Soft skills. That very phrase — it implies something trivial and insignificant. Skills that are weak and, well, soft.
It’s an easy term to scoff at, especially when it’s the hard skills that take center stage on your resume. They’re what get you the job, right? I mean, who cares how nice of a person you are if you can’t get results?
But that’s the problem. At the interest of emphasizing our ability to code like a madman or craft a stellar user interface, we’ve forgotten the very traits that make an IT manager and department function. Where would any IT department be without teamwork and collaboration?
Before even getting your foot in the door, CareerBuilder reports that “34 % of hiring managers [say] they are placing greater emphasis on emotional intelligence when hiring and promoting employees post-recession, [with] 71% [stating] they value emotional intelligence in an employee more than IQ.”
It’s easy to see why.
Emotionally intelligent employees can transform the workplace itself. CareerBuilder says they “are more likely to stay calm under pressure,” “know how to resolve conflict effectively,” “are empathetic to their team members and react accordingly,” and “tend to make more thoughtful business decisions.”
When you miss out on building those relationships and connections with your IT teams, you also miss out on the big benefits that interpersonal communication can bring.
You don’t want the robots taking your job do you? Think of the robots, people.
You don’t just acquire IT emotional intelligence overnight, but do have to make a conscientious effort to grow these skills. Just like your first foray into tech, you didn’t learn everything in one sitting. It took research, time, and practice.
To help you get started on your journey, I’ve listed five TED Talks, with each one touching on how to best hone both your socials skills and build empathy.
Let’s get started.
If you don’t think you have anything to gain from this, you’re probably wrong. And before you think I’m going to launch into the tired subject of techies and socialization (which I can and I have), this stretches far beyond that stereotype. We can all agree that the world we now live in is incredibly lacking in interpersonal skills, and we are all at fault here, not just techies (though, admittedly, we also have a long way to go ourselves).
In this TED Talk, Celeste Headlee touches on ten quick and easy ways to better communicate with others and engage in interpersonal conversations. And instead of simply listing off trivial snippets to make us look like we’re listening, Headlee forces us to confront our selfish inclination to talk and voice our own opinions instead of actively listening to others without judgement.
How: You can do this right away. Seriously. I bet you have a meeting coming up soon, a phone conference, or have a dinner scheduled with friends or family. So let’s breakdown her tips again:
1. Don’t multitask
2. Don’t pontificate
3. Use open-ended questions
4. Go with the flow
5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know
6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs
7. Try not to repeat yourself
8. Stay out of the weeds
10. Be brief
Now, it’s probably a bit overwhelming to commit yourself to all of these at once. (Even writing this, I had to go back to reference a few.) So start off slow. Maybe for the day, go with the first step or the tenth or the seventh.
However you wish to approach it, spread this list out over a period of time to not only implement these practices into your conversations, but to also build upon them as well. Keep this list within eyesight, either on the back of your door or next to your computer so that you’re always reminded of it, kind of like a vision board.
So get out there and be amazed.
When many people think of IT emotional intelligence, it’s safe to say that ‘compassion’ doesn’t come to mind. Maybe ‘analytical’ or ‘practical,’ but emotional words are far from how many would characterize the typical IT employee.
That needs to change. Your reputation as an IT manager shouldn’t hinge on your intelligence. Being a leader requires more than smarts. It also requires compassion.
Daniel Goleman, the speaker here who also popularized the term “emotional intelligence,” discusses the reasons behind our lack of compassion, noting that when we focus on ourselves we forget others around us.
“When we don’t notice, we don’t act,” he states, speaking of how the simple act of noticing can not only make us more cognizant of our surroundings, but of the people who surround us.
According to a survey by the John Templeton Foundation, people are less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anywhere, with 60% revealing they “either never express gratitude at work or do so perhaps once a year.”
But why is this important for IT managers striving for emotional intelligence?
For any successful IT team, “the ability to read coworkers’ emotional states is pivotal in determining a team’s success” and creates a positive culture where workers feel valued and appreciated. Happy employees perform better and, not surprisingly, like their jobs.
How: I know it’s not always easy to up and notice all of the wonderful things your team does. Everyone is busy and there’s only so much time in the day, but you have to learn to make time. If you want to change, you need to take the steps to get there. And you can start small.
Whether it’s simply remembering to say “thank you,” creating a gratitude wall in your workplace, or emphasizing the importance of quality over quantity (which demonstrates that you’re paying attention to details and the work that went into a project), take the needed time to thank each member of your team at some point during the day or week depending on the size, and see how your attitude of gratitude transforms your workplace.
I know many of us feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness, but it’s actually a sign of strength and leads to teamwork and collaboration, two traits at the heart of any successful IT department.
When you ask for help, you not only build connections with your teammates, but you’re also placing your trust in them, which in turn makes them feel valued and appreciated. Plus, asking for help enables you to complete your tasks and maybe learn a new way to approach a problem along the way.
In this TED Talk, musician and crowdfunding queen Amanda Palmer discusses the many times she’s asked for help, whether it was during her stint at the Eight-Foot Bride or as the lead songstress of the Dresden Dolls. As a result, Palmer ends up running a successful Kickstarter campaign, freeing her to create her next album and tour around the globe, all thanks to the generosity of her fans.
How: This one is simple. Just ask. Like, right now. Do it.
(And if you want to further explore the art of asking, you can also purchase Palmer’s book here, which is based on her talk.)
Women are vastly underrepresented in the IT sphere, with Huffington Post’s Emily Peck reporting that “[t]he percentage of computing jobs held by women has actually fallen over the past 23 years.”
And while there are rallying cries for women to just “lean in” or simply ‘try harder,’ Michael Kimmel, asserts that shattering the glass ceiling requires more than just strong-willed women. Men need to join the fight as well.
Aside from the obvious moral implications of gender equality, there are real benefits to having more women in the tech industry.
“Research continues to show that diversity well-managed yields more innovation and is tied to enhanced financial performance — factors good for all employees,” states Ilene H. Lang in a survey conducted by Catalyst.
According to Catalyst, companies that promote gender diversity see a 53% higher return on equity, a 42% higher return on sales, and a 66% high return on invested capital. Moreover, the stocks of 12 Fortune 500 companies with women CEOs rose at an average of 50% in 2009, compared to the S&P 500, which rose at just 25%.
And with women only making up only 14.2% of the top-five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500, men are integral in the fight to combat gender inequality. Otherwise, it will remain an issue for years to come are women continue to suffer from a lack of representation in the workplace.
How: This is a big issue, and I can’t say that I have one, definite answer. Because the problem here isn’t necessarily the industry, but society as a whole. However, while you may not be able to change society (at least overnight), you can take responsibility and do your part to educate yourself on the struggles women face in the workplace as well as advocate on behalf of the women you work with. Because gender equality isn’t just a women’s issue. It affects men, too.
While mainstream journalism has tapped into the lack of diversity for both women and people of color, few articles touch on the intersection between the two. That is: what about women of color? I’ve already compiled a list of 11 organizations and associations for tech professionals of color, but I had yet to find one that catered specifically to women of color. (Though if you do find an active one, please let me know. I’d like to get the word out.)
Even in Google’s own diversity report, which they publicly release as a commitment to fostering diversity, identifiers are only broken down into race/ethnicity and gender. There is no option where you can see the numbers of these overlapping identities, only adding to the lack of representation professionals with intersecting identities face on a daily basis.
In her TED Talk, Jedidah Isler speaks of her experience at these various intersections and how these identities have shaped her life and career, while calling on other STEM professionals to be more inclusive. Inclusivity, Isler believes, can only lead to more innovation and change these fields for the better.
How: Similar to my thoughts on Michael Kimmel’s speech, there isn’t one, simple answer to a problem knitted deeply within the fabric of society. As an individual, you can educate yourself on how to best combat racism in the workplace and come to understand the microaggressions that people of color face on a daily basis (and that you may even be unconsciously participating in). As a leader, you can coach your team on this as well, and take a zero-tolerance stance against discrimination.
I understand that not all of us have the power in our various organizations to change this overnight. This lack of representation has been sustained for a long time, and isn’t the same as the recent drop of women in computing. However, change within one individual has the power to change others. Use your voice to stand up against oppression. It’s one more voice for the voiceless.
It’s a question as old as time: how do I want to be remembered? Maybe I’m the only one a little morbid here, but I think at some point or another, we’ve thought about what sort of legacy we’d like to leave behind.
In David Brooks’ talk, he discusses the conflict between the selves, in which Joseph Soloveitchik deemed a conflict between Adam I, an ambitious side that savors accomplishment, and Adam II, the humbler part of our nature that seeks to be and do good.
In a society that largely favors Adam I, Brooks argue for an emphasis on the latter, for a world that favors Adam I “turn you into a shrewd animal, who treats life as a game, and you become a cold, calculating creature…[where] you’re not earning the sort of eulogy you want.”
(And if you’re really on a time-crunch, this one is under five minutes. Perfect for a quick, refreshing break between tasks.)
How: Take Brooks’ advice: to develop your depth of character, you need to fight against your weaknesses. So ask yourself, what are your weaknesses? What are your moments of guilt and shame? It may be a hard thing to confront, but try to find the patterns of personal failure in your life. What did they all have in common? And finally, as Brooks suggest, forgive yourself. Take responsibility for your actions and take concrete steps to do better. If your fault lies in anger or stress, try meditating every day to calm your mind, or practice mindfulness to recenter yourself and become aware of your surroundings. Even five minutes is a great start and a small step into a greater good.
What did you think of the TED Talks above? Can you think of other TED Talks that emphasize the importance of IT emotional intelligence? Let me know in the comments below.