Are soft skills important in a digital business?

by Daniel J. Power
Editor, DSSResources.COM

Perhaps, if we can define what an employer seeks. Soft skills is an ambiguous concept. In general, it is important to specify the knowledge and skill requirements of a job and then evaluate job candidates. Every job is not the same in terms of hard or soft skills requirements. A blanket specification that IT staff or analytics practitioners or systems analysts need better soft skills is a vague, hard to interpret requirement. Soft skills can mean almost anything. But you might ask: don't all employees need to know how to communicate and need people skills and need to have empathy for other employees? Yes, but do you know what you are looking for? When I interview someone I know right away if they have the soft skills to fit in. Are the soft skills of a traditional business the soft skills of digital business? Do soft skills help a person conduct analyses and make better data-based decisions? Do soft skills mean a person has a high emotional IQ?

Soft skills generally refers to "personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people" or are the "interpersonal (people) skills". Wikipedia explains "Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attribute,[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."

There are multiple lists of soft skills. Are all the skills equally important? Are soft skills an either or phenomenon or is proficiency more a continuum of skill development from average, through, good, excellent and outstanding? Can soft skills be taught and learned? Can we measure the level of competency a person exhibits of a soft skill?

Soft skills are fuzzy. In some ways the focus on soft skills is reminiscent of the concerns in the 1960s and 70s about improving interpersonal relationship skills and communication skills. The "solution" to the problem was T-groups or training groups. These groups were sometimes referred to as sensitivity-training group, human relations training groups, or encounter groups. These encounter approaches were focused on improving soft skills. People were encouraged to share their thoughts and emotions and have others share theirs.

Digital business changes the way people interact and behave. Communication skills are much more that face-to-face talking and formal presentations. Interpersonal skills may involve interacting remotely using Skype or Zoom with an impersonal, delayed interaction. Team members may never meet physically. Trust changes in digital business. Data takes on new importance. Facts are both more and less important.

Some think the greatest need is for hard skills retraining as people become "technologically unemployed" when artificial intelligence makes many jobs obsolete, cf. Ahmed, 2018. New generalized hard skills are increasingly important. Data analysis, critical thinking, knowing how to search and find data in a data-filled world have been nice skills to have in recent years, but they are crucial in a digital business and should now be prerequisites to hiring and promotion.


Ahmed, K., "Bank of England chief economist warns on AI jobs threat," BBC.Com, 20 August 2018 at URL

Last update: 2018-10-19 02:16
Author: Daniel Power

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