Tech Skills and Communication
Jenna was a project manager at a multinational company, responsible for coordinating with a team of highly technical staff. The team was incredibly skilled in their area of expertise, but they appeared to lack empathy and people skills, which made it challenging for others to work collaboratively with them.
Jenna found that communication was often a struggle, as the team members tended to speak in technical jargon that was difficult for others to understand. 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
Evolving workplace demands have led to a shift in the skills required to succeed in technical fields such as Accounting and Finance, Cybersecurity, Engineering, and IT. Soft skills have begun to gain importance alongside technical skills, as employers seek candidates with a range of interpersonal skills like communication, collaboration, and empathy.
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, even the most technically proficient professionals must also be able to communicate effectively, work collaboratively, and understand the perspectives of different stakeholders.
Black and White Thinking:
Technical professionals may struggle with developing these soft skills for several reasons. Their natural inclination may be to think in binary terms, right or wrong, which can hinder their ability to understand the nuances of human interaction. In a technical environment, where solutions are typically based on data and evidence, this may be appropriate for the work itself, however interpersonal interactions can be more difficult to navigate.
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, such as technical problem-solving or development. This can reduce the perceived need for proactive communication with a preference developing for focusing on individual tasks rather than collaboration and teamwork.
While the nature of the work requires and allows these professionals to work independently, they still need to maintain and develop the skills needed to interact with clients, colleagues, and stakeholders. 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, people have motivations and perspectives, and this makes collaborating and communicating effectively more uncertain and sometimes a challenge.
Despite finding human interaction more difficult than others, people still prefer not to be stereotyped as lacking in this area, and it is not unusual to see this lead to defensive behavior, an unwillingness to take risks, and a lack of confidence in the ability to communicate effectively.
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. One team member may be highly skilled at identifying and mitigating process risks but struggles to understand the concerns of the company’s employees who are frustrated with the 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 can result in a product that meets technical requirements but is not user-friendly or enjoyable to use, leading to poor sales and customer dissatisfaction.
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 promote a growth mindset by encouraging team members to view people interaction as a skill that can be developed and improved over time. This can help them become more open to feedback and willing to take risks, leading to improved communication and collaboration with others. 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 help professional people of all types to develop the necessary skills to communicate effectively, understand the perspectives of others, and collaborate with different stakeholders.
Mentorship and coaching can also help professionals develop these skills by providing guidance and feedback. Mentors and coaches can offer insights and advice on how to navigate interpersonal situations, communicate effectively, and build relationships with clients and colleagues.
To summarize, technical professionals often struggle with developing soft skills, which can impede their ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with others. 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 address these issues by offering organization-wide programs that focus on building empathy, encouraging curiosity and feedback, and creating a culture that values collaboration, communication, and empathy.
By doing so, technical professionals can improve their people skills and become more successful in today’s rapidly changing work environment.