Hard and Soft Skills

Two types of skill sets exist in nursing and in other professions: hard skills and soft skills. The hard skills are the hands-on procedural skills that a typical bedside nurse must use to perform the job effectively, while soft skills are the intangible interpersonal skills one needs to facilitate communication and navigate the workplace successfully. Nurses Professionalism Article


Hard and Soft Skills

I attended an all-staff meeting that was being facilitated by the hospital administrator, chief nursing officer, and a couple of other members of the site leadership team. I will never forget a statement the administrator made.

"We are now hiring nurses for personalities. We no longer hire nurses for their skills," he said.

I raised my hand and kindly asked him to elaborate on this statement. He explained that almost any newly hired nurse can learn the skills necessary for bedside nursing. But what management desires in a nurse, and what they cannot teach every individual, are certain work-related social skills such as basic courtesy, getting along with others, caring for patients as part of a team, maintaining camaraderie, and being a good coworker and the type of caregiver that patients and colleagues will like.

He went on to say, "Now that Medicare reimbursement rates will be determined by patient satisfaction scores, it is important that we hire and retain nurses and techs who have good attitudes."

I clarified, "So you will now hire people based on their soft skills and hope they are able to grasp the hard skills?"

The administrator and chief nursing officer simultaneously confirmed that, yes, they would hire staff based on the personality conveyed during the interview process. The old way of hiring prospective employees would be gone forever.

Nursing Requires Two Types of Skill Sets

In the nursing profession and in other occupations, there are two types of skill sets: hard skills and soft skills.

What are hard skills examples?

The hard skills are the hands-on, technical, procedural skills that a typical bedside nurse needs in order to perform the job effectively. Examples of hard skills include starting peripheral IV lines, performing dressing changes, inserting urinary catheters, administering injections and checking vital signs.

What are soft skills examples?

Soft skills are the intangible social skills that an employee needs in order to facilitate communication and navigate the workplace successfully. Soft skills are comprised of the personality traits, positivity, cordiality, work ethic, dependability, workplace etiquette, behavioral competence, emotional intelligence, reliability, communication style, personal habits, optimistic attitude, interaction, and unspoken social graces that come together to render someone a desirable employee.

A person who does not possess soft skills is often viewed as an undesirable employee, even if he / she has a wealth of hard skills.

Employers Can't Train Soft Skills

It has been said that employees can be trained to perform the hard skills, but the soft skills come from within. For instance, an organization can easily teach someone to apply a wound vac machine, but they cannot train this same nurse to have empathy for others, communicate effectively, or change the selfish personality that she has displayed since middle childhood.

Soft skills are important enough to make or break a person's career because, although a pleasant person can thrive in the workplace without a high intelligence level, a very intelligent individual with hard skills will struggle in his or her professional life without polished soft skills. In fact, the Center for Public Resources did a national survey and found that 90% of the time people are fired for poor attitudes, inappropriate behavior and poor interpersonal skills rather than deficient job skills. A lack of soft skills will impede the ability to foster interpersonal relationships in all aspects of life.

TheCommuter, BSN, RN, CRRN is a longtime physical rehabilitation nurse who has varied experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for more than four years prior to becoming a Registered Nurse.

102 Articles   27,612 Posts

Share this post

Share on other sites
He explained that almost any newly hired nurse can learn the skills necessary for bedside nursing

I'm not surprised, and yet...

I told a DON once, "Hey, I'm a nurse. Sometimes I am going to do things that patients don't like and sometimes I am going to tell them things they don't want to hear. Guess what, they won't like it."

Edit: Good post, though. That explains a lot!

That makes sense to me why they hire people for good attitudes. I'm sure they also consider skills. But I've worked with a lot of different people at the hospital and know that being able to get along well and not upset anyone, will buy you a lot. That doesn't mean you have to roll-over or not have an opinion. It means you need to act professionally! I'm an ICU nurse and there are tons of ICU nurses more knowledgeable and skilled than myself, but I seem to have good relationships with management and co-works which always comes in handy if I need help at work (or getting a different job!). One of the early lessons I learned in my working life is that perceptions matter. People who get in trouble at work often have done little unimportant things to get themselves suspended or written up, but they had already created a negative perception by others which makes them a target. So attitude does count!The problem with the customer satisfaction thing is that so little of it has to do with nursing. Yet much of the effort to improve satisfaction is put towards training nurses, rather than fixing ineffective hospital systems or improving outcomes.

Specializes in Critical Care.

This is true in many, many other fields as well. Nursing is finally catching up with other "businesses" in this sense. Great article as always, Commuter!

Thank you for sharing this perspective. As a current BSN student nurse, I can say that I have certainly encountered some nurses who really impede the learning process with their attitudes, and these same nurses I can also imagine would be very difficult to work with. It's one thing when you see that there's a crisis and a nurse becomes focused and has no time for pleasantries because her "hard skills" are being used front and center in a crucial situation. But it's another thing altogether when someone in a professional position is dismissive, cold, and rude. It is true that many of the hard skills can be taught to a willing learner, but I think critical thinking skills are one of the most important things about nursing. I can imagine someone with fantastic critical thinking skills and perhaps not the best personality in the world still being a very valuable nurse... hopefully in a role that doesn't require lots of patient interface. Thoughtful post; thanks for it.

Specializes in Family practice, emergency.

I started in healthcare about 5 years ago, and I was told that in my first interview... they want nurses who will bring up pt satisfaction scores with the impending reviews coming up. This is especially true for elective surgeries and maternal wards, where people usually have a choice in where they seek care.

Specializes in Surgery.

It is a sad commentary but so true. Everyone wants the sunshine and rainbows and they whine when they don't get it. I have said time and again to people I know, I would rather have the most gruff caregiver that is fully competent in their skills than a really nice incompetent one. I may sound bitter about it but a cute smile and sweet demeanor mean nothing when a patient is going down the tubes. A smile without skills is just a smile. I have been in some very difficult situations, in hospitals, in burning buildings and in battlefields, skills matter. You can smile later.

Specializes in cardiac, ICU, education.
I have said time and again to people I know, I would rather have the most gruff caregiver that is fully competent in their skills than a really nice incompetent one.

I understand what you are saying, buy why does it have to be an 'either or' scenario. As nursing professionals I think we need to be competent in both. As evidence shows that effective communicators are safer practitioners and create a safer work environment as reported in Silence Kills. As an educator, it is much easier to teach the technical skills than the interpersonal skills. Teaching technical is the easiest because people rarely get offended when you correct their performance, especially if you have credibility, i.e. I use to be on a RRT and I put in more IV's than I can remember so when teaching the skill, they see my expertise. But when you are trying to teach interpersonal skills, people can get very defensive as you are now addressing personality issues.

However, both technical and interpersonal skills can be taught and evaluated by simply using a Behavior vs. Judgment scale. Hopefully in nursing we will be able to teach both equally as well so we don't lose the brightest stars.

Specializes in nurseline,med surg, PD.

Well its interesting to see this in writing. I guess we have all seen it coming. My problem is that Im good in hard skills, but not so good in soft skills. I wish I could take a class to impove my soft skills. I have to struggle daily with my soft skills. I wish I had worked in OR, which I never have, maybe soft skills wouldn't be so important.

Specializes in nurseline,med surg, PD.

Maybe next time I have a job interview Ill dress in hearts and flowers instead of business clothing. Plus Ill make sure to smile more

I am in nursing school for a second career and worked as an aide in large urban university-based hospital for almost 3 years.

it is much easier to teach the technical skills than the interpersonal skills. Teaching technical is the easiest because people rarely get offended when you correct their performance, especially if you have credibility

This is SO true regardless of the industry. I used to work in a field where I helped individuals on public assistance get back into the workforce. We had to administer a basic skills test consisting of reading and math and many of them scored very high even though they hadn't been in school for years- many never even graduated thus would be offered GED classes. Many were smart as whips and had excellent basic critical thinking skills as evidenced by other assessments we had to administer and could be taught any number of hard skills of several industries and catch on quickly. Sometimes we placed people in jobs and were in communication with the employer. The hard skills were not the issues.

The issues that often left their lives and their children's lives in ruin was the lack of soft skills- the inability to just "play nice." Many felt incredibly entitled to let any emotion they had at any given moment to be expressed regardless of the consequence. They would not yield to authority of their bosses nor a co-worker who knew more, their personal problems were not left at the door so they could focus on the job but were given priority on the company's dime. The employers told us that they had to spend a lot time, money and effort on non-work (i.e. hard skills) related issues. The soft skills were the issue most of the time. As is with so much of what nurses deal with on a daily basis from their co-workers and management.

both technical and interpersonal skills can be taught and evaluated by simply using a Behavior vs. Judgment scale.

I 10000% believe that the HR department of almost every workplace- especially for nurses- should administer this type of assessment to weed out the soft-skills poor job candidates. That would save millions of dollars and have a much more harmonious work environment in the long run. Think about the number of nurses who quit over soft-skills poor co-workers and the hospital has to keep hiring more just to see them quit. Think about it: the troublemakers/meanies rarely quit or get fired; it's the soft-skills-rich ones who are run off not because of not having the hard nursing skills but due to soft-skills poor co-workers and sometimes management.

I interviewed a very competent nurse one day. After the interview I flat out told her the only advise I could pass along her way would be to smile more. She had a beautiful smile but was very stingy with it. She said "oh my, thank you so much I wasn't aware of that." She came across as almost ****** the way she looked at you so hard sometimes. She said when she was really concentrating she seemed to get into a zone, but she would certainly keep that in mind. We hired her and everytime I saw her in the hall she always gave me that million dollar smile. She is a great nurse and has done well.