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The IT Crowd - why interpersonal skills are important in today's tech world

Written by Emma-Sue Prince on Friday, 14 December 2018. Posted in Leadership, People

While we’re marching towards a fully tech-driven era, it’s important to remember how striking a balance between relying on machines and developing soft skills can make or break your startup

The IT Crowd - why interpersonal skills are important in today's tech world

With more companies taking on artificial intelligence (AI) systems in their day-to-day running, the future is leaping towards technological advancement and rapid change. Every individual, no matter if they’re working in the tech industry or not, knows that sharpening tech skills is key to progress. Yet, your sharpest weapon in this ever-changing landscape will be your interpersonal skills. The future is actually all about soft skills.

Looking at the current economical conditions, the challenges that lie ahead in every industry, require a strong set of soft skills in order to stand out from the rest. Admittedly, tech is an ever-changing landscape which means project interventions and outcomes can change every moment as new tech strategies are created. This means that you need to be thinking on your feet and plan for the future without being dependent on machines alone.

There will always be times when projects don’t go as planned and fail to meet the big three challenges of quality, time and budget. Ambiguity has the potential to upset the balance of the project and in those times people are unsure of what to do and this, in turn, causes chaos and confusion.In these situations, it’s your interpersonal skills over tech skills that will help to get clarity for your whole team and keep them focused. It’s also these skills that enable you to work out and properly establish roles, responsibilities and manage client expectations with good business relationships.

So, specifically – what are the kinds of skills that you need to ensure technology is not a bane but a boon for your business? Rather than using an umbrella term like communication skills and team working it’s perhaps more helpful to consider how developing different ways of behaving and tapping into competences that you already have can make a big impact. Here are some  key skills for head honchos to focus on in 2019.

(1) Empathy and active listening 

With the rise in digital, there is a movement away from face-to-face communication. In an era of remote working, communication can often be stripped back to online tools such as Skype, which limit the opportunities to read each other’s body language or, in the extreme, channels which give us access only to words. However, active listening and directing attention are now more important than ever. That means slowing down and taking the time to understand what is really going on, in the industry and your business. There could be breakthrough ideas in front of you but you might’ve missed it by being in a hurry.

(2) Critical thinking 

Accurate assessment by asking questions, challenging assumptions, differentiating between facts and feelings and gaining a different perspective is increasingly essential in business. It’s easy to react when the pressure is on rather than taking time before making a decision. Critical thinking is something that distinguishes humans from machines and more time must be invested in the whole process to ask questions at every step when starting or scaling up.

(3) Being proactive 

This is all about choosing to be resourceful and actively taking initiative to build a network and nurturing relationships. Be aware of how you address challenges and be ready to re-frame your language from saying “there’s nothing I can do” to a more proactive approach such as “is there a different way to tackle this problem?”

(4) Even more critical thinking 

You may find yourself in the fortunate and luxurious position where the company you work for have dedicated roles for different areas. However, it’s much more likely that you won’t so you’ll need to broaden and deepen your understanding and experience in multiple disciplines or at the very least know enough to be able to speak with genuine competence and confidence – ultimately becoming a T-shaped thinker and doer.

(5) Integrity 

The  trend for teams working remotely from different locations not only requires managers to be much more mindful of cultural differences but they also need to be more empathetic. Being emotionally honest and open, not withholding information and being receptive to employees’ input by acknowledging their points of view can be the difference between a success story and a failed startup.

The best way to sharpen these skills is to actively look for opportunities to practise them. If you get into the habit of actively engaging in the next conversation you have – whether on or off-line - the more this can become embedded into your behavourial muscle memory, the more you can capitalise on opportunities. Admittedly, the future is high-tech but it’s also soft. You need skills for both. 

About the Author

Emma-Sue Prince

Emma-Sue Prince

Emma-Sue is director of Unimenta, a company devoted to developing soft skills and effective behaviours in the workplace. Her clients range from the CEOs of FTSE 100 companies, lawyers, doctors and software engineers to excluded pupils, youth offenders, and the long term unemployed. She has over 15 years’ experience in the delivery of soft skills programmes, materials and qualifications and teacher training expertise both in the UK and internationally.

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