this blog, you can become a member for free. Just go to to claim your free membership. You’ll be joining a vibrant and growing community of success minded professionals. I hope to see you there.


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