Teaching soft skills. It’s what I do. It’s what I love.

I once ran a talent programme within a large organisation and decided to take a chance on someone that had been dismissed by others. They rubbed people up the wrong way, had poor time management skills and couldn’t organise a kid’s tea party!

A challenge to be had.

The programme included several soft skills workshops. Firstly, we looked introspectively, then at teams and concluded with management and leadership skills. Fast forward twelve months and he’s now a well-respected manager and human being. But he would probably describe soft skills as the hardest to acquire, yet also the most worthwhile.

So, it’s fair to say that there’s nothing “soft” about soft skills. It’s their description that gives them an unfair reputation as being fluffy and emotional.

Soft skills become human skills

Simon Sinek reframes soft skills to ‘human skills’, which I give a big thumbs up to.

In its ‘Future of Jobs’ report, the World Economic Forum looked at current employment, skills and workforce strategies to identify the top ten skills that everyone will need in the fourth industrial revolution.  What might surprise some (not us at Laughology) is that creativity, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence are all on this list. Skills we associate as ‘soft’.

There’s plenty of evidence that these skills can all be learnt, making you better at your job and predicting performance.

Even Charles Darwin, in his Origin of Species, recognised that it’s not the strongest or most intelligent who survive, but those who can best manage change. Those who can demonstrate soft skills like adaptability and resilience. 

A more up to date version of this would be from Angela Duckworth’s book ,‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’. She says that grit predicts success more reliably than talent or I.Q. Anyone can learn to be gritty.

The main challenge is that there’s no step-by-step guide for being a nice person, nor one for being a great listener. I’m sure we can all think of people we’d send copies of those guides to. You see, reading about soft skills or watching a Ted Talk is not enough on its own. It needs to be combined with face to face learning and practise.

Soft skills take practice and time. They’re lifelong and require regular feedback to develop them further.

Soft skills or Klopp skills?

If you don’t know yet, Liverpool are probably going to win the Premier League this year. Some of you reading this won’t care and are probably wondering why I’m telling you. But, love them or loathe them, we can learn a lot from Jurgen Klopp. In his own words, “I have this helping syndrome. I care about people.” Human skills that have served him and his team well. He recognises that talent and hard skills on their own will only get you so far.

Trust is the foundation for Klopp. He is willing to be vulnerable, openly discussing his mistakes in front of his team. He encourages tough conversations, making sure everyone can accept feedback. Once there is trust, open communication follows. He collaborates to achieve goals, makes everyone accountable and encourages conflict to engage debate.

Whether you’re a football fan or not, these qualities are also essential in business, education and life. Research tells us that 85% of job success depends on having well-developed people skills, leaving only 15% for technical skills.

Yes, soft skills can be taught, but changes don’t happen overnight.  Habits that people have developed over a long time may need changing or improving. The good news is we can change habits. We all develop new "muscle memory" through practise. It all starts with our mindset, changing from a fixed one to a growth one.

Developing human skills

Laughology workshops delve into the fascinating psychology and neuroscience of growth mindset. They look at the theories behind the way we learn and develop, revealing how we can use this knowledge to become better at everything we do. We’ve also come up with a list of top skills we recommend you equip yourself with too.

Just as Simon Sinek champions the word ‘human’ above the word ‘soft’, so does Brene Brown. She suggests we should ‘be human, be vulnerable and embrace the suck.’

So maybe we need to stop using the word ‘soft’ and champion the word ‘human’. We must recognise that everyone brings differing levels of soft/ human skills and emotional intelligence to the workplace.

Just as technical abilities are important in the workforce, soft/human skill training is a necessary investment to make and one that will show great returns over time.