Apr 17, 2019

“Soft” skills – really?

You may have seen the testimony of Raelene Ellis at the Royal Commission in to Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Raelene’s mother has experienced the aged care system from one end to the other, with Raelene as her main support.

At one point, Raelene spoke about the struggle to accept that her mother needed residential care.

Through tears she described her head being ready but that her heart was not.

Our emotions, and even deeper, our sense of self, our identity, does not move at the same pace as rational thought.

That deep part of ourselves needs a good process, often with a good companion and a meaningful ritual, to help us move through the challenges of formation and re-formation that are part of being human.

The delicate work of offering someone the right kind of companionship and the right kind of process at the right time as they seek to move through life’s challenges and other big moments have been called by some “soft skills”.

We name them good spiritual care.

Calling these vital human moments “soft” suggests to me that they are easy or in some way insubstantial.

There is a reason that the Royal Commission keeps hearing about lack of empathy, the need for love and the need for a humane process. So-called soft skills are substantial.

They are just as valuable and arguably on par with dealing with financial models, for example. The numbers on the page won’t do unpredictable things, or need to tell you their life story, or start crying, or search for meaning.

So-called soft skills also seem the most susceptible to their environment – if the system of care does not promote or support them, they are squashed despite the best intentions of staff.

As Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay commented on ABC radio*, there is no virtue in compassion if you are only kind to those you like.

So let’s stop calling these complex, demanding skills “soft” and instead own them as the essential and at times difficult skills of human relationship.

If you catch yourself or other leaders calling them “soft” I challenge you to call it out.

Let me know how you get on!

* Hugh Mackay talking to Geraldine Doogue on ABC RN Saturday Extra 23 March 2019

A version of this piece was originally published in the Meaningful Ageing Australia March 2019 Newsletter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. It is clear that black & Asian people have a superior culture of respect for old people yet we do ot have a Carer Visa or a review of the blood relative restriction on the current Carer Visa ,,, How is that ? is the Minister a Racist ??


Can older people build muscle and mobility through weight training?

Historically, gym-goers have been of the assumption that after a certain age, building muscle mass and strength becomes virtually impossible. But that myth may be busted as a new study suggests people as old as 90 can successfully build muscle, strength and mobility with a suitable weight training program. Read More

5 Fun Ways Caregivers Can Spend Time With Their Ageing Parents

Caregivers spend a lot of time with ageing loved ones – and this is especially true if you’re caring for your ageing parents. Old age, disabilities, and other issues mean that ageing parents need lots of care – and diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s can increase the amount of care that you have to give... Read More

“Not tolerable”: Aged care visitors remain locked out – even as states move to reopen

The NSW and Victorian governments have not included plans to allow visitors back into aged care homes, even as they outline plans to reopen and end lockdowns as targets are reached. Read More