Richard Branson spins an amusing yarn about Elon Musk in his book, “Finding My Virginity,” and it’s all about the Tesla founder’s lack of soft skills.

Branson admired Musk for his technical acumen, but not so much for his interpersonal skills. Once during a vacation together in the days before Tesla, Branson told Musk as much.

“If you don’t have your own ventures one day, you’re welcome to come and run one of mine — just brush up on your people skills,” Branson recalls telling Musk. To be fair, Musk has since practiced and perfected those skills. And it’s not know if Branson’s urging had anything to do with it.

However, soft skills such as listening, verbal communication, and empathy to name a few are very important to Branson. He credits those skills for his success as a business leader, and more so for the success of his team.

“The key to success in business is all about people, people, people.”

-Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group

Don’t go saying “soft skills are the new hard skills” just yet. You don’t need one over the other to be successful. What’s required is probably a healthy combination of both, and the ability to switch between them along a spectrum of skills.

Hard Versus Soft Skills: A Primer

Before we get knee deep into how to utilize and cultivate either skill set, let’s quickly define their differences.

A short premier on the differences between hard and soft skills. (Credit: YouTube)

Hard skills are technical ability, learned through schooling, training, or work experience. These are necessary abilities used to perform your job.

For example, say you’re a marketer. You might utilize analytics and other performance metrics to effectively do your job. Or you’re a designer. Skills of color theory, composition, user experience, and coding are necessary depending on what type of design you practice.

Soft skills are a little less concrete. That doesn’t make them any less important. These are skills you practice in the workplace as you interact with your peers. People skills, as some call it. It’s much more than that though.

Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson says soft skills have allowed him and his team to achieve success. (Photo Credit: Virgin Group)

There are two types of soft skills:

One isn’t preferable over the other. Both of these soft skills are helpful in achieving success.

Soft Skills Help You and Others Win

Let’s go back to Branson for a bit. His number one business tenet: people.

He firmly believes a company that isn’t people-oriented isn’t a business at all. And for him, that starts with his team.

Virgin’s founder explains why soft skills are key to a successful business. (Credit: YouTube)

Over the years, Branson has cultivated his soft skills to help him build a winning team.  Without those, he knows that no one would want to work with him or do business with him.

Your hard skills get you in the door. It’s your soft skills that’ll keep you there. Because if you can’t work well with others, you won’t be working there long.

“Nobody can be successful alone and you cannot be a great leader without great people to lead.”

Here are some tips on developing your soft skills:

  • Don’t be the lone wolf. We get it. There are times when you have to sequester yourself to crush a deadline. However, you don’t want to hide behind closed doors all the time. Interact with your fellow teammates. The more you interact with others, the better you’ll develop your soft skills.
  • Don’t hog the spotlight. It’s a team effort between you and your peers. We all want credit for the hard work we do, just don’t hog all the credit. Prop up your peers and they’ll prop you up in return. This will also solidify your bond with each other.
  • Don’t fear feedback. Practicing soft skills can be uncomfortable and you’ll make some mistakes. You won’t know how to improve or approach the same situation differently if you avoid feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask your peers for their input and advice. (Something we firmly believe here at Matter.)

Don’t Give Up on Your Hard Skills Just Yet

Once you got the job doesn’t mean you flip a switch and only focus on your soft skills. Your technical abilities still need your attention.

Because you got a degree or certification in your specific profession, doesn’t mean there isn’t anything new to learn. There are always new hard skills required for any profession. Think about how much technology has changed and how that’s impacted your job.

Just take a look at the most in-demand hard skills for 2020. Things like cloud computing, blockchain, AI, and user experience top the list. Some of which weren’t around a decade ago. Now imagine what’s to come in the next decade or so.

“One of the main things that distinguish successful and unsuccessful people is the willingness to learn new things”

Being willing to adapt and pick up a few new hard skills or improve the ones you already have keeps you hirable.

So What’s the Final Verdict

When it comes to hard versus soft skills, there isn’t a clear victor. Both are required for you to grow your career.


Matter: The Future of Feedback

Matter helps professionals become the best version of themselves. We believe everyone can achieve mastery, learn, grow, and be respected by their peers. People perform better when they receive monthly peer feedback (proven by science too!).

Matter makes 360-degree feedback easier, pleasant, and more productive. Grow over professional and soft skills like analytical thinking, strategic thinking, and verbal communication. Level up and take charge of your career with Matter.

Cover Photo Credit: Virgin