The Real Value of Interpersonal Skills
There’s a notoriously prevalent stereotype afoot in the IT community that techies are uncommunicative and prefer to give their time and attention to technology rather than interact with people. On the surface that might be true. Quite a bit of discipline, focus and time is required to master a new technology, study for a certification exam or implement an enterprise-wide system that meets all of an organization’s mission-critical business needs. On the other hand, there is more and more evidence that interpersonal or “people” skills are not only valued in today’s IT marketplace, they are expected.
The Interface feature in Certification Magazine, past issues of which can be found online at http://www.certmag.com/articles/templates/CM_gen_template.asp?articleid=1381&zoneid=249, asks questions of IT executives’ at medium to large organizations to discover exactly what they look for when hiring IT professionals. A constant theme is the need for leadership, communication and project management skills, all of which have roots in interpersonal activity. At Apple.com, the pioneering technology company clearly states in its “Skills We Look For” (http://www.apple.com/jobs/ist/skills.html) that it looks for “Excellent Interpersonal Skills: Relates well to all kinds of people. Uses diplomacy and tact. Can diffuse even high tension situations comfortably.”
These skills have obvious value in the workplace, because who wants to deal with co-workers constantly sniping at each other beneath a veneer of civilized professionalism? It’s toxic, not to mention downright dangerous to productivity and workplace morale. Therefore, interpersonal skills, or a person’s ability to work effectively with another person, have serious implications for an IT pro’s career development goals.
How to get these skills is another story. There are plenty of training courses both online and in traditional classroom settings available. There are also books such as A Guide to Customer Service Skills for the Help Desk Professional by Donna Knapp and Social Skills Survival Guide: A Handbook for Interpersonal and Business Etiquette by June Hines Moore for purchase on Amazon.com. You could even search online for clues how to improve your interpersonal skill set.
Employers expect you to be able to know how to neutralize conflict situations, ease or avoid breakdowns in communication and effectively handle difficult relationships on the job because sometimes, things just happen. Many companies are willing to help you improve your interpersonal skills by offering learning opportunities on the subject and assisting in the development of action plans to address identified needs and to create behavioral change. Many will even set up mentoring and coaching programs to give you feedback.
But the real value of interpersonal skill mastery and improvement, the real value of these people skills that so many claim are absent in the typical IT person’s genetic make up is for you personally. It’s to keep you from hauling off and popping some punk upside the head when you’ve had a bad commute into the office, and somebody plucks your last working nerve like a guitar string! Interpersonal skills can hold back the urge to let your fist shut the mouth of that ridiculous person who misguidedly believes that their personal life and sexual exploits are of endless interest to you. Acquiring interpersonal skills not only aid one’s IT career development and improve job prospects, they can stave off the need for bail money and/or a lawyer, and keep those pesky reprimands and cautions out of your personnel file. Think about it.