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Do soft skills matter for IT employees?

IT pros are focused on honing their tech skills, which is great. But they also need the so-called soft skills. Or do they? It’s a dispute that rages on.

Amanda Ferguson, infrastructure services manager at Nottingham Trent University, says soft skills are needed for all employees. She adds that technical staff often lacks the soft skills to communicate better with their colleagues. As a result, they experience problems which are easily avoidable.

Ferguson was among the speakers at the 2017 Jisc Networkshop45 conference. She says good communication skills are essential for all employees, “particularly for senior tech people who have to talk to users”, she said.

“Tech teams aren’t great at explaining themselves. Conversational competence is a given – you need to be able to have a proper conversation”, she adds. According to her, a lot of organizations have complained they cannot find technical candidates with the soft skills needed to fill current technology roles, ComputerWeekly reports.

Communication for techies

Usually tech people either neglect to explain things well or go into too much side details that distract. To help pass on these skills, managers should constantly coach their team in the art of conversation, she said.

Ferguson has a few more advises. One of them is that managers should encourage tech staff to “go with the flow” of a conversation because “everyone has something interesting to say”. This means techies should try to listen more and say less and avoid over-explaining things.

“What you tend to find with technical people is they have quite a narrow focus on their particular area of expertise,” she said. “Don’t go into too much detail, because too much detail is boring. It’s really interesting for us as network tech people, but other people don’t care.”

“Confused people never take action – what you need to do is explain why it is a problem”, Ferguson concludes.

The key, Ferguson says, is to tell your IT pros that just as they constantly want to change and hone their tech skills, they should want to do the same with their soft skills. “We have to encourage them to accept change, and it’s like a drip – you have to drip this stuff that says this is coming, this will change and this is how you have to change your skills.”