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.

Cobweb said:
I once had a patient who was virulent and caustic to everyone, but was particularly repellent in his treatment of minority people--black, Hispanic, Asian, and especially Filipinas. He would stiffen his first two fingers and try to poke them in the eye (a barfighter's trick). He would spit on them and try to bite them. You would think perhaps Alzheimer's, or a really bad sundowner, wouldn't you? Not so, his daughter said he had been like that all his life. He said the most foul things to those girls I have ever heard, and I have heard a lot. He had CNAs run out of his room crying all the time.

I charted on his behavior. I reported it verbally and in written form to the doctor, the psychologist, the day shift supervisor, the ADON, the DON, the CEO, and Human Resources. I explained that I felt that sexual harassment and racially-aimed verbal and physical abuse was unconscionable and unforgivable and that he should be booted out. Nothing. I mean, absolutely no reaction from anyone. They just didn't care. He's rich, and that's just part of your job, so suck it up. So, every time my aides went in his room, so did I. I charted every time we went in his room and what happened.

After he left, they gave him one of those customer satisfaction forms and he filled it out. They called all my CNAs in to "discuss his complaints." The aides got a verbal write-up. Management never spoke to me about it (cowards ;p).

I can do the corporate happy shiny thing, but I feel that if we give it, we should also receive it. What's the point of "excellent customer service" if the staff aren't treated like excellent people, as well? If management feels that being shiny happy people is really important, maybe they should look at their own behavior first.

I have a great job now with a really wonderful boss who listens to me. How many nurses can say the same? I know it's been pretty rare in my career.

This what I most worry about when I hear about "customer satisfaction" and getting along with other nurses..

I don't want to sound like a complainer but there was a time when I was the only "young" nurse on the floor and the older nurses would gang up on me.

So of course,everyone thought I had "poor" soft skills when it was the other way around.

Yes,the pts liked me,but still,it didn't matter.

Soft skills depends on fitting in with the "crowd".

Nurses are people,and I have saw nurses who didn't fit in on the unit for simple reasons...weight,shyness,race, you name it.

I don't talk about my personal life at all at work,but it gets under some nurses' skin because there is nothing for them to gossip about me.

Nursing is an applied science. People can be taught all kinds of things and be actually quite bright and still lack the ability to apply what they know. Some of the best places to work have clear guidelines, foster an environment of acceptance, regularly update and educate their employees, and focus on how to get the work done. Places that focus on "personalities" usually lack an organizational framework and can become a real snake pit.

This is how I see it. I am an older lady (53) and just started my first nursing job as a LPN in an assisted living facility. I am thrilled to finally be doing something I have always felt called to do. Right now I do not have very good hard skills. My school pushed book smarts, but I wasn't impressed by our clinical rotations. The teachers kept saying, don't worry, you will get your skills at your job. To me this is where my soft skills come into play. I befriended everyone I met at work, helped them in any way I could, came in to work if they called because they were short handed. So everyone gets along well with me, and when I come across a skill I must perform that I am unsure of, plenty of people offer to help me. To be a good nurse you need both soft and hard skills. Someone has to be willing to show the new nurses the ropes. It doesn't hurt to have good people skills and I think it can be taught. I look forward to the day when I have both kinds of skills because they are both so important.

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych.
My school pushed book smarts, but I wasn't impressed by our clinical rotations.

Many of us who graduated within the past 10 years learned more skills during our first year of nursing than all of the clinical rotations we completed during school combined. Your experience of not learning much during your nursing school clinical shifts is, unfortunately, typical.

Specializes in L&D, CCU, ICU, PCU, RICU, PCICU, & LTC..
turnforthenurseRN said:

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.

MEDICARE has nothing to do with management's improper view of nursing care. THAT is totally on them. Also was 'management' the charge nurse, the DON, or the administrator? I can't see an administrator wanting an overdose death in the newspapers just to keep a patient happy.

I don't see how this is a bad thing.

"Hard skills" are important, but pretty much anyone can stick an IV, care for an ostomy, administer tube feelings, etc. after some training.

You can't train a person to ask for help even if people get annoyed, to be professional and competent, even on the worst days, and to be friendly and teach, even though the person should know this already.

Thank you and great work TheCommuter for this advice and taking the time to express your knowledge for us new nurses.

Specializes in NICU, ER, OR.

I absolutely LOVE this.... I've always said, there are just certain things that cannot be taught ... this totally applies to nursing

love it!!!