Why Technical Professionals Struggle with People Skills?

Tech Skills and Communication

Jenna was a project manager at a multinational company, responsible for coordinating with a team of highly technical staff. The highly skilled team lacked empathy and people skills, posing challenges for collaborative work with others.

Jenna encountered communication challenges due to the team’s frequent use of technical jargon, hindering mutual understanding. They also tended to hold fixed views on their areas of expertise, with little room for ambiguity or alternative perspectives. They always assumed that everyone they talk to “gets it” and hence they would always communicate in ways that weren’t easily understandable.

This made it challenging to navigate complex interpersonal situations, such as conflicts with other teams, or misunderstandings with clients.

Soft Skills in Technical Fields

Changing workplace demands drive skill shifts in Accounting, Finance, Cybersecurity, Engineering, and IT for success. Employers value both technical and soft skills, emphasizing qualities such as communication, collaboration, and empathy in candidates.

Technical professionals often have specialized knowledge and use terminology that can be difficult for non-technical team members to understand. This can lead to miscommunication, misunderstandings, and a lack of clarity about project requirements, goals, and timelines.

Consequently, technical professionals are often perceived as lacking in soft skills. Their focus on developing technical skills often leaves little time and energy for developing interpersonal skills. However, in today’s work environment, proficient professionals must communicate, collaborate, and empathize with diverse stakeholders, beyond technical skills.

Black and White Thinking:

Technical professionals may struggle with developing these soft skills for several reasons. Their inclination may be to think in binary terms, right or wrong, which hinders their ability to understand the nuances of human interaction. In a technical setting, data-driven solutions suit the work, but interpersonal interactions pose greater navigation challenges.

Another challenge is that the work itself sometimes benefits from solitude and independence. It may not require constant communication compared to other aspects of their work, like technical problem-solving or development. It reduces the perceived need for proactive communication, favoring individual task focus over collaboration and teamwork.

Professionals still must independently hone skills for client, colleague, and stakeholder interactions, despite the solitary nature of their work. The ability to communicate clearly and effectively with these groups is still critical for success.

Fear, Indifference, and Insecurity:

Sometimes- as with many people – perceived indifference can be a screen to avoid appearing incompetent or unknowledgeable. This risk-averse approach allied to and resistance to feedback, only exacerbates the ability to develop required people skills.

While trained to solve problems and find solutions, there may not be the same level of curiosity about people as there is about technology. Whereas technology is unemotional and this makes collaborating and communicating effectively more uncertain and sometimes a challenge.

Despite struggling with social interaction, people resist stereotypes, leading to defensiveness, risk aversion, and low confidence in effective communication.

Analytical and Logical Thinking

Many technical professionals are highly analytical and logical, with a natural inclination towards problem-solving. While this is a valuable skill, it can also make it difficult for individuals to connect with others on an emotional level, leading to a lack of empathy or understanding. 

Technical professionals may be less experienced with the types of social and emotional interactions required in many business settings. For example, they may be less familiar with how to navigate office politics, manage conflict, or build relationships with clients or customers. This lack of experience can lead to a lack of confidence in these areas, which can lead to avoidance or other ineffective coping mechanisms.

Personality traits can also play a role in the lack of empathy in technical professionals. Some individuals in technical fields may have a natural inclination towards introversion and find it difficult to connect with others on a social level. This can lead to a lack of interest in building relationships and understanding the emotions and needs of others.

Less Experience with Social and Emotional Interactions

The lack of empathy can be a social skill issue because empathy is a critical component of effective communication and collaboration. When individuals lack empathy, they may struggle to understand the needs and perspectives of others, leading to miscommunication and misunderstandings. In a team environment, this can result in poor collaboration and decision-making, as individuals may not be able to work effectively with others or consider different viewpoints.

For example, imagine a finance and accounting team tasked with protecting a company’s assets. A team member excels at risk management but struggles to empathize with frustrated employees over new compliance measures. This lack of empathy may result in a breakdown of communication between the accounting team and the rest of the company, making it difficult to implement these measures.

Another example could be an engineering team responsible for designing a new product. One team member may be highly focused on creating a product that meets all technical requirements but struggles to consider the user experience and emotions of the end-users. This lack of empathy yields technically sound but unfriendly products, causing low sales and customer discontent.

How To Fix Communication Skills issues in Technical Teams

Addressing Stereotypes and Encouraging Empathy, Curiosity and Feedback:

Firstly, employers can address stereotypes that may exist about technical professionals lacking people skills. They can promote the value of developing soft skills alongside technical skills and create a culture that values collaboration, communication, and empathy.

In line with this, employers can offer organization-wide programs that focus on building empathy. These programs can help people understand the emotions and needs of others, making it easier for them to collaborate effectively. Employers can also create opportunities for different stakeholders to interact, to help further develop empathy skills.

Employers can also create a culture that encourages curiosity and feedback. People should be encouraged to ask questions, seek clarification, and provide feedback to their colleagues. This can help them develop skills by fostering an environment that promotes learning and growth.


Soft Skills Training:

Employers can ncourage team members to develop and improve their people interaction skills to promote a growth mindset among employees. This can help them become more open to feedback and willing to take risks, leading to improved communication and collaboration. Employers can offer training and development programs that focus on developing soft skills alongside technical skills. These programs can include courses on communication, teamwork, conflict resolution, and empathy. These courses can foster effective communication, empathy, and collaboration across diverse stakeholders, equipping individuals with vital skills for success.

Mentorship and coaching can also help professionals develop these skills by providing guidance and feedback. Mentors and coaches provide guidance for navigating relationships, communication, and client/colleague interactions.

It’s always:

To summarize, technical professionals often struggle with developing soft skills, which can impede their ability to effectively communicate and collaborate. According to a survey conducted by LinkedIn, 59% of hiring managers stated that soft skills are difficult to find in candidates, with communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills being the most in-demand soft skills. Technical professionals’ analytical and logical thinking may hinder their ability to empathize with others, leading to misunderstandings and poor decision-making.

However, research shows that investing in soft skills training can lead to a 256% return on investment for organizations. Employers can tackle issues with programs fostering empathy, curiosity, feedback, and a collaborative, empathetic culture.

By doing so, technical professionals can improve their people skills and become more successful in today’s rapidly changing work environment.

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