What is the difference between a soft and a hard skill?

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

You’ve probably heard these terms being thrown around a bunch of times. But what do they mean, really? Today, I’m going to make it very very simple. Why? Because making things simple is my favorite thing to do.

Let’s begin.

A soft skill has more to do with emotions: dealing with people, situations, and behavior. Think about dealing with conflicts, resolving issues between other people (or between them and yourself), and just general communication in the workplace (or pretty much anywhere else). Those things fall within the realm of having good (or bad) soft skills.

Now, hard skills have to do with objects, applications, dealing with tools, machines, or just technical matters in general. So examples of hard skills would include things like typing, troubleshooting, programming, repair, and pretty much anything else that involves you using your hands or something that you perform/physically do.

Okay, so we’ve covered the definitions. Another question you may have is, “why are soft skills such a big deal in the workplace today?” Well, allow me give you some examples of a few soft skills, how they are used, and why they are so freaking important.

First one: reliability.

Have you ever worked with a really smart coworker who just had no idea how to be on time for meetings or get things done by a certain deadline? I think you can guess why reliability would be an important soft skill to develop. If people can’t rely on you, after a while they’re not going to care how good you are at doing the specific thing they want you to do.

And that leads us to our next soft skill, communication.

Have you ever had a coworker who didn’t know how to talk to people? One who came in every day and demanded things or ordered people around without even asking if how they were, if it is was a good time or if they had the capacity to take on something else? People who can’t communicate simply suck to be around. So if you do not have communication as a soft skill, then you’re going to find that there aren’t many places where your hard skills are going to be enough to to get you out of trouble.

Let’s see one more: self regulation.

You might wonder, “how is self regulation considered a soft skill? Or even a relevant one?” Well here’s another example. Suppose Johnny gets up every day at 6:00 AM to work on all of the extra projects he took home from work yesterday. He heads out at 8:30 to get to the office for 9, where he then proceeds to work all day, barely taking a break or talking to anyone he doesn’t have to speak to. When he leaves the office at 5, he gets home by 5:30 and fixes himself a poor excuse of a dinner before resuming all of the extra work that he took home from the office. He does this until around 9:00 or 10:00 PM, then does a couple stretches and take a quick shower before heading to bed–without doing anything fun for himself.

Johnny is obsessive, doesn’t know how to set boundaries with himself, and will eventually become pretty difficult to be around. Because he doesn’t listen to his own body or engage in any self-care, he’ll be hard to speak to and generally emit a negative vibe, because he does not know where to strike a balance between work and play. Even though he thinks he’s staying ahead of the game by bringing work home and not taking a break, what he’s really doing is making it difficult for anybody to interact with him in a meaningful way in the future. If all he does is work, then he has no time for recharging and no time to bring fresh ideas or even a positive attitude to the office.

So, there you have it: those are a few examples of soft skills that can be relevant to your work life.

There are many others, including time management, organization, accountability, coachability, teamwork, initiative, and problem solving. Feel free to hit up Google sometime and check out what types of soft skills you might be generally bad at, or missing entirely. It can be revealing to see that you are not as much of an interpersonal expert as you thought you were.

But, it’s not all bad news.

Even if you’ve developed your hard skills far more than your soft skills up until now, you still have time to change. You can develop your soft skills if you take some time out to figure out which areas you aren’t doing so great in. Reach out to friends, family, coworkers, and anyone else in your life will be honest with you to figure this out, and then work on yourself. You’ll find that your work persona and reputation will be a lot more balanced and many doors will open for you that were slammed shut before.

And remember, if you are already a soft skills expert, but aren’t doing so well in the hard skills department, well, that’s an easy fix. Go online to Coursera, Kham Academy, Udemy or another online learning portal to get access to free and inexpensive training on any topic imaginable. If you prefer to do things in person, look on Kijiji or Meetup and find classes, groups and workshops going on in your area. Strengthening your hard skills can admittedly be a lot easier than strengthening your soft skills, but it’s worth it to make sure that both are always being improved and attended to at all times.

Now, go out there and be amazing.


Disclaimer: This was “written” with dictation software and hastily proofread before my ADHD causes me to forget to post it for another month. Please excuse any and all typos or (nicely) point them out. Muchas gracias mis amigos.

Yours Truly,
Miss Kim-Lee

Published by Kim-Lee Patterson

Kim-Lee Patterson is an editor and author from Ontario, Canada. Since 2011, she’s edited for a variety of clients, ranging from job seekers and students to business owners and book authors. Her versatile editing style and her ability to mimic other styles are some of the things that her clients love about her and her work.

2 thoughts on “What is the difference between a soft and a hard skill?

    1. Claire, you’re such a sweet person. Thank you for saying that, I appreciate it a lot. The pandemic had me really fall off my writing routines, so it is encouraging to see a comment like this. <3 I hope you're well.


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