As we head into 2021 (which hopefully won’t be as crazy as 2020), technologists should make a point of sitting down and reviewing their current skillsets. If you’re planning on jumping jobs in the new year, for example, you might want to make sure you have the artificial intelligence (A.I.), programming, or project-management knowledge needed for that ideal position.
As you evaluate your overall skillset, it’s important to keep your soft skills in mind. Your soft skills are a vital part of your career success. But what exactly do these skills entail?
Ask someone to define soft skills, and they’ll offer you some standard ones, including empathy and communication. There are quite a number, and you’ll need to master them all, whether you decide to climb the corporate career-ladder or make your mark as a freelancer—because no matter what you do, it’s going to involve interacting with people.
Soft skills are particularly vital when interacting with non-technical team members, as you’ll likely end up having to explain highly technical concepts in a way that they can easily grasp. As you advance through your career, the ability to serve as an intermediary between tech teams and the rest of the company will prove invaluable, especially if you aspire to land on a management track.
“Empathy makes you a better innovator,” as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella once said. By listening to customers, his teams were able to design products to meet their wants and needs.
In other words, empathy and communication can extend to your technical work, even if you're a junior developer. For instance, leaving lots of very helpful comments in your code is a great exercise in efficiency and empathy, especially if you expect that other developers will have to pick through that code without being able to immediately ask you questions. Along similar lines, crafting timelines and schedules that takes other teams’ needs into account should be an important part of your workflow.
Here are some other soft skills to consider refining as you solidify your career:
Everyone faces anxieties, but people adept at adjustment can cope more easily under pressure, without allowing current events to negatively influence their behavior and decision-making.
Various studies have shown that reframing a stressful situation as a potential source of growth, rather than a threat to wellbeing, can help people recover from negative situations more quickly and productively.
Are you the kind of person who would prefer tasks to be well-defined and predictable? Or do you relish the unknown? People with a high tolerance for ambiguity can incorporate many more viewpoints before coming to a decision, which means they are less dogmatic and more nuanced in their opinions.
One thing to note: A lower ambiguity acceptance isn’t always a drawback. In certain fields, it can be better to take a more ordered approach that irons out all the wrinkles in a process. Knowing where you stand on this spectrum may prevent you from stretching too far from your comfort zone.
Asking for Help
Open people know that asking other people for help won’t make them seem weak or unintelligent. They know their strengths and weaknesses, and they look to others to fill the gaps; learning from someone with more expertise is a great way to improve.
Conscientious people commit themselves to plans and make sure they carry them out to the letter. They are good at overcoming their impulses and thinking about the wisdom of their decisions for the long-term.
At work, high conscientiousness is essential for good strategic planning; however, in excess, it may lead to technologists becoming too rigid and inflexible.
Recent research shows that a strong sense of curiosity brings many advantages to the workplace: it may mean that you are more creative and flexible in the procedures you use. Curiosity helps you to learn more easily, increases your overall job satisfaction, and protects you from burnout.
In excess, however, curiosity can lead you to have a “butterfly mind,” flying from project to project without seeing anything through.
Curious people know that, by actively listening and paying attention to others, they are much more likely to learn and grow. Instead of seeing interactions as opportunities to prove themselves to others, they focus on the interaction itself, because they know that this is a far more enjoyable and productive approach to people.
Risk Approach (or Courage)
Would you shy away from a potentially unpleasant confrontation? Or do you steam ahead in the knowledge that some short-term discomfort will resolve the situation, bringing long-term benefits?
Unsurprisingly, the capacity to deal with difficult situations is critical for management positions where you need to act for the greater good, even when you are faced with opposition. At a team level, courage is key if you want to push your ideas forward.
Deepening Your Soft Skills
But how do you develop soft skills? It’s an active and ongoing process filled with self-reflection:
- Carve out time to listen to your colleagues and team members. Their concerns are valid.
- If your company offers soft skills evaluation and training (and many do), make sure you take it.
- Keep your feedback polite and constructive, no matter the circumstances.
- Don’t just give feedback. Encourage your colleagues and manager to share how you’re doing as often as possible.
- Rely on your mentor and any informal advisors to help you with your people skills.
- If you’re given the opportunity to shape your performance goals and evaluation, ask that your soft skills be evaluated on a regular basis. Your manager will approve of your proactiveness (and your company may have such criteria in place already).
Keep the above in mind whenever you interact with managers and team members. As we head into 2021, check out Dice’s guide for your career in the tech industry. There’s no time like the present to use your technical and soft skills to their best advantage.