Seriously, what are soft skills?

There is a lot of talk about soft skills, however, there isn’t much explanation as to what soft skills are. Therefore, I think it’s fair to understand what soft skills are and how it works in the workplace. It is often used as an ambiguous umbrella to describe habits, and good practices when interacting with coworkers and externals such as outside departments or customers.

These are the things I learned while working in IT and in customer service. This has given me an edge in my career:

  • When someone does something wrong, never blame them for any reason.

    • Once you start blaming, then everyone is on the defensive and you end up not fixing the problem created in the first place
    • When someone screws up, always ask, “Okay, how can we fix this and get back to point it was working?”
  • Open communication and transparency in the work environment is a rare commodity. A good employer will strive for and pay a little extra in finding an associate who practices it on a daily basis. Although, what exactly does it mean to be transparent and an open communicator?

    • Do you have at least one channel (email, phone, chat, and in-person) open to your coworkers and externals?

    • When you’re about to make a change, are you making sure your team is aware of what you’re doing?

    • When you’re working on a piece of code which is challenging and you are not sure what to do, are you approaching the senior developer or manager for help and giving them the solutions you’ve tried?

    • When you’re in a meeting or when you’re talking to a co-worker, are you asking questions when they mentioned something you don’t understand?

    • Open communication isn’t about being an extrovert chatterbox. It’s all about distributing information and keeping your work network aware of what you can do and when you can’t, giving guidance on what they need to do.

  • When you communicate over email, remember these key points:

    • Proofread, proofread, proofread. There is nothing worse than looking dumb or worse, your message taken out of context because of a typo. Always treat your messages like your resume. Take as much time as you need to craft your message. It wasn’t uncommon for me to spend 20-30 minutes to write a simple one-liner to an external.

    • There are two things people will ask themselves when reading your email: 1) what do you want? and 2) how long is this going to take? Be clear and concise and make sure you use as few words as possible.

      • My old mentor once taught me that when reading back your message, try to remove as many words as you can without taking the context away from the message.

      • Nothing pisses off management more than reading a server audit written by Stephen King. They want results, not a plot twist.

    • If you’re sending an email to ask someone to do something or they have screwed up and they need to fix it

      • Try to get their buy-in and whatever you do: DO NOT BLAME

      • Avoid the use of “you” as much as possible as the word subconsciously puts people on the defensive. Instead, first ask them to do something and then explain why it needs to be done. They’ll be more willing to do you a favor when you’re transparent and have a legit reason for it to be done.

      • Lastly, always ask a question as if you missed a step or if you made a mistake. It subconsciously puts the reader at ease, and their more willing to help you out.

      • These types of emails can be tough to write. This is because some people will make the same stupid mistake multiple times or will just blatantly do it for whatever reason. Just remember, emails are recorded :wink:

    • Timing for follow up is important. Depending on the organization, I would allow up to 72 hours to send a follow-up email. The smaller the org is, the more leeway you have.

    • And finally, always end the body or closing remark with a smiley. :slight_smile:

  • Being consistent with creating and maintaining documentation

    • This goes back to being transparent. By having knowledge at the ready for your team while you’re unavailable will make you valuable.

From an experience point, this is what soft skills are. Focusing on the problem and not blaming the person who caused it. Staying transparent and keeping at least one open communication channel. Being mindful of how you craft your messages, keeping it concise and to the point with your audience. And distributing your knowledge amongst your team through up-to-date documentation.

Regardless if you’re introvert, this will win over your coworkers and satisfy the external folks you typically work with.

Thanks for reading! I hope this helps :slight_smile:


Great podcast: