CORE Skills: An Alternative to the Term “Soft Skills”?

We refer to the term soft skills very frequently – at work, at school, even in JFY Workshops! This term refers to the interpersonal skills often associated with emotional intelligence (defined by Salovey and Mayer (1990) as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions. . . and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions”) and organization. However, oftentimes the use of the word “soft” may evoke connotations of weakness, triviality, and other unflattering descriptors. Though here at JFY we like to celebrate all the meanings the word soft carries – from empathy, to caring, to approachable. We are not recommending to abandon the use of the term soft skills but would like to open this concept to you – the JFY Community – to think about the term, the connotations associated with it, and whether or not we should forget about it altogether! 

So, where do we start? 

Let’s start with key concepts associated with soft skills. According to Dr. Jennifer Parlamis at the University of San Francisco, soft skills include “skills such as leadership, teamwork, self-awareness, managing conflict, communicating effectively, getting along, and so on, that are essential ingredients for individual, team, and organizational success” (Parlamis, 2018). These attributes are often exemplified by those we enjoy working with and around, positive relationships, and productivity. These probably sound very familiar, as they are interrelated with the terms used to define emotional intelligence!  

So why would anyone want to change the language used to define these attributes and skills? Parlamis and Monnot suggest that there are too many negative connotations associated with the word “soft”. These include “weak”, “wimpy”, and lack of follow through, as well as the synonyms for the word which include “dull,” “debilitated,” “unsubstantial,” among several others. Their ambition is to leave soft skills in the past and move towards what they call CORE Skills. CORE stands for Competence in Organizational and Relational Effectiveness – woah! That’s a lot, we know. They believe the different way of describing such competencies will divert attention away from the negative, unfavorable connotations of the word “soft” to a more neutral acronym dubbed CORE. 

Now, here at JFY we use the term soft skills quite often. Heck, we even have an entire workshop about it! So this is our thought – instead of changing the way we describe such qualities in folks, why don’t we strive to change the mindset and framing around the word “soft”? In other words, maybe it would be best to educate others on the redeeming qualities of the word, rather than focusing on the negative aspects that may or may not even be evoked in others. We feel that all aspects of the word soft” are reason for celebration and pride.  

But we don’t have all the answers. Therefore, we leave it to you, the JFY Community, to reflect upon this idea. What do you think? Should we abandon the term soft skills for a more neutral term? Should we focus more on educating other on the positive attributes of softness rather than the negative ones? Or are there even more ways to think about this that weren’t mentioned here? We’d love to hear from you, so please feel empowered to comment your thoughts below!  

* Please find the full PDF of the article referenced here. (