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Why are soft skills so hard?

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

The work of developing soft skills like awareness, adaptability, communication, and collaboration don't often come easy. When I'm coaching clients the first challenge they typically meet is the, "Why is this shit so hard?" hurtle. This is when clients start to increase their awareness and are simultaneously faced with the decision to lean into accountability and adaptability or turn away.


But why is the work such a challenge? On the surface one could easily say, "OK, now that you know, just do shit differently." And if life were that easy we would have peace in the middle east, I would have a clean closet, and all societal and cultural inequities would be things of the past. Doing things differently comes up against some hard wired mental programming. Also, when we attempt to make changes to old patterns of behavior it's not just about reprogramming our minds (which can be hard AF), we also have to confront cultural norms that may be impeding us. And the final hurtle that make this work challenging is that there is no one-for-all solution because human experiences are infinite.


Few things are more frustrating than investing in your own growth and development only to come out of your cocoon a beautiful butterfly and then get shit on by a drunk crow... It's enough to say, "F soft skills, I'm not doing this anymore." Those feelings are legit and I have had to personally navigate them too. It is hard, and the fact that we are trying to make progress with others who are in completely different places in their journey's makes this shit even harder. But here is why I ask people to stay persistent in this work...


If we want to have healthier relationships where our needs are met and we feel seen, heard, and valued this requires consistent work and growth. AND this can be difficult because, as you may have noticed, life is constantly changing- making people's life experiences something that is never fixed. But frustrating and impossible are not the same things. So finding ways to remember this is a practice, not a perfect, is an important first step towards growing your soft skills. The second step is really dig into what awareness feels like for you. If you get stumped when people ask you, "How does that make you feel?" Begin to see that question as an opportunity to become curious and aware. Learn to spend time with yourself.


When we find ways to turn soft skills into a daily practice we are far more likely to stay persistent... and if we want to see results in this area, persistence is the #1 tool we need. If you need a few tips to help get you started think about these...


1) Removing binary thinking. While the LGBTQIA+ community has brought us into the light that sex, gender, and orientation aren't two categories, the same goes for other areas of our culture. We have a habit (or a learned construct of thinking), that things are good or bad, right or wrong, positive or negative. This can be super unhelpful when we need to stay persistent in growing skills that don't conform to linear progress. Here's the thing about human growth- some days we are killing it, and other days we feel like we are getting killed. In truth, most days are a mix of both. Trying to dump our efforts into binary buckets of "success" or "failure" will make it harder to stay persistent in finding ways to work with our imperfect selves. So give yourself a break and embrace the spaces in-between binary social constructs when it comes to your growth.


2) Commit to compassion. Just reading that statement sucks on so many levels. If we struggle with poor self image, compassion can feel like an undeserving day at the beach. In truth, learning to give yourself a break with improved self talk, "Hey you did your best. Perfect is not the goal. Doing your best is the goal and you did that, good job," is actually rewiring mental pathways in your mind. The more you practice compassion the more well defined these neuro pathways become, and the less time you spend on judgement row. Bonus... the less you spend on that judgement path, the sooner it will become overgrown and fade in time.


3) Get comfortable with discomfort. Remember what I just said about rewiring our brains? Discomfort is another great example of this. The vast majority of us have adopted coping / survival skills that helped us navigate dangerous and / or traumatizing environments growing up. This might have been behaviors you learned to avoid being bullied, or things you did to avoid abuse by adults. We all have these behaviors. If we carried these behaviors into adulthood chances are they became personality traits, and we were so wedded to them we couldn't tell where our authenticity begins and where these learned behaviors end.


On the surface there is nothing wrong with holding onto behaviors that allowed us to survive trauma. BUT, often these behaviors fail to serve us in adulthood. Letting go of behavioral choices like sarcasm, gossip, victimhood, and control is definitely uncomfortable, especially when asked to fill that void with serenity, trust, vulnerability, and non-violent communication. Much like the compassion practice, the more we allow for discomfort the more we are activating underused areas in our brains. Getting comfortable with discomfort means that we are growing, just like when we workout for the first time in months- that soreness is our muscles getting stronger and if we give up, we'll never see the changes we want.


So to answer the question, "why are soft skills so hard?" My answer is, "because most of us have never done this work before." And if we think about first time experiences none of them are ever easy. We usually have anxiety building up to the event, or dread and stress during the event. Encountering setbacks during a first time experience can feel insurmountable if not framed correctly and the odds are high we'll ditch evolution to run back into the comfort of our caves. BUT here is the thing... our caves are great when we need to survive, they keep us dry and safe. But when our dependance on survival is holding us back from thriving it's necessary to leave the cave and build new home that feels authentically whole to live in. We are all deserving of that.


Photo Credit: Howl and Rose

Kate Katz is the owner and founder of All Hands In, a soft skills development company. All Hands In specializes in soft skill development using play and puppetry. If you'd like to learn more about the work she does please visit: www.allhandsinworkshops.com or email her at kate@allhandsinworkshops.com



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