Soft skills are sexy

10 soft skills techies need -- and five ways to get them

Communication skills and empathy are just two soft skills that IT workers must master.

Communication skills and empathy are just two soft skills that IT workers must master.

Five ways you can get them

The question is, "How do we become more human when we've socialized the humanity out of our workplaces?" said Federman.

"Instrumental training, which is stand-at-the-front-of-the-room courses, which is computer-based training, which is the type of conventional schooling model that we are all used to, is the least effective way of doing that," he said.

Learning knowledge as information will allow you to produce the knowledge on a test, but only a small portion will filter through into actual behaviour and situations, he explained.

The most effective means of learning soft skills, according to Federman, is through modeling. This could include modeling the behaviour of leadership or just key people in your department who you respect and exhibit the soft skills you require.

If you want to engage in formal education, the individuals who model the behaviour should be involved in the context of the course, he suggested.

1) In-house mentoring

Learning soft skills requires practice through interaction, according to Perrier-Knox, and a fairly inexpensive method for learning soft skills is to set up a formal coaching relationship within the department.

"Identify people that have the business knowledge, communication, project management and leadership skills and pair them up with individuals that show potential or promise in this area and do on-the-job training," she said. Soft skills are hard to train because some people have an affinity for them and some don't, she pointed out. Coaching and mentoring is one of the most effective ways of bringing these tendencies and capabilities out, she said.

2) Private coaching

Private coaching is usually seen among the executive ranks, said Perrier-Knox. "For the average IT professional, it might be expensive. It's usually something an individual will engage in independently. An organization won't necessarily set you up with one of these coaches," she said.

3) Classroom or online courses

Soft skills are all about application, according to Perrier-Knox. "You can take a course, but if you don't already show a predisposition to having these skills, you could walk in a classroom and walk right out again and not internalized or learned anything in particular," she said.

4) Reading a book

Books are usually too simplistic or too idealized, according to Perrier-Knox. "If you want to get the bang for your buck, it's better to do it one-on-one with a coach or in a team-type environment where you can practice the skills ... do some reading sure, but if you try to learn and practice them in a vacuum, you're not going to get anywhere," she said.

"The language that they use in a lot of these books is not necessarily something that is achievable for the average person. I find they are probably too simplistic or too idealized ... it's a two-way street with soft skills and often a lot of these books don't do a great job of having to navigate through the realities of the human brain," said Perrier-Knox.

5) Extracurricular group

Special interest groups or professional organizations like Toastmasters International can help you gain access to expertise and training without depending on your company. You can then bring the skills back into your company and begin modeling from the bottom up, Federman suggested.

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Jennifer Kavur

ComputerWorld Canada
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