The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: When to Develop and When to Move On

a blue paper with red text that says "The Hard Truth about soft skills"
Author: Catherine Lang-Cline

Soft skills, often called interpersonal or people skills, are the non-technical abilities that enable individuals to interact effectively with others in the workplace and beyond. They encompass many attributes, including communication, teamwork, emotional intelligence, adaptability, problem-solving, and leadership [1] – all critical skills in any creative environment!

Why are soft skills important in the workplace?

  • Soft skills are essential for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and building strong relationships among team members.
  • They contribute to better collaboration, conflict resolution, and overall job satisfaction.
  • In today’s dynamic work landscape, where teamwork and adaptability are crucial, solid and soft skills can be a differentiator for career advancement [1].

How do you identify soft skills in team members and candidates?

  • During interviews, ask behavioral questions that require candidates to provide examples of how they’ve demonstrated various soft skills in previous roles.
  • Look for effective communication, teamwork, problem-solving abilities, and emotional intelligence indicators.
  • Assessment tools and situational judgment tests may also help to evaluate candidates’ soft skills [5].

Can people learn or develop soft skills?

Yes! Keep in mind that leaders and managers play a crucial role in helping individuals develop their soft skills. You should…

  • Provide ongoing guidance, set clear goals, and offer opportunities for real-world practice.
  • Incorporate feedback sessions and encourage self-reflection to facilitate continuous improvement.
  • Additionally, create a supportive environment where team members feel comfortable taking risks and learning from mistakes [2].
  • Work on your own soft skills and model the behavior you expect.
  • Coaching and mentoring can significantly contribute to this process.

What if a team member is still struggling to develop soft skills?

This is tricky! It’s important to identify skill gaps and work with team members to improve their soft skills. These skills can be learned with coaching and development.

  • If someone on your team lacks specific soft skills, take proactive steps to support their development.
  • Offer constructive feedback, provide relevant training and resources, and encourage participation in team-building activities.
  • Role-playing scenarios can be particularly helpful in practicing and honing specific skills.


However, if an individual consistently fails to improve or adapt, it may be necessary to consider alternative solutions [2].

When is it time to move on?

While investing in employees’ growth is commendable, there may come a point where persistently low levels of soft skills impede team performance. If an individual repeatedly demonstrates an inability or unwillingness to develop essential soft skills despite your efforts, it may be necessary to reassess their fit within the team. [2].

When assessing soft skills, deal-breakers and red flags include…

  • Lack of communication
  • Poor teamwork
  • Resistance to feedback
  • Inability to adapt to change


Individuals who consistently exhibit these behaviors may struggle to thrive in collaborative work environments, negatively impacting team dynamics and performance. Pay attention to these warning signs during hiring and address them promptly to mitigate potential challenges [1].


We have no doubt that soft skills are indispensable for success in any workplace, and especially in communication-oriented creative and marketing roles. By recognizing their importance, actively assessing and fostering them in ourselves and others, and addressing skill gaps proactively, we can create a more cohesive, productive, and fulfilling work environment for everyone.