Originally posted on October 10, 2020 @ 11:30 AM
People Skills Are Not Soft Skills
When you know language matters you don’t to repeat the common discourse that ‘frames’ the Discourse that hides undisclosed assumptions and ideological agenda. I read an AIHS piece about a a so called ‘safety thought leader’ who referred to the skills of Listening, Helping, Caring and Learning as ‘soft skills’. Anyone who uses the binary nonsense of soft skills vs hard skills can never lead thinking for anyone. (BTW, this language of ‘thought leading’ is nonsense in itself).
People skills are not ‘soft’ skills.
This idea that skills are ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ is just more Discourse from a sector that wishes to frame the agenda of tackling risk towards brutalism. Engineering is good and psychology is bad, more binary nonsense from a sector that loves to claim the word ‘professional’.
I never refer to ‘soft’ skills and always use the language of ‘people’ skills. I never speak about the work of: checklists, bureaucracy, regulation, paperwork and policing as ‘hard’ skills. The metaphors of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ are emotionally loaded semiotics that we don’t need in the risk industry. If you repeat this kind of framing you just perpetuate the myth. All skill development is challenging and no skill should be privileged above another. It’s just as challenging to be a good listener as it is to fill out a spreadsheet.
In the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) we know that Framing, Priming, Pitching, Reframing, Anchoring and Mirroring in language matter. One of the first things we learn in SPoR is that discourse (language in use) hides Discourse (ideology in language). The way one ‘frames’ a message shapes the way people think about it. The medium is the message (https://safetyrisk.net/the-medium-is-the-message/ ). I have written about this before:
Language is not neutral and discourse often hides agenda that people don’t often have the skills to discern. These are the skills you don’t read about in the AIHS BoK. This is the language Safety doesn’t talk about (https://safetyrisk.net/listening-learning-helping-and-caring-about-risk/ ).
If you ‘prime’ the conversation as a binary eg. safety 1 or safety 2, you set up a black and white Discourse (power structure) that disables the in-between, the dialectic. If you frame your language in absolutes eg. zero, then you frame the conversation so people can’t talk to you. If you can’t drop the absolute (zero) and move to dialectic then no-one can speak to you and you have nothing to say to them. There is no movement in zero. Zero listens to no-one, helps no-one, cares for no-one and cannot learn. All learning involves movement.
So if you want some vision in the way you tackle risk then learn to drop this silly language of ‘soft n hard’. The safety industry is only going to move forward and become professional when it get’s its Discourse focused on humans not systems, policing and brutalism.