The term ‘soft skills’ has been used quite a lot in recent years. And while it is often considered an old-fashioned term, I can't overstate the importance of social and emotional intelligence for those who work in software development.
As much as code quality, technical skills, and other ‘hard’ aspects of engineering matter, communication and collaboration are what really make a sound engineer great at what they do.
I will not talk about soft skills from a theoretical point of view here. Instead, I aim to give you practical tips on developing your own soft skills to become a better professional.
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are about how we interact with others and our environment – and they're no less critical than other skills. They’re about how you communicate, how you resolve conflicts, and how you manage your emotions.
And they’re not only crucial for your personal life – they can also make or break your career as a software engineer.
You might be thinking: “I’m an introvert — I don’t have good social skills”. But it is not that simple! Everyone has some degree of introversion and extroversion. It’s all about finding balance.
While some people have excellent communication skills, they can still do better in certain areas of their professional life.
And vice versa — even if you consider yourself shy and socially awkward, there’s plenty of room for improvement in your interactions with others. Also, it’s never too late to start working on your soft skills — so don’t give up before you get started!
What You Need to Know About Soft Skills
We need to realize here that soft skills are just like any other skill out there. You have to practice them regularly if you want them to improve, and it might take some time before they become second nature.
Remember that everyone can benefit from working on their soft skills. Even if they seem perfect on the outside, chances are there’s room for improvement.
Don’t be afraid to admit this! Nobody knows everything in life, so why should someone fault us for something we could still improve ourselves?
What Do Soft Skills Mean for Your Career?
Soft skills are not just nice-to-have. They are essential for those who want to work in software development.
The information age we live in has made the world smaller and more interconnected than ever before, which means that it’s easier than ever to connect with clients, customers, team members, and other stakeholders.
At the same time, it’s a very competitive industry with lots of opportunities — meaning that you have to make an impact to stand out from the crowd.
In my opinion, the most significant advantage that soft skills provide is that they help you build networks within organizations and communities. Having good soft skills means being approachable, likable, reliable, and trustworthy – basically someone other people enjoy working with and want to know more about. This opens doors for new opportunities.
I often see engineers who are confident with their technical skills but lack communication abilities and struggle to showcase their value to the company they work for.
If you think about it from a management perspective , why would anyone hire someone who lacks confidence when there are many great candidates out there who are confident enough to prove themselves?
Confidence is such an essential factor in making hiring decisions! There’s nothing wrong with being humble, though. Just remember that the self-confidence that comes from knowing what you’re doing helps significantly in putting forward a strong case whenever you need something from management or colleagues.
This applies to more than just job security. Remember that other people tend to notice when you bring value into conversations by sharing relevant perspectives or ideas instead of just agreeing with everything everyone says.
This shows them that you’re worth spending time with because of what you’re bringing to the conversation rather than merely because of who you are (or who they think/assume/hope you are).
You’ll find yourself better positioned for promotions, exciting projects at work (with increased responsibility!), and more significant influence over critical team decisions. The list goes on!
Building good relationships within teams and companies (and community-wide) makes going through bad times easier, since there will always be people around who care enough about your situation and want to help.
It might be hard at first (especially if you’ve been labeled as ‘not sociable’), but trust me – once this starts happening more often, things will improve dramatically!
Soft skills that will help you out
How well can you communicate your ideas, opinions, and problems? It doesn’t matter if you’re presenting at a conference or talking about your project with a client — communication is key, and it comes down to how well you communicate your point.
Can you work in a team? How well do you communicate with your peers and colleagues? Are you able to delegate tasks and responsibilities, or are you always trying to do everything yourself?
Conflict Resolution Skills
Conflict happens in all organizations, whether it's between co-workers or between customers and the organization. It’s all about how we deal with these conflicts. We need to learn how to resolve them to make everyone happy without being too bossy or passive.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
Do you know when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed by certain situations? Do you ever lose your temper? Do you get frustrated when things don’t go as planned? Being able to recognize and manage your emotions is essential for your success as an engineer.
Managing Your Time and Priorities
How good are your time management skills? Are you overworked continuously yet never get anything done because of it? This is not only bad for productivity but also for your mental health.
How to improve your soft skills
The first thing to remember is that soft skills are not innate qualities. We all can learn how to communicate better, collaborate, and work with others more effectively. It’s just a matter of practice.
The best thing about soft skills is that you can improve them at any time — it’s never too late to start! Here are some practical tips for developing the best possible social skills:
Be an active listener
This one is probably the most essential communication skill. Listening may seem simple, but it’s often not easy to do well, as many people know.
When somebody talks to you, don’t be in a hurry to reply right away — take your time and pay attention to what they say! This includes both verbal and non-verbal communication — so watch facial expressions as well as body language.
Respond to feedback
Feedback is vital for every professional. To improve, you need to know what you’re doing well and where you can improve. If somebody gives you feedback, accept it with an open mind and try not to get defensive.
It happens that people give negative feedback in a non-constructive way, but if you take the time to talk about it, usually they’ll be willing to elaborate on their point of view. Remember that even though someone is trying to help you become better — they don’t have a crystal ball and might be wrong or mistaken at times.
Be confident when talking with people
Communication is useless if it comes from a place of uncertainty or doubt. If you think something could sound awkward or stupid, then it very likely will sound awkward or stupid.
So try out sentences before you say them out loud — in front of a mirror can be useful here because it demonstrates how you look when saying things like “Um… yeah… I mean… no” instead of “Sure thing!”
Remember that confidence does not have anything to do with being arrogant. Instead, it means feeling comfortable enough in your skin to share your ideas confidently and openly with others. That’s much better than being afraid of looking silly (which only makes people feel bad about themselves).
Be curious about other people and their ideas
Never be afraid to ask questions. This creates opportunities for others to learn from you, too! And even if they don’t have any interesting answers for you right away, keep asking questions until you find something helpful or interesting for yourself.
If there’s some kind of disagreement between two parties during a conversation, try approaching the problem from each side separately. It will help you understand what each person means by their statements more precisely, facilitating collaboration later on (you’ll know what kinds of solutions would satisfy each party).
And last but not least: always be open-minded. Being too set on your own opinions can lead you into unnecessary conflicts with other people.
Another important thing I’d like to mention here is the fact that social skills take time to develop. Just like anything else in life, it will take months, maybe even years, until they become second nature (if they ever do). So don’t expect yourself and others around you to change immediately after reading this article.
Instead, focus on improving one area at a time while consciously working towards developing better social skills overall. With enough practice over time, it will eventually become second nature, and people will start noticing the changes in how you interact with those around you.
One of my favorite quotes is from Stephen Hawking: “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet”. The same philosophy applies here — look up instead of down! Building relationships takes time but pays off handsomely in the long run. You’ll feel happier and more fulfilled at work.