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As this blog has discussed previously, professional success in the tech sector is just as reliant on ‘soft skills’ – the interpersonal skills that allow you to work harmoniously with others – as it is on the traditionally higher-valued ‘hard skills’. And the higher up the corporate ladder you climb, the more pronounced the effect of your soft skills will be.
You’re a go-getter. You’re looking to scale the peak of that corporate mountain, but you’re well aware that you won’t be able to reach those giddy heights without the required skillset. Without wanting to blow your own trumpet, you feel as though your hard skills are near the level at which they need to be. Your soft skills, however, could do with some developing.
Developing soft skills can be a tricky prospect. Here are 5 barriers that may sit between you and soft skilldom.
1) An introverted personality
You’ve likely chosen your professional field because you have an aptitude for the work – you’ve got a genuine interest in what you do, and a natural ability that makes the work seem less worky. You’re predisposed to it.
But for many tech professionals this predisposition doesn’t stretch to soft skills. An introverted personality or any other manifestation of social anxiety can seriously inhibit your professional aspirations, even with good training. Rewiring your brain to become comfortable in social situations takes patience and time, but if you’re willing to put yourself out there it is eminently achievable.
2) The nature of the job
Joseph Poh, Lead Developer at RotaGeek, has experienced the challenges of developing soft skills first hand. Often, he says, “the nature of the job (working on a computer all day) means that it’s very easy to slip into anti-social behaviour”. The opportunity to develop these skills in real-world situations is severely limited, particularly for those who work remotely.
Pho does stress that even for those who find themselves in a situation where soft skills are difficult to develop, putting in a concerted effort to do so is vital. “In many teams that I’ve worked in”, he says, “the developer with average technical ability and outstanding communication skills has often been a lot more effective than the developer who is technically gifted but is not able to work with other people effectively”.
3) Limited practical application
The nature of a tech job in inhibiting development can extend to the retention of any previously learnt soft skills. In many tech professionals’ day-to-day workings soft skills aren’t needed. You may only need to make a presentation once a month, or get involved in strategy meetings fortnightly. This limited exposure to the soft skill aspects of the job can not only stunt development, but can begin to send you backwards.
4) Overcoming ego
Another RotaGeek developer, Darcy Hughes, feels that personal traits such as confidence and self-assurance – usually so helpful in climbing the corporate ladder – may actually become a hindrance when it comes to developing soft skills. “Ego is a major constraint in developing soft skills”, Darcy states. “Soft skills are a very personal skill, and naturally people don’t like to receive negative feedback. You have to be honest and be prepared to put your ego aside if you wish to continually improve your soft skills”.
5) Soft skills get soft feedback
The hard skills of tech are so often quantifiable. You either wrote that line of code correctly or incorrectly. You got that number wrong, or you got it right. The use of hard skills results in hard, actionable feedback.
Soft skills are more open to interpretation. One person may really like your approach, while another may not be a fan. What’s more, the feedback on offer is limited and must also be interpreted. It could come in the form of light applause after a presentation, or a quick post-meeting email. Unfortunately soft skills are often only brought up when there’s something negative to say, rather than something positive.
While these roadblocks may at times seem insurmountable, the development of your soft skills is critical to your continued professional success. Perhaps the last word should be left to Joseph Pho; “Soft skills are just as important as technical ability. And just as with technical ability, learning and development in soft skills is your own responsibility, and the investment of time into courses and reading is worth your while”.