From the DISCOVER YOU Director: We used to call them soft skills.

I recently watched an episode of Call the Midwife set in 1950s London. The scene was dock workers, either retired or physically wore from the heavy labor of dock work, being cared for by the community with food and medical care. One wife of an ill worker, upon confronting the dock boss, said “these men have given their lives for you, the least you could do is respect them let alone care about them”. I imagine work conditions portrayed in the episode motivated the formation of unions, social security, and pension plans. Yet the comment “the least you can do is respect them, let alone care about them” stood out.

While working conditions have certainly changed over generations, the need to be respected and cared for has not. We used to call this having ‘soft skills’ in contrast to ‘hard skills’ that are teachable and measurable like reading, writing, math or computer, technical, or trade skills. Soft skills are often described as traits that make a good employee, such as listening and getting along with people.

Over the years social science research has given more concrete names for soft skills: emotional intelligence or EQ (versus IQ), social competencies, people skills, human relations (versus resources), and social and emotional learning are just a few labels which categorize the skills needed to understand yourself and others, resolve conflict, have positive relationships and make good decisions.


What were once considered soft skills of being able to work with others, customer service, and teamwork are now being seen as necessary skills to be successful, not just at work, but in life. CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) gives 5 competencies of social and emotional learning (SEL):

  1. Self-awareness – the ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across context.
  2. Self- management – the abilities to manage one’s own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations.
  3. Social awareness – the abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts.
  4. Relationship Skills – the abilities to establish and maintain healthy, supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups.
  5. Responsible decision making – the abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations.

These competencies span beyond the work place, they start in classrooms and at home, within schools and groups of youth, are imbed in the relationships of family and caregivers and permeate our communities. Or so they should.

Pause: That was a bold statement, “Or so they should.” Working with adults over years of leadership and communication coaching and training I have found these competencies are just as important in the lives of adults as they are to teach to kids. We cannot teach something we don’t first understand and practice. SEL, while gaining traction as core curriculum standards in schools across the world, must also be taught and modeled with adults.

Here is the really cool thing. As adults grow in our SEL skills we will be better equipped, have greater capacity, deeper understanding and perspective, and stronger abilities to support and impact youth. That doesn’t sound soft to me. It sounds like exactly what young people and the communities we reach them in need.

We want youth to embrace their future with courage, confidence, and connections.

Start with self-awareness:

  • Recognize your strengths – make a list of your positive qualities
  • Develop a growth mindset – ask yourself these questions
    • What is going well?
    • Where is there struggle?
    • What are you learning?
  • Live on purpose – consider the impact you are having in the world


  • Recognize the strengths in others, especially youth
    • Tell them when they do something positive
    • Identify their positive qualities
  • Help others develop a growth mindset
    • Ask the questions you are asking yourself
      • What is going well?
      • Where is their struggle?
      • What are you learning?
    • Use the power of “yet”
  • Inspire youth to live on purpose
    • Support ideas – even the “crazy” ones
    • Open them to opportunities yet unconsidered


  • Continue to grow in your social and emotional learning as you teach and model these concrete skills to the youth in your span of care.

They are not soft skills anymore. We can reach our community’s kids with the skills of today so they can embrace their tomorrow.

Sarah Weisbarth is the Discover You Director with The ROCK Center for Youth Development.  Bringing programs supporting the social and emotional learning of adults and youth into school systems and classrooms around the globe.  Interested in Discover You ™ workshops or trainings for your organization?

Visit their website contact email and social media @DiscoverYouPrograms  Discover You™ Coach’s Training begins September 27th.  Workshops are available by request.

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