“We need to retire the term ‘soft skills.’”
What words come to mind when you associate to the word “soft.” Parlamis and Monnot stated that “the word ‘soft’ is often used as a pejorative term”, e.g., soft on crime, soft sciences. They noted that synonyms for soft tend to be derogatory, such as “weak”, “dull”, “wimpy.” They argue that the set of skills we refer to as “soft” be reframed with another term and suggested “CORE skills” for Competence in Organizational and Relational Effectiveness.
There is another reason for eliminating “soft skills” from our vocabulary. Given a list of words and asked whether a word is associated more with men or women, the word “soft” will be associated more with women. I have tried this in the classroom and both sexes, nearly 100%, associated “soft” with women. Soft is a sex-role stereotype. It can affect hiring, performance appraisals, promotions. It is time to stop using the term “soft skills.” Furthermore, there is nothing soft about them.
I propose we use the term “relational skills” in place of “soft skills.”
I have used “relational skills” for decades across all aspects of my professional life. While people will not instinctively know what CORE skills are (or are already using CORE in a different context), they will intuitively understand the meaning of “relational skills”. [For an in-depth discussion of relational practice and implications for women, I recommend Joyce Fletcher (1999). ]
1. Using the term “soft skills” has negative implications. “Relational skills” is more descriptive and free of those implications.
2. For more on unintentional sex-role stereotyping in the workplace, see this blog.
3. The choice of our words and phrases in our conduct can be important. As a young child our daughter asked, “Dad, why don’t you ever call me and my brother kids?” To which I replied smiling, “When you act like baby goats, I will.”
Fletcher, J. (1999). Disappearing acts: Gender, power, and relational practice at work. The MIT Press.
Parlamis, J., & Monnot, M. J. (2019). Getting to the CORE: Putting an end to the term “soft skills”. Journal of Management Inquiry, 28(2), 225-227.
Image, "Team", by geralt, Obtained from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/team-people-silhouettes-drawing-123085/
© John Ballard, PhD, 2022. All rights reserved.
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