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Get IT Together! Top 10 Reasons to Finally Learn Your Soft Skills!

M. Nora Klaver Posted by M. Nora Klaver, Executive Coach, Bouchard Executive Coaching Ltd..

Nora is an accomplished executive coach with 25 years of experience developing corporate leaders. She is the author of Mayday! Asking For Help In Times of Need.

Get IT Together! Top 10 Reasons to Finally Learn Your Soft Skills!

86% of executives identify ineffective collaboration and communication as major causes of failure in business (Salesforce, 2014)

Now, more than ever, engineers and their CIO/CTOs require the smoothness of a sales person, the eloquence of an orator and the listening skills of a clergyman. Yet, as an executive coach specializing in tech work environments, I see it again and again — a refusal to deliver messages   so others are not only able to understand, but open to understanding, too. (I get it, to a point. Many technologists and engineers exhibit a misguided resistance to being “political” rather than remaining true to facts and logic. But, like all of us, engineers can confuse facts for opinion. But that’s a whole other post!)

Organizations are looking to their IT departments for leadership like never before. The focus on technology has become central for even the most mundane industries: insurance, food supply, public transportation. The list goes on. Gone are the days when IT was simply there to keep the desk tops up to date. CIOs and CTOs are now key figures in setting strategy and direction. They already own the lion’s share of the capital budget.

Yet, there exists a divide between tech and the business. It’s important for both sides to cross that divide. Unfortunately, IT folks are notorious for not valuing the one skill set that will bring them success — and in turn, success for their companies: soft skills.

Call them what you will: soft skills, people skills, interpersonal skills. social competencies, or social intelligence. It all means the same thing: a code of language and behaviors that enable shared understanding and collaboration. A loose collection of social skills, communication abilities and competencies, they not only help us convey our messages, but create an atmosphere where the messages have a better chance of being heard. These are commonly noted soft skills: a strong work ethic, a tendency toward collaboration, strong communication, possessing a positive attitude, flexibility and adaptability, integrity, openness to feedback, an understanding not to take things personally, conflict resolution, protection of trust, ability to listen beyond the facts, and an ability to manage one’s own emotions.

Yet, the resistance to learning these social competencies can be palpable. As Captain Jack Sparrow says, “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.”

10 Reasons

To help you shift your attitude about the problem of acquiring these social niceties, here are 10 reasons why you should finally learn your social skills!

  1. You get to keep your job. (46% of new hires fail in the first 18 months, and of those new hires, 89% fail because for reasons associated with attitude, and only 11% fail because of poor functional skills according to Mark Murphy, author of Hire for Attitude)
  2. You increase your chances of getting more plum assignments simply because you are easier to work with
  3. You lessen your own personal level of aggravation since you recognize that the vast majority of people’s actions shouldn’t be taken personally
  4. You get the most out of your teams — the best solutions and the best ideas
  5. You get your ideas across with the least amount of angst and aggravation because people understand what you are saying and are open to hearing it
  6. You have a better chance of getting a new job, or a promotion, if you want to. (According to a 2014 Harris poll, the top 10 “people skills” sought in interviews include: work ethic, dependability, positive attitude, self-motivation, team-orientation, multi-tasking, working well under pressure, good communication, flexibility and confidence)
  7. Your business has a better chance at succeeding. (According to the Mitchell Consulting Group, miscommunication costs businesses $37 Billion annually in the US.)
  8. You get to work with better people who are happier at what they do. Organizations that learn effective communication are nearly five times as likely to retain the best employees (Mitchell Consulting Group)
  9. You create a set of skills that are transferable to other occupations.
  10. You, yes you, create less drama at work.

Now What?

How do you begin to learn these skills? Well, just like your hard skills, these take time. It’s unlikely that you will be able to attend a workshop and walk away with the facility you need to be successful — but it’s a start.

So begin with training. Check out your company’s training catalog. Look at the American Management Association’s offerings. Google “soft skills training” and see what pops up.

Then, consider reading some of these:

  • How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie (First published in 1936, it’s still remarkably on point.)
  • Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman (The book that provided data to support the value of soft skills)
  • Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently, John C. Maxwell
  • The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, Olivia Fox Cabana
  • The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (a quick read that can seem a little odd, but contains powerful lessons)

Spend some time observing others who are really good at the soft stuff. Pay attention to what they do and how they do it. And if you are feeling really brave, ask them questions. Find out what they are thinking, how they perceive the situation, and how they learned to be so good at what they do. Don’t limit yourself to people at work. Watch everyone who might be adept at the social aspects of life: friends, spouses, teachers, cops, bank managers, even children.

Empathize. Put yourself in others’ shoes. See every situation from another’s perspective. This is a great place to begin.

Oh and hire a coach. She (or he) will be there to kick your backside if needed. Because the one thing coaches know is that “what we resist, persists.”

Stop wasting your time resisting soft skills. Use your time and energy to learn them… finally, once and for all.

M. Nora Bouchard, MA is a seasoned and deeply experienced executive coach. Over the last 20 years, Nora has guided CIOs, leaders of IT teams, as well as others who wrangle code, DBAs, data center operators and network administrators. She appreciates the analytical mindset and is profoundly familiar with its light and dark sides. Nora is author of the ground-breaking book, Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need. With over 10,000 hours of coaching under her belt, and hundreds of hours facilitating learning events, Nora can help you find the success you crave. www.mnorabouchard.com

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