Technical skill has long been seen as the most important driver of professional competence and upward career growth, but even the most technically proficient specialists can struggle to see real results from their efforts over a long term. This is because, more than ever before, people in any position with a technical skill set need more than traditional competence to succeed. To achieve lasting results in the collaborative era, employees at all levels of an organization need to be able to communicate effectively with people around them, including peers, supervisors, subordinates and customers.
The disconnect between interpersonal and technical skills is perhaps more apparent in the engineering and software development fields than anywhere else. In a traditionally meritocratic industry that reveres ingenious individuals, it can be especially challenging to see the need to accomplish goals with and through others, rather than on one’s own.
In an article on Forbes.com, Kate Matsudaira, VP of engineering at Decide, specifically discusses the importance of communication, interpersonal skills, and EQ for engineers and developers.
“When it comes to our careers as engineers, learning new technologies and solving problems has never been much of a challenge. And I would argue that most of us actually really enjoy it — and that is part of why we are good engineers. So, certainly understanding the tools and possessing the knowledge to do your work is important. Putting knowledge and learning aside, there are many soft skill areas that can impact an individual’s success and prevent them from realizing their potential.”
Although some individuals have an innate knack for communication and other emotional intelligence skills, those who feel they struggle in the realms of communication and emotional intelligence can learn to practice and improve on these skills. And engineers are not alone in this struggle. According to TRACOM research, the “computers and technology” industry scores 16th out of 26 industries profiled for average Versatility. This not only proves that there is room for improvement in Versatility among software developers, but that there are other industries in which even more improvement is needed. Studies show that the same soft skills Matsudaira quotes as essential to developers are just as essential in any industry.
Matsudaira says “For me, as an introvert who tends to like the company of my computer better than most people, things like social skills and self-awareness weren’t exactly my strengths. Since emotional intelligence can be learned, one can find ways to improve and be better in these areas. The first step to making progress is to really understand where you need to improve.”
TRACOM’s Dr. Casey Mulqueen discusses the implications with controlling one’s EQ. “When we talk about developing emotional intelligence, some people might think that we’re trying to change the way they think or feel, and this can be hard for people to accept, or to even believe they can control. But what we’re really trying to show is that people can make small changes to their behavior that have big payoffs, in terms of how well they work with others and also for themselves. We recommend that people take one small step, every day. This can be something very simple, like expressing gratitude to somebody every day (not necessarily the same person every day). The specific behavior will be different for every person, based on awareness of their strengths and weaknesses. Choose just one thing to work on, and do it every day. After about a month or so it will become a natural habit, and this behavioral change might actually result in a different way of thinking about the world. It will certainly be appreciated by those you work with.”