What are soft skills - really?

Mauka®’s definition of soft skills. 

In the early days of Mauka®, when anyone asked us what soft skills were, we’d get visibly irritated. Not because of how obvious the answer is but because we’d occasionally be left questioning our response to it. 

So, what are soft skills?

To settle this as true blue nerds would do, we dug in to find all the definitions of soft skills in dictionaries.

Dictionary.com defines 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.” 

Oxford Reference says that soft skills are: 

Competencies that employees possess associated with activities such as customer handling, communication, problem-solving, and teamworking."

Cambridge defines it as: 

“ people's abilities to communicate with each other and work well together”

While we can sense some patterns with these definitions, we still weren’t very convinced about which one to pick. So we did what any nerd would, we decided to define soft skills. Our way. 

(Re)defining any term needs to respect its origin, utility, and current relevance. To begin with, we did some digging to find the person responsible for the worst misnomer in history. To find out who decided to call the hardest to acquire skills, “soft”.

And like most good Hollywood action thrillers, enter the US military. 

Between 1968 and 1972, the US military noticed that despite the same training for the troops in how to use complex equipment, there was always a set or a group of individuals who succeeded in doing their job better than most. They wanted to identify what it was and train all of their troops to have these skills. 

A certain Mr Paul G Whitmore (We’ll call him Paul bhai so that we remember him), along with his team came up with a rather simple classification: If it is physically “hard” to do, then it is a hard skill, everything else is “soft”. 

So it’s clear that Paul bhai didn’t have any ill intentions while naming soft skills as “soft”. He still recognised them as important job-related skills(Check image). But probably could have done a better job at naming them. 

Now there have been efforts to rename soft skills as "people skills", “power skills”, and whatnot. But we ask like Shakespeare would, what’s in a name?

We’d rather redefine a well-known term for it to suit the current context than repackage it to make it sound more important and fancy.
Chai tea is still Chai.

If we look at the history of the term as well, it is clear that that context is king. The term was contextualised to the use of complex equipment or machines. Any revision must include the current context of Artificial Intelligence and the Industrial Revolution 4.0.

We’ve seen the old definitions, we have scoured through US military archives to understand the history, and have also established our reluctance to rename soft skills to make them seem important. We think it’s time we put our definition out there. 

Here’s what we think soft skills are:

Soft skills are skills or traits that allow humans to participate in complex social interactions.”

Let us explain: 

In today’s age where technology can execute clerical and complex technical tasks at breakneck speeds, it is clear that most humans will be required to be in situations that have their foundations in interpersonal interactions. 

To take part in these interactions effectively, we’ll have to learn and relearn skills that make us human. It’ll require us to listen to each other. To solve problems with each other. To empathize with each other. To communicate effectively with each other. To create with each other. 

Essentially, humans will have to be humans again.

We’re stepping into an era where we’ll re-discover the high value of creativity and the human intellect. 

Now, are we claiming this to be the most accurate definition of soft skills out there? Absolutely not. But, when anyone asks us what soft skills are, this is the definition we’ll be able to say with absolute conviction.

We also reject the notion of soft skills merely being a function of being better employees. Soft skills allow us to live fuller, and more holistic lives. Soft skills are vital for us to be more empathetic towards each other. To merely reduce it to be a performance tool for organisations will be doing it a disservice. 

At Mauka, we keep reiterating that, “Personal is professional”.  

This definition also helps us align our vision of how we intend to create learning experiences at Mauka for the Indian workplace. More on that soon. Stay tuned! 

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