Why Coaching Soft Skills is so Different from Training Hard Skills

Mar 4, 2019

According to LinkedIn data, 57 percent of senior leaders feel soft skills are more important than hard skills. Interviewing candidates on hard skills is easy, whereas interviewing on soft skills requires questions prompting candidates to give examples of how they’ve applied such skills.

It is fairly simple to train a newly hired candidate on hard skills, which are eminently teachable and easy to quantify. For example, a trainer shows the new employee how to navigate technology platforms such as the property management system, company website, lead management system, and phone system. The new employee then navigates the systems as the trainer watches and assists when the new hire gets hung up on the next step. Sometimes there are short quizzes at the end of the day to test the employee’s knowledge on hard skills as well as documents to reference during the first few months until system navigation becomes second nature. I recommend training on hard skills first, so the new employees feel confident in their day-to-day routines, and then introducing soft skills.

Soft skills are people skills or interpersonal skills.

According to LinkedIn, the most desirable soft skills for employees in 2019 are creativity, persuasion, and collaboration. Creativity assists in conceiving solutions. We know solution-based thinking is always valued in any company. Persuasion speaks to sales skills and getting people excited about a product.

I am a fan of relationship-building skills focused on empathy, compassion, personal connection, and drawing a visual picture to emotionally connect experiences. I have found the best way to build these skills is to dig deep into their meanings and how to communicate them. Reading articles or watching videos as a baseline to assist with such skills is helpful. Listening to company sales and guest service call recordings and viewing email and text communications can help new employees learn how these skills are being practiced. And these internal examples are beneficial when identifying opportunities to communicate in a way that makes the guest feel understood, supported, and excited.


One of the most challenging soft skills to coach is empathy. Some data say you either are born with it or you are not. We know that the prefrontal cortex in the brain houses the ability to have empathy, and that can be compromised in many ways, such as head injuries, many years of drug and alcohol addiction, lead poisoning, and incarceration. With that said, I watched an employee develop empathy over a two-year process with consistent coaching as well as breaking down personal barriers and experiencing a difficult life experience. After all, how do we know how to empathize if we have never experienced pain or grief? These soft skills do not appear overnight; they take time and patience to develop.

I also recommend not mixing soft skills coaching with hard skills or human resources topics. Soft skills take real focus and processing. When they are mixed with other areas, the content can get lost and not be as effective.

Collaboration and Adaptability

Collaboration and adaptability are other sought-after soft skills. We need to be able to pull from others’ strengths and not assume we have all the answers. This plays into teamwork and respect for the knowledge others have that we may not. Adaptability complements collaboration. Our world is constantly changing with the amount of technology we rely on and its continual upgrades. To keep up in business we have to adapt and be open to change; if we aren’t uncomfortable, we aren’t growing.

Time Management

Finally, I will discuss the skills involved in time management. I have yet to coach a leader who hasn’t asked for tools on this subject. The industry of hospitality fosters a heavy workload, and the new day and age of quick responses is at an all-time high. I watch people suffer with anxiety from such pressure, and I find myself talking a good amount about being in the moment to relieve the anxiety and be present with one’s self as well as relationships. It is up to us to manage our time so we don’t find ourselves spinning because we can’t live up to the quick-response world. We need to create healthy boundaries so we can be present with our relationships.

Hard Skills

Out of 25 hard skills that companies are most looking for, a few of my favorites that are most applicable to the hospitality industry include people management, that is, the idea of coaching and empowering instead of commanding and controlling; sales leadership, which seems to be more challenging to find these days; and customer service system management. One unsavory tweet can ruin your business, so how will you keep your company on top of service levels? These three areas speak to understanding trust-building, both internally and externally, and how our world is different from when we were being groomed in business more than 20 years ago.

Coaching Soft Skills

Trainingindustry.com pointed out in January of 2019 that “not only does soft skills training help when it comes to succession planning, but it also improves motivation across the entire organization and creates a more harmonized, cooperative working environment.” They recommend focusing on the following topics: communication, leadership, time-management, and problem-solving skills; teamwork; and change management. It is beneficial to offer such training to every employee in the company.

Different types of situational learning can assist with growing soft skills. One is having a mentor in the company. The mentor can help guide and support new employees until they feel confident in specific skills. This also helps build skills in negotiating time availability and commitment for each person involved as well as the overall feeling of support in a new working environment. Other companies offer apprenticeships with mentors and good teachers. This process assists with internal company dynamics of working with peers who are open to learning interpersonal skills.

Another great team-building method to assist with soft skills is offering group activities. This can look like a leadership development program in which you provide blended learning with classroom topics, reading, and homework, followed by ongoing group activity assignments. Each leader can present to the group and receive an evaluation by peers and instructors. Peer evaluation can speak to developing transparency as well as vulnerability in an organization. Bringing in situational learning opportunities will help make soft skills feel easy to learn and not as challenging as some may perceive.

    “They aren’t called soft skills, they are called courage building skills” – Brene Brown