Tag Archives: Business Services

The Most Critical Skills in the 21st Century – are they Hard or Soft?


The past few months I’ve found myself instructing a series of Leadership and Communication workshops for adult professionals across the United States, together with delivering a series of Keynote Conference addresses in Europe on similar topics.

At one particular address in Dublin, Ireland, I emphasized that the beauty of modern software development approaches (such as Kanban) is that the development team can lay bare their work pipeline and ultimately collaborate (through effective leadership and communication skills) with the business. After a series of illustrative exercises (yes, at a keynote address!), attendees by and large embraced the principles of collaboration along with the concept that we need to refrain from treating each other as “machines” at work (formulated along the lines of Margaret Wheatley‘s ideas.) By treating each other as human beings from the kickoff meeting (at least), projects can achieve resounding levels of success.

One particular conference on Quality Assurance and Testing featured not only my keynote (A Soft Skills Toolkit for Testers!) on Leadership and Communication,  but at least three others of similar slant: presentations that emphasized teamwork, respect, and collaboration.  I believe that these are essential components to the success of any project!

One key point I bring home in all of my training and keynotes is that as engineers and computer scientists, we tend to minimize the emerging importance of soft skills such as leadership and communication (I have an entire 16-piece toolkit for this) as “fluff” in favor of what we often see as superior technical “hard skills”.  As an engineer myself, I see the pitfalls of a technically competent workforce that cannot talk outside of its own niche – and many others agreed.

But, it came to fully illustration the evening after one keynote.  A group of us had gathered at a local pub to sample the local beverages when the wife of a conference chair (a science based PhD herself) approached me to comment on what she had heard about my morning keynote:

“Carol, I heard that you gave an entertaining keynote presentation today, “

she started,

“…but it was “entirely without substance.”

What she was in fact saying was that my keynote, in her and her husband’s opinion, had some redeeming entertainment value, but the lack of research-data based charts and advanced equations, rendered it “entirely without substance.”

I did suppress my inclination to applaud and say “thank you for illustrating my point so eloquently” when she said this because I realized it might be a futile discussion.  Instead, I simply smiled, thanked her for her comment, and turned back to the business and beverage at hand.

Now that I am contemplating a series of workshops for future conferences (technical software engineering and quality conferences) to continue the discussions on Leadership and Communication, it occurs to me that calling these skills “soft” may actually diminish their importance – regardless of proof that Leadership, Communication and Collaboration are some of the most important and hardest skills to teach our industry leaders in the 21st century.

What do YOU think?  Are Leadership skills (such as managing to relationships, emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, diversity, and working with teams and people) considered more as Soft Skills or as Hard Skills (akin to programming in dot net or Java) or a mix of both?

As a technical professional – how important do you think are Leadership and Communication skills to the success of your projects?

I will be awaiting your comments!

Happy holidays!

Carol

p.s., Send me an email if you’d like to see more about the Soft Skills Toolkit for Testers presentation I did in October. I would love feedback and recommendations.

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No Communication Sends a Message… (and it’s usually not good)


In these past few weeks of blogging about Communication for PM’s and Techies, I realize that there are situations where No Communication sends an even LOUDER message.  You probably already know what no communication means (we’ve all been victims of the “silent treatment” at one point in our life!) – but it also means a negative view of what will be the outcome of communication.

Here’s what I mean by the first interpretation of “No Communication” and the messages it sends:

  1. Avoiding communication:
    After a negative interaction with someone (criticism, conflict, discomfort, intimidation, or other non-positive interaction), it can be difficult to talk to the person the next time.  As time passes, a continuing lack of communication can amplify the original discomfort – it just doesn’t feel good to undergo the initial encounter and we don’t want to experience it yet again.  If the original situation was verbal or in-person, subsequent communication often ensues in a more distant way such as email.  Often the offensive party doesn’t even know that they caused the situation in the first place and is unaware of the ongoing angst.
  2. Eliminating communication:
    We do this when we block incoming phone calls or divert unwanted emails to trash.  Sometimes this is a good stop-gap measure to prevent unwanted communication until it eventually stops all together.  While this is a good tactic to prevent communication, it sometimes backfires by escalating into more direct forms of contact before the sender gets the message you do not want to communicate.
  3. Ignoring communication:
    Instead of avoiding or blocking communication, we also sometimes ignore incoming communication through call screening, letting calls go to voice mail, leaving emails unopened, and simply not responding.  While this may be an appropriate coping mechanism with personal situations, it does not work well in a corporate environment when you are expected to communicate effectively.

In all the above situations where NO communication is sent, there is a perceived “clear” message that is sent regardless of the lack of words. To the person on the receiving end of the avoidance, blocking or ignorance – there is a message they receive.  They will make their own judgment (based on their own perceptions) about what they think is happening, and then typically come to the wrong conclusions.  “Perception is reality in the absence of fact” is an adage that certainly bodes well when there is no communication exchanged.  One such flawed conclusion could be that the original message (that caused the problem) was never received or was interrupted.  If this is the perception, then the person on the receiving end of the “no communication” may resend their message or escalate the attempts to communicate and send increasingly urgent (and sometimes event abusive) messages back to entice a reply.  We might say that “They’ll eventually get the message”, but unfortunately this does not always happen.  When we want to communicate with someone who does not want to communicate with us, we sometimes become quite dense.  The best communication is always active communication rather than passive non-communication.

There is a second interpretation of what no communication means. It can be the pre-conception of negative (i.e., No means negative) outcomes or envisioning a negative result.  For example, if I am going into a meeting where I anticipate a negative outcome and express such sentiments to co-workers beforehand, it is likely that the outcome WILL be negative.  The saying, “if you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right” – ties into this.  Envisioning and verbalizing negative communication outcomes is like a self-fulfilling prophecy before the fact.  Why not envision potential positive outcomes and then making that happen?  It won’t necessarily change what happens in every situation, but aren’t a few positive outcomes a good reason to change your outlook?

It really can work – envisioning a positive outcome to a tenuous communication can give direction and a positive boost to upcoming meetings and interactions.  Why not work towards the positive instead of the other way?

Remember, no communication delivers a message all the same – and it’s usually not good or lead to a positive outcome.  Plan to communicate by communicating effectively.

To your positive interactions and communication!

Carol

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