digital soft skills

Episode 96: Why Are Soft Skills So Hard?

Overlooked, sidelined and dismissed, soft skills are considered less important than hard technical skills and experience. But as you grow your career, they become ever more important. What are soft skills, why are they not considered important when you first start your career, and why do they become more important as you grow?

Soft skills are human skills. They are communication skills. They are about our ability to empathize, so influence, to motivate. But for employers looking to hire junior digital talent, they are often ignored. This is a reflection of how digital talent is perceived by senior managers. To this day, there are many instances of digital teams embedded in technology or IT organizations. While this is clearly wrong, understanding that the slightest hint of technical capabilities pigeon holes these people as part of IT is the base reason why soft skills are overlooked. After all, in most organizations, technical talent is hired on their abilities to deliver a specific technical function. This is very narrow thinking, the impact of which may be short term delivery against objectives, but creates growth issues over the long term, both for the specialist and the company. That said, it’s not surprising that soft skills are overlooked in this example. Finding digital talent is extremely difficult, and organizations have immediate requirements that can only be filled by this type of talent. This gap in talent availability makes it expedient to overlook soft skills, since that is ‘not what they are being hired to do’.

But as we’ve seen, the role of the digital professional is about merging the technical with the creative. This is a marketing function after all. And if the person in question has no affinity or appreciation for the creative side of the role, their ability to deliver value beyond the immediate requirement is diminished.

For people that fill a purely technical role, soft skills are hard. They don’t come naturally. And sadly, if they don’t value them and invest in developing them, they will hit a very hard barrier in their career growth. A strategist needs to be able to combine the technical digital function with the business requirements, and then to communicate the vision and accompanying strategy to the various stakeholders. This requirement for understanding how to communicate with audience members, and then influencing and persuading them to adopt and execute the strategy is a function of soft skills.

Moreover, as you grow in your career, soft skills become more important. In fact, without well developed soft skills, you cannot grow over a long period of time. You will end up as a prized sole contributor, but forget moving far beyond your current role. Without soft skills, you can’t lead, let alone grow.

Without the ability to empathize and communicate, to influence and motivate, your career will hit a brick wall. Soft skills are hard. Don’t dismiss them.

Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.

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