Having great technical skills and knowledge are only one piece of the success equation for technical leaders. Technical experts can boost their performance, enhance their careers, and improve their marketability by developing more “soft” skills. Want some tips to additional tips to develop your soft skills?
What are soft skills, anyway?
Soft skills are the personal traits that help you relate to others. They are often less tangible than technical skills but no less important. In fact, as a technical leader, they may even be more important. Often it’s the softer side of leadership that will help you inspire, engage, and motivate your team.
Here are 6 Soft Skills Technical Leaders Need To Know
Empathy is the most important soft skill to develop for better interpersonal interactions. Empathy is the ability to identify with another person’s experience. It is caring for others.
People feel better and are more positive when they do not feel discounted or judged. You don’t have to turn yourself into a counselor or therapist to show others that you care. Practice being more open and accepting. Try to listen without judging. Turn off your “I agree; I don’t agree filter.” You don’t have to agree. Listen to understand.
Assume that when people tell you something, they are looking for understanding. Hold back on offering advice and solutions (pinch yourself if you have to). Ask questions. Work to find out where the other person is coming from.
2. Personal Disclosure
Don’t panic. Personal disclosure doesn’t mean sharing private or personal details about your life. That’s just TMI (too much information)! In this instance, personal disclosure means allowing people to get to know you as a person not just a leader.
Leaders sometimes believe that keeping a distance from their direct reports is the right practice. Some distance is necessary. Too much distance and your team will not feel connected to you. You become un-relatable and appear cold.
Disclosing a bit about yourself shows your humanity. An added benefit is that it can also be a great teaching tool. Let’s say a member of your team is struggling with a certain part of their job. If you struggled with the same area, tell them about it. Share how you mastered it. When you disclose, it gives people a sense of where you’re coming from.
Personal relationships are give and take. Try to strike a balance between business and work. When you open up a bit, your team will open up to you.
3. Non-verbal communication
Studies suggest that up to 70% of the information we communicate comes through nonverbal communication. Be aware or your gestures, posture, and facial expressions. They may be sending a message you don’t intend.
Improving your nonverbal communication starts with awareness. Pay attention to how you use your body when you are talking or listening to someone. An open stance, frequent nods, and a relaxed posture help to communicate openness, approachability, and honesty. Folding your arms across your chest, staring at the floor, or refusing to make eye contact all suggest that you are not listening, or not communicating openly. Shifting from foot to foot, pacing, or otherwise moving continuously indicate impatience. We do many things without thinking about them, especially when we are otherwise busy. Take time to notice both your own nonverbal communication and others’, and especially your reaction to others.
“Active listening” is sometimes thrown around as a buzzword, but it’s a valuable soft skill to develop. When you are actively listening, you are totally tuned in to the speaker.
Active listening involves staying focused on the present. Give the speaker your full attention and keep the discussion to the issue at hand. Reflect back to the speaker what you understand him and rephrase the message, such as, “So, I hear you saying that….” Check for understanding and use “I” statements rather than “you” statements.
5. Building Trust
Nothing undermines productivity and morale in a workplace like lack of trust. If people don’t trust you, they find it hard to work with you, invest in you, or pursue shared goals. Take the time to build trust with those you work with, and everyone will thrive. Many soft skills help to build trust. Demonstrating your trustworthiness helps build personal relationships and create buy-in for your initiatives and projects. People who are deemed trustworthy by colleagues share some common characteristics:
· They are skilled at their jobs
· They are passionate about their work, with a strong work ethic
· They communicate honestly and value transparency
· They have others’ best interests at heart
· They care about people and demonstrate this
· They are self-aware
An engineer that I coach shared this joke in one of our sessions. “How do you recognize an extroverted engineer? Answer: “They look at your shoes when they talk instead of theirs.” I howled. We went on to have a conversation about the importance humor plays in leading people. When it’s used appropriately, it can be a constructive influence on everyone around you.
Humor increases the feeling of well-being and belonging, takes the bite out of tension filled situations, and can balance a negative situation. The key is always to use humor that is in good taste.
Self-humor is usually safe, seen by others as positive, and most of the time leads to increased respect. Share funny things that happened to you. Share your foils and flaws. Mistakes you’ve made. Blunders you’ve committed. It humanizes you and endears you to people.
The key with all these skills is that they help you connect with people and build relationships. When you are on the front-line, sleeves rolled up, head down, doing the work, the hard skills are vital. When you are a technical person and you have to lead others, soft skills will help you inspire, motivate, lead successfully.
Here’s an extra resource to help you start building your soft skills:
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