During your career, you gain knowledge, experience, and skills. But we tend to focus on the obvious which is knowledge, more knowledge, and much more knowledge. While this is very important to us as engineers, there is one skill type that is neglected most of the time.
Welcome to soft skills!! As a technical coach and technical architect/engineer, I have been able to see both worlds come together.
:: Soft skills
What are these? Where do they come from? How do I get these?
Let’s break this noun down and see what’s behind it.
“Personal attributes or abilities that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people”
:: Personal attributes
So….let’s start with Personal attributes. Personal attributes are traits or qualities you naturally have. This doesn’t mean if you don’t have these you can’t acquire these. You can develop these by proper training or pair them with other skills you’ve learned via experience.
Example: Proper soft skills training can make you aware of signs in your environment, signs when talking to someone, or body language you pick up. These signs can tell what the other person might feel during a discussion. An emotional tone in a voice can tell if someone is liking or disliking a proposal.
Talking is good, but you can also be able to detect much more signs and use them to turn around a conversation or even influence a decision that is about to be made.
Combining these abilities with your knowledge and experience would lead to solutions instead of maintaining the problem.
Another example of soft skills or maybe the lack of soft skills or less enhanced skills is when someone only develops knowledge or hard skills. Reading all the books in the World, learning all the protocols and RFCs by heart makes you a very knowledgeable engineer. I’ve seen these kinds of engineers and have a lot of respect for them. Some of them have multiple CCIE titles and one would expect these guys or girls have some sort of Principal Senior Solution Architect role at a big firm where they design stuff that isn’t google-able yet.
Nope! I’ve seen them working in Ops doing day 2 maintenance and troubleshooting. No customer contact, just troubleshooting and handing the solution back to the Tier 1 helpdesk engineer to call the customer. Due to the lack of soft skills, some of them are not able to express their knowledge to the customer in layman’s language or possess the ability to communicate in a professional manner. Even writing a root cause analysis would be difficult because they have too much knowledge and lesser skills to put it on paper. The knowledge is not the issue, but the inability to write a chronological report and to leave unnecessary details behind that is of no interest to the customer.
The second one is “Interact effectively and harmoniously”. Interaction is you getting involved with an individual or a team of individuals. We talk and respond to each other. But most people forget to listen. Listening is much more important than talking.
Example: One of your clients has a major network issue and you and some other experts are being pushed into the “War room”. There we have it. 6 very knowledgeable persons and one manager to keep one another in line. All these 6 persons have grasped the high-level problem description from the customer and start shouting all kinds of solutions through the room and cannot agree what’s best. How would that help the customer in a timely solution?
The solution for the customer starts with listening and a bit more listening and much more listening. Until questions come up to validate and isolate the problem area. There we have it, interaction at its best. We listen to the customer, to other questions that are being asked. We respect other’s solutions being brought up, listen to them and respond to them. In the end, we agree and implement it.
Being effective starts with listening in order to discover the core of the problem being described. Most of the time people add additional information because they think it’s valuable to the problem and the solution. Most of the time it’s not and your skill is to filter by listening and responding correctly. Not the other way around.
Harmoniously means … well just don’t shout at people. That’s not nice. Interacting harmoniously is not just talking smoothly and in a constant tone of voice. It starts with your body’s behavior. When you interact with people, make sure they are not distracted by your uncontrollable movements. The story you tell might be great and correct but in the end, people lose interest in really listening to it. When you are relaxed and easy, interacting would become much easier and people would really listen to what you have to tell.
Knowledge can bring you far, but if you desire to progress in your career soft skills can be your next best friend. When you learn all the knowledge in the world, what use is it when you are not able to share or transfer that knowledge into solutions? Don’t get angry when you are declined for a new role as a Solution Architect just because you have 3 CCIE’s and 2 CCNP’s titles. I’ve seen people just having one CCNP title doing a hell of a good job as a Solutions Architect. Because they have developed their soft skills to transfer the knowledge to the public. Combined with the experience is a golden combination.
So when you feel you’re stuck as an engineer, think about your friend Mr. Soft skill. There is much more to learn about soft skills in detail. I’m just scratching the surface to explain how important these are.
It’s 20:42 PM CEST, since 42 is in the time, it’s time to relax. Hope you have gained insights