Hard Data and Soft Skills

Certain jobs often require specific communication styles.  For example, being an outgoing “people person” is great if you are in sales while a more calming, patient approach might help if you work in customer service. But everyone, regardless of profession, can benefit from strong communication skills.  

At one point in time, particularly in the tech industry, those individuals who were working behind the scenes could get by on superior technical skills alone. As the person “on the computer in the back room”… in large part allowing the “client facing people” to be the liaison and explain the details was standard operating procedure thus allowing for the communication competency to be less visible.  But, these outdated stereotypes no longer apply. It’s simply impossible to be successful if you think of yourself and your skills in a linear, one-track manner.  Technology has been integrated into all aspects of our lives and you cannot keep the two separated anymore.  It’s no longer acceptable to just be the person who handles the computer piece but won’t or can’t talk with and present to internal or external clients. Communication skills are a critical, core competency regardless of role or profession – to think otherwise could stall or derail one’s career aspirations.

A recent article in CIO magazine highlighted this point following a Federal Data in Action Summit in D.C. One surprise takeaway from the employer-led discussions was “for data science to be really effective, they need people who can articulate the data in a way that makes it understandable to the rest of us -- those who need to apply and use the information.” For all you job seekers, it was even raised that it seemed more feasible to teach employees any lacking technical skills versus the communication skills. Why? One employer summed it up, “The other things really matter more -- code can always be learned.”

As the separation of technical and communication skills disappears, regardless of whether we are in a technology role are not, we should take this evolution as a cue  to get out of our comfort zones, and seek to develop competencies seemingly unrelated to our job, particularly as one seeks new or more senior roles and leadership responsibilities. As Einstein once said, “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” Distilling information, transferring knowledge, answering questions are all basic aspects in the “what you say” part of communication. Paired with delivering that information confidently and credibly – the “how you say it” part of communication, these critical “soft skills” put you well on your way to being the strong, multi-versed communicator today’s workplace demands.

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