Srinivas Reddy’s Weblog

My Tech Rants

Soft Skills

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Its been ages since I wrote.  Good thing is my appetitie to write has not gone done but the bad part is my ability to digitalize my thoughts has greatly deteriorated.  I will try to improve it  ;o)

As techies more often than not our focus is on technology/software skills than on building soft skills.  To be more precise for all our love in working with machines (logically!) we cannot lose sight of the importance of skills in working with people.  A knowledge economy is all about people. Even as we create amazingly complex machines (computing grids if you like) it’s equally amazing to see how little effort we invest into understanding people and learning to work harmoniously with them.  Some of you may say, just because its so difficult understand people we have replace them with machines.  My concern here is not usability related issues but a understanding that Knowledge economy needs not only well integrated systems but also people who can work well together, in a real peer2peer sense.

To grow personally or organizationally one needs the ability to communicate, empathize, lead and inspire people.  Do people trust you?  How comfortable are they sharing information/knowledge with you and vice-versa?  What is your personal network?  I could go on and on but in case you are wondering why you should care I can only emphasize that personal ecosystem is as important as technical ecosystems.  It may interest some of you to know that it was the personal network of Bill Gates mother that allowed him to get a foot into the IBM world.  I must confess that this article has its roots in my performance feedback and in hindsight I realise how primitive my people skills are.  Hopefully I can motivate you to do better ;o)

Given that we appreciate the importance of soft skills what can we do improve them? Some of the things I am currently trying

– Have mentors.  You need people you can put a mirror in front of you and show what you really are.  Have the humility to accept what they say and try to work on your flaws.  I helps to identify people (real or fictional) you really admire /are successful and what is that you really like about them.  Emulation is built into human nature.  Know you’re SWOT (strength/weakness/opportunity/threat) by asking (!) and build as needed 

– Invest time and resources into interacting with people. Try to talk to people from diverse domains / cultural backgrounds / age groups /…  I feel it’s possible to design building soft skills just as we design building software. You can better empathize with people when you understand their motivations

– Developing people skills needs active communication.  We get back to using our natural instincts (a.k.a. hearing/smell/seeing/.. with a open mind) there is a huge amount s of things you can talk about.  Small talk (no not the programming language!!)  is good, indulge in it.

– Leadership needs understanding human minds and winning them over by showing that you care.

– Personal networks need to be strengthened by non machine activities aka cultural activities, community services,….

– Learning what to see.  Its amazing what attitude can do to people. When you actively try to observe others soft skills it gives you good clues. Build on your cognitive skills

– Last but not least understanding Politics.  Probably this is one area in which machines will never be able to compete with humans.  It’s important to not be influenced by people (in the negative sense) and to positively influence people.  We need to raise our abstraction levels in understanding people and learn about their heads and hearts.  Even though the former may be replaced by the processors its  the latter that soft skills are all about.

If you made it so far, I am glad you appreciate the importance of the topic. It would be great to hear feedback (not necessarily technical!!).

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Written by srinivasreddy

March 6, 2006 at 8:19 am

Posted in Technology

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