The difficult romance between soft & technical skills

Technical vs. soft skills, this seems to be a never-ending and common challenge in every working environment. Together with workplace development the balance between soft and hard skills change as well. Technical skills used to be primary requirements for jobs, however sophisticated soft skills can have significant impact on organization. Additionally, today’s workplace is much more flexible – open spaces, coffee corners, activity based working spaces, therefore also more advanced soft skills like communication, integration, collaboration, team management are highly valued. Possession of soft skill is now highly desired, essential and in some cases even more important than technical knowledge.

However even with that shift in workplace it does quite often happen that people with soft skills clash with technicians. There are few reasons why:

  • underestimating the value and benefits that soft skilled person can bring to the table
  • desire to just deliver the solution, sometimes forgetting about user journey and experience
  • perception that this is a technical implementation only
  • perception that people with soft skills slower down the delivery process or add “unnecessary” work

The challenge with that clash between the skills is that in order for them to properly function together a full team mindset shift is required. While building a team be mindful that technical skills aren’t necessarily hard to acquire. With time, they can be gained, advanced. Soft skills, however, are much more challenging to learn since they are based on individual’s character, personality, relationships. They are also less tangible, hence difficult to measure during interviews.

The World Economic Forum has highlighted top 10 soft skills desired in 2020:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgement and decision making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive flexibility

Source: Future of jobs report, World Economic Forum

The list is quite demanding, skills out there are complex and advanced, often gained after years of experience. Which only shows that developing soft skills is a process, not something that can be gained in few days and stamped with a certificate. Soft skills are learned and polished across our whole life, however the value out of them can be experienced very fast.

What you can gain out of advanced soft skills:

  • Effective usage of your technical skills and knowledge
  • Ability to “sell yourself” or your work better
  • Get a better buy in from your client or leadership
  • Allow to better interact with people
  • Effective team management

As a non-technical person who joined a very technical department I often struggled with the lack of knowledge and hard skills. I struggled so much that I have been considering changing my career path, but then I asked myself a question: what do I bring to the table? The answer was: planning, managing the chaos, problem solving skills, can do attitude. When I added that to the technical skill of my teammates it gave a holistic picture of well-planned and managed implementation of a technical solution. The best outcome a client can get. That’s because soft and technical skills do not exclude each other, nor they compete, one doesn’t rule over the other. What they should do is go hand in hand.

So what can you do to improve yours and your teams’ soft skills:

  • Coaching – investing in yourself and your teammates by employing a professional coach who will polish your soft skills and discover the potential you have
  • Include soft skill requirements in job description – ensure that when you are looking for a new team member he/she not only brings the breadth of experience from technical industry but also a good level of soft skills that will help you and your team to deliver.
  • Provide regular feedback on soft skills – allow for reflection. Give examples of real situations. Make the feedback instant.
  • Lead by example – if you value soft skills, live your values. If you still are developing them show your progress and path.

Although I do not think the competition between soft and hard skills is equal (at the end the solution needs to be delivered technically), I do believe that properly applied soft skills can be a game changer in project, process or any other piece of work. Therefore, good leaders and managers should invest in a balanced development of the team. At the end,  although technical skills will remain important, the soft ones may determine how far the hard skills can take you.

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