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There's Value In Your Soft Skills

There's Value In Your Soft Skills

Over the course of the last month, I have found myself in conversations about so called “soft skills.” They are those traits or behaviors, such as emotional intelligence, conflict resolution and collaboration, which are difficult to define and even more challenging to measure.

There appears to be consensus around the beliefs that these skills are increasingly important in organizations, are more commonly associated with women, and are not as highly valued by companies as they should be. Because of their increased importance, it is time to have real conversations and progress disassociating these skills from gender and on how they are valued and measured.

March was bookended for me by International Women’s Day and the Simmons' Leadership Conference, one of the most empowering days of professional development I have had the fortune to attend. At 2U, we had numerous conversations for Women and Leadership month on careers, creativity, and leadership. When Ellevate Network challenged us to name our #FemaleRoleModel, my list was long and came from every corner of industry and education. I have been reflecting about the themes across these events and what they mean for the conversations and progress needed.

Earned Skills

People believe these are personality traits or that they cannot be learned. This might be the very reason they are not valued as highly. If the perception is that a person did not earn these skills, this gives those who have not developed them an excuse to continue to do without. Often the worst offenders of office bullying disparage those who show these skills.

Soft skills can be developed and should have the same level of professional development attention as skills like financial acumen. Carla Harris notes that early in our careers, performance is our greatest currency but in later years, relationships become much more powerful and important in our work and ability to advance.

The Root Power of “Soft Skills”

In order to act upon the outwardly observable skills of conflict resolution and collaboration, one must first identify the barriers keeping individuals, groups, and the organization from reaching full potential. Whether they are caused by unconscious bias, flawed processes, or a misalignment of values and purpose, these hidden elements are hard to detect. It takes true skill to recognize them for what they are and even more challenging to remove them.

Not only must you have the ability to recognize and break down these barriers, but it takes courage to call them out and challenge them when they exist. It frequently requires questioning the status quo of people in power and influence.

Soft Skills Mean Hard Conversations

Calling these "soft" skills is ironic. The most powerful use of these traits often involve difficult interactions resulting in either conflict resolution or professional growth for another. There is nothing “soft” about those conversations. While they require a high level of emotional intelligence, they also demand directness. Kim Scott does an excellent job of describing this in her work on Radical Candor.

Someone who is skilled at leveraging those critical conversations can drive individuals and teams to unprecedented results.I have heard from countless professionals across my career about moments in which someone who deeply cared about their professional development gave them the hard perspective they needed to achieve a new level of performance and contribution.


Margaret is a General Manager at 2U Inc and is passionate about her work, her family developing the next generation of leaders, and not having it all. With over 20 years of business operations experience, Margaret believes great organizations are made up of smart dedicated people inspired by the organization’s vision. Follow Margaret on Twitter @MRuvoldt

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