Soft skills are a combination of interpersonal people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes and emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) among others that enable people to effectively navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills. The Collins English Dictionary defines the term "soft skills" as “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude.”
From 1959 U.S. Army invested considerable resources in technology-based development of training procedures. In 1968 the U.S. Army officially introduced a training doctrine known as "Systems Engineering of Training" covered in the document CON Reg 350-100-1.
PG Whitmore cited the CON Reg 350-100-1 definition:
"... job related skills involving actions affecting primarily people and paper, e.g., inspecting troops, supervising office personnel, conducting studies, preparing maintenance reports, preparing efficiency reports, designing bridge structures.
and criticized it as vague. At the 1972 CONARC Soft Skills Conference Dr. Whitmore presented a report   aimed at figuring out how the term "soft skills" (in the areas of command, supersivion, counceling and leadership) is understood in various CONARC schools. After designing and processing a questionnaire, the following tentative definition was formulated: 
|“||Soft skills are important job-related skills that involve little or no interaction with machines and whose application on the job is quite generalized.||”|
with a remark "in other words, those job functions about which we know a good deal are hard skills and those about which we know very little are soft skills."
Another questionnaire was processed to evaluate whether "soft skills" were adequately specified (what is to be performed, under what conditions and how performance must be evaluated) in Army documents (manuals, reports, etc.), with negative conclusion.
It is through a 1972 US Army training manual identified formal usage of the term "soft skills" began.
Soft skills are a cluster of productive personality traits that characterize one's relationships in a milieu. These skills can include social graces, communication abilities, language skills, personal habits, cognitive or emotional empathy, time management, teamwork and leadership traits. A definition based on review literature explains soft skills as an umbrella term for skills under key three functional elements people skills, social skills and personal career attributes. National Business Education Association deems soft skills as critical for being industrious in today’s workplace. Soft skills complement hard skills also known as technical skills, for productive workplace performance and everyday life competencies (Arkansas Department of Education, 2007). Hard skills were the only skills necessary for career employment and were generally quantifiable and measurable from educational background, work experience or through interview. In the 20th century soft skills are a major differentiator, a sine qua non for employability and success in life. A study conducted by Harvard University noted that 80% of achievements in career are determined by soft skills and only 20% by hard skills. Experts say soft skills training should begin for a person when they are students, to perform efficiently in their academic environment as well as in their future workplace. A public interest study conducted by McDonald’s in UK predicted over half a million people will be held back from job sectors by 2020 due to lack of soft skills.
In 2016, Bonnie Urciuoli hypothesized "skills" with occupational demands of neo-liberal economies, workers are required to "own their skills" and successfully market them to employers.
Enumeration and categorization
A person's soft skill is an important part of their individual contribution to the success of an organization. Organizations which deal with customers face-to-face are generally more successful if they promote activities for staffs to develop these skills through wellness enhancing programs. Training or rewarding for personal habits or traits such as dependability and conscientiousness can yield significant return on investment for an organization. For this reason, soft skills are increasingly sought out by employers in addition to standard qualifications. Studies by Stanford Research Institute and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation among Fortune 500 CEOs established that 75% of long term job success resulted from soft skills and only 25% from technical skills (Sinha, 2008). Hence, soft skills are as important as cognitive/technical skills (John, 2009; Zehr, 1998).
Top ten soft skill attributes for business executives
- Communication – oral, speaking capability, written, presenting, listening.
- Courtesy – manners, etiquette, business etiquette, gracious, says please and thank you, respectful.
- Flexibility – adaptability, willing to change, lifelong learner, accepts new things, adjusts, teachable.
- Integrity – honest, ethical, high morals, has personal values, does what’s right.
- Interpersonal skills – nice, personable, sense of humor, friendly, nurturing, empathetic, has self-control, patient, sociability, warmth, social skills.
- Positive attitude – optimistic, enthusiastic, encouraging, happy, confident.
- Professionalism – businesslike, well-dressed, appearance, poised.
- Responsibility – accountable, reliable, gets the job done, resourceful, self-disciplined, wants to do well, conscientious, common sense.
- Teamwork – cooperative, gets along with others, agreeable, supportive, helpful, collaborative.
- Work ethic – hard working, willing to work, loyal, initiative, self-motivated, on time, good attendance.
- Workforce connections: Key soft skills that foster youth workforce success, Child Trends, June 2015
- CON Reg 350-100-1 (PDF), Fort Monroe, Virginia: UNITED STATES CONTINENTAL ARMY COMMAND, 1968, retrieved November 21, 2016
- Silber, K.H. & Foshay, W.R., Handbook of Improving Performance in the Workplace, Instructional Design and Training Delivery, John Wiley & Sons 2009, ISBN 9780470190685, p.63
- CON Reg 350-100-1, as cited in Whitmore, Paul G., "What are soft skills?"
- Whitmore, Paul G., "What are soft skills?", Paper presented at the CONARC Soft Skills Conference, Texas, 12-13 December, 1972
- Fry, John P., "Procedures for Implementing Soft-Skill Trainining in CONARC Schools," Paper presented at the CONARC Soft Skills Conference, Texas, 12-13 December, 1972
- Whitmore, Paul G.; Fry, John P., "Soft Skills: Definition, Behavioral Model Analysis, Training Procedures. Professional Paper 3-74.", Research Report ERIC Number: ED158043, 48pp.
- Katherine S. Newman, Chutes and Ladders: Navigating the Low-wage Labor Market, Harvard University Press 2006, ISBN 0674023366, p.351
- Marcel M. Robles, Executive Perceptions of the Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace, Business Communication Quarterly, 75(4) 453–465 (pdf)
- Heckman and Kautz, Hard Evidence on Soft Skills, 2012
- Bonnie, Urciuoli (May 2008). "Skills and selves in the new workplace". American Ethnologist. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1425.2008.00031.x.
- Peggy, Klaus (2008), The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They'd Learned Sooner, HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0-061-28414-4
- Giusti, Giuseppe (2008), Soft Skills for Lawyers, Chelsea Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9558926-0-8
- Hard Numbers from Soft Skills: Measuring the impact of soft skills programs
- The Soft Skills of Business English
- NCWD - Helping Youth Develop Soft Skills for Job Success
|Wikiversity has learning materials about Soft skills|