Why Are Soft Skills So Hard?

Whether you are a CEO or a psychic, working in I.T or going for an interview, if you are confident in some areas but not in others: the ‘soft’ skills required to create human connection, and therefore grow your business, your reputation, or standing, are important – and don’t always come easily. One of these key ‘soft’ skills is communication.

But if speaking is ‘soft’ … why do so many people find it so hard?

In an HR Magazine article from 2017 there was a statistic saying 95% of employers regard soft skills as equally or more important than exam results. Another article, by James Caan, from 2015 highlighted the issue too, in fact, in just that one publication in a search for ‘soft skills’ it came up with 143 results … soft skills for graduates, for management, in leadership, in teamwork …. It would appear that although denoted as ‘soft’ these skills seem to be seriously desirable and somewhat lacking.  It also appears that often ‘soft’ skills are equated to ‘simple’, which would possibly devalue them and, perhaps, be seen as not quite as worth investing in as something that might offer more direct or obvious results. Given that confidence with communication can directly lead to more sales, better relationships in the workplace and stress reduction, as well as being transferable to home and social life too – it strikes me as an obvious place to support yourself, or your team.

After the glory of summer and the holidays that are sitting temptingly on the horizon … it will soon be September and that means that conference season is closer than you think, and that means you may well be required to get up and speak.

Public speaking is easy for some … but hated by most.

I was on the train to Nottingham, to help facilitate a course on personal impact a while ago, and got chatting to the man sat across the aisle, diagonally opposite me. (This is not a rare occurrence, I get chatting to people all the time, often on public transport – yes I’m that person!)

This man, Christoph, and I were talking about what I do and his first reaction was ‘So many people I know could do with that…even for sharing ideas in meetings.’ This, of course, delighted me, as one of my key beliefs is ALL speaking is ‘public’ and the challenges clients come to me with often start with being seen and heard; things like raising your hand in team meetings, going networking, or presenting for, or pitching to, clients.

“I don’t know why they are called soft skills” … Christoph said …”when they can be so hard.”


And that’s the thing … the so called ‘soft skills’ are, indeed, a real challenge for so many. There is no discrimination either, it’s not only interns, the I.T. crowd, or those with their own business on the line, who would rather not stand up and speak ..

CEOs, doctors, directors, successful entrepreneurs running international companies … they have challenges with communication and public speaking too – I know, because they are my clients.

Many people in leadership positions get there because they’re good at what they do, not because they’re good at communication, expressing their thoughts or feelings, or enjoy public speaking. It’s easier to delegate what you don’t want to do when you’re the boss! How many managers, MDs, CEOs do you know who don’t communicate effectively with their team?

If you think those you see standing up there speaking regularly are completely confident, you may well be wrong. They may just be ‘putting it on’ or have spent a whole week not sleeping properly, shutting people out of their office, being unapproachable at home and at work, being unproductive and wishing they could delegate the responsibility to someone else.

“Soft skills” sounds like something that should be comfortable, cozy, warm, easy.
You should snuggle up and relax in to something that involves softness.

Unfortunately, the reality is that when it comes to sharing your voice, your opinion, your ideas, or those of your company; all too often the experience is painful, uncomfortable, embarrassing, fear-filled, nerve-inducing … hard.

The good news is that there is lots you can do about it.

The bad news is you have to take action … change won’t happen by osmosis!

Truthfully? You could improve the old- fashioned, long, hard, way, just keep on doing it and the more you do it, the more you will realise that it’s not going to kill you, and you’ll be ok.

Alternatively, you can work with someone to support you, someone to give you tools, techniques and self-awareness to help you uncover your ability to communicate clearly and create connection with your audience, whether that be one person or a thousand.

There are literally hundreds of public speaking coaches and groups you can find to help you hone this specific and most challenging of ‘soft’ skills. There are even several of us who will take the work deeper and also help you become more aware of who you are, and why you have these challenges in the first place.

Your voice is directly linked to your life experiences; your thoughts and emotions are reflected in your voice, and this includes where they have been shut off or shut down. So, whoever you choose to support you in your communication and public speaking skills, make sure the way they work is right for you. Make sure you know what you want out of the relationship.

What would speaking success look like for you?

Do you want to work on speaking in public, or on expressing yourself and communication in general, or both?

Do you want to work holistically, taking into account who you are and the whole life you lead? Or specifically, on one speech or challenge, without going any deeper thank you very much?

Do you want to speak to sell, or to communicate to connect?

Do you have time for a long programme, or are you busy and want an intensive experience?

Do you want ongoing support so you know there’s someone you can call on when a challenge arises, or a quick fix to plaster over the cracks?

Do you want to follow a manual, or have a personalised experience created just for you?

Answering these questions, knowing how you want to work and the results you want to get, will help make the hard task of enhancing your soft skills much easier.

I believe that it’s imperative that you connect your physical, expressive, voice to your social voice, to who you are, what you believe in, and what you stand for. It makes what you’re talking about bigger than just you, it takes the spotlight off you and puts it on to the importance of what you are speaking about.

If you are not connected to your whole self when you speak it makes it so much harder to connect to others … maybe that’s the ‘hard’ in ‘soft’ skills: knowing, and showing at least a bit of, who you are.

In the meantime, to help make speaking easier,(whatever the situation) here are my three top tips:

Breathe: To manage nerves – before you need to speak, take time to reduce your heart rate with three to five deep, slow, breaths

Breathe: to feel the connection between your body and your breath – feel your stomach muscles and ribs expanding and contracting and know your breath (and therefore your voice) is supported by your whole body, not just trapped in your throat.

Breathe: take time to breathe when you are speaking … this slows you down and gives the audience a better chance of understanding you.

Sneaky 4th bonus tip…

PAUSE… it gives you time to breathe, helps you to prepare for what you’re going to say next, and gives the person or people listening to you a chance to hear what you just said.

For more tips and tools and to find out more about how I work, book a complementary 20minute clarity call with me.




Article mentioned at top of blog can be found here
Cat picture by shellac on Flikr