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


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.

Specializes in nurseline,med surg, PD.

Queen B I have not received any PMs.

Specializes in nurseline,med surg, PD.



guy: I have worked in corrections.No you don't need to be overly nice to the offenders. Just professional. And, the offenders appreciate the care. Unfortuneantly, a lot of really mean people like to work in corrections, which was difficult for me because I just can't be mean to people, regardless of who they are.

Great,well thought out article.To a point the soft skills mentioned are very important as a business model and as a life model however based solely on this model it seems that admin.would do better hiring the car salesman or Miss America a type to be at the bedside in order to make sure the patient and family are 'very Augustine's.That being said once a nurse has become proficient in nursing skills the Attitude is the difference between a proficient nurse and a great nurse.When a nurse enters the room of a patient they are selling themself by gaining the trust and reassurance needed in the healing process.The goal should be that the patients knows they can trust me,the nurse,with their health and even their life during my shift.

Specializes in Emergency & Trauma/Adult ICU.

That many of you appear to equate "soft skills" (I'm not at all a fan of the term, but that's beside the point) with doormatitis or a "Miss America" personality is the very reason that this is a topic of an "article" in the first place ... rather than a generally accepted fact of life along the lines of ... the sky is blue.

A better term might be "interpersonal skills". Along with the ability to be professional and courteous, interpersonal skills also include effective verbal and written communication, the ability to resolve interpersonal conflict, integration of ethical standards into task management, the ability to juggle multiple priorities, the maturity to be nonjudgemental regarding differing cultures and lifestyles, and enough of a sense of self as an adult to recognize and set personal boundaries.

Just culling a few examples from a smattering of AN posts -- a unit of nurses (and physicians, for that matter) apparently unable to educate a patient's family that hourly diaper changes are unnecessary and will not be performed by nursing staff. Repeated posts distressing over a patient situation that includes being "yelled at" because someone disagreed with the poster. Crying at work over interpersonal conflicts. And on and on.

In my opinion, the overarching quality here is what I'll term maturity, although that may not be the best term. In my definition, maturity encompasses effective communication, the ability to set unproductive emotional reactions aside, and remain nonjudgemental.

middleagednurse said:
LPN guy: I have worked in corrections.No you don't need to be overly nice to the offenders. Just professional. And, the offenders appreciate the care. Unfortuneantly, a lot of really mean people like to work in corrections, which was difficult for me because I just can't be mean to people, regardless of who they are.

I'm that way too - and I've spent the last eight years working in a hospital, and I've seen my share of meanness there as well. Good practice for working in a prison, in fact.

I think your administrator is going in the right direction. I have worked with nurses who have excellent hark skills but were just awful to be around. Awful for other nurses and awful interacting with patients. Then I have been around nurses who needed a little work on their hard skills, which let's be honest, can be learned in a short amount of time with practice, who were absolutely delightful to work with. Of course what the admin wants is the happy medium which is hard to find. People skills are important when working with people, especially people who are for the most part less-educated, or educated in other fields. And if everyone has a good attitude, learning those hard skills will come faster because no one will be afraid to ask for help.

Specializes in nurseline,med surg, PD.

Frankly, Im glad health care is moving this direction, somewhat. Yes customer service is good, and it sure would be nice to be able to go to work and not be bullied or harassed, the only thing is sometimes the patient can be put on a pedestal, where they can do no wrong which means that if there's a conflict between nurse and patient the patient wins. It would be nice if the patients could have training in how to be nice. If all people could be kind and considerate that would be great. Of course that will never happen.

Specializes in Pediatrics, Emergency, Trauma.

It would be nice if the patients could have training in how to be nice. If all people could be kind and considerate that would be great. Of course that will never happen.

Oh they have that already in terms of respect; it's in the patients bill of rights; they have responsibilities in addition to those rights...

I have no issues invoking those responsibilities when I care for patients. :yes:

This is for the best. I'm exhausted from working in a hostile environment where I see excellent nurses with years of skill which I have so much respect, consume themselves with bitterness and dissatisfaction and pin it on others. It makes the job undesirable.

Specializes in ER, progressive care.

This is also why a lot of employers are having mandatory "personality tests" for potential employees.

This is pretty sad if you ask me. I would rather hire someone with a good hard skill set vs. someone who "smiles more" and therefore they will make a better employee. I feel like the skills of nursing are going down the drain.

Take this for example. When I used to work on the floor, we would have a frequent flier, known for her drug seeking behavior...she would get her 2100 meds, which would include things like Seroquel, Xanax and 2mg Dilaudid tabs...but would also have IV prn anxiolytics and opioids. She would ask for everything (including her prns) all at once...as she kept dozing off mid-sentence with her SaO2 dropping. The nurse taking care of the patient refused and told her that she would have to wait, because you know, the nurse was afraid this patient would stop breathing. Patient complained to management, management spoke to that nurse and basically told her that the next time a patient asks for all of those meds, you give them, even if they are falling asleep mid-sentence. You gotta keep them happy.

Medicare needs to get their priorities straight.

Specializes in nurseline,med surg, PD.

There is a major discrepancy between school and employment. School says keep the patients safe. Employers say keep the patients happy.confusing.

Specializes in General Surgery, NICU.

I appreciated this article about increasing importance being placed on a kind personality! It is so hard to work with mean and bitter coworkers. However, skills and experience are also very important - it can be hard to find that awesome medium in a nurse.