Why do they call people-management ‘soft skills,’ when it’s so hard?

If you look at the business section of any bookshop there’s piles of books on management, about management theories, ‘blue-sky’ thinking, and creating long-term strategies.

But people management, at the sharp end, (where most of us exist), is a day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour practical activity, there’s nothing conceptual about management. If you type ‘management’ into Google you get 2,870,000,000 results. It’s become an industry in itself! Yet when we strip away the fluff and bring it down to basics, management is about getting stuff done through people. And that’s the tough part as people don’t conform to laws of physics, they are not abstractions but thinking, feeling, breathing humans.

When we ask about the problems managers encounter, as we do every day, it’s not about how to create a strategic plan, but about how to:

  • Motivate people
  • Deliver difficult feedback
  • Improve performance
  • Lead productive meetings
  • Delegate
  • Get the best out of a team
  • Interview – and get it right
  • Deal with constant interruptions

These are the issues that managers worry about, the practical ones. Creating a ‘management industry’ doesn’t help, nor does intellectualising issues. What managers benefit best from is practical advice, about how they, (not you, or the person over there, or the person who wrote the book), could best deal with telling someone they have a hygiene problem, or dealing with a dominant character in team meetings. And how do we know this? It’s what managers tell us every day.