Friday, January 08, 2010

Soft Skills - Communication is critical

The next few blog entries will focus more on soft skills, rather than with a specific technology topic. Having been in the field for a number of years as both a solution developer and manager, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of different people with just as many different personalities. For the next few installments, I am going to write about being a team player. In many circumstances, being a good team member can be more valuable than being a programming guru.

I am always amazed by the number of technology web sites/blogs which focus on architecture, technology, or a programming language; and, rarely (if ever) mention team dynamics. Sure, they can rattle off an infinite number of articles on TDD or the fad-of-the-week way to design a system; but they would be hard pressed to say anything about team work. Why is this? I suspect people take it for granted the skill of being a good team player. Maybe, the people writing the articles don’t have to interact with people. For whatever the reason might be, more and more of the people in our industry seem like they could use some coaching on how to be a good team player.

Being able to communicate with coworkers
To start out my discussion of being a good team player, I am going to zero-in on an important skill – which is the ability to communicate with other humans. Being able to communicate means more than your ability to talk in the same language as your co-workers. Being able to communicate means you truly can interact with others and fully be understood and understand what is being said. Communication is a two-way dialog and both parties need to understand not only what is being said, but what each person means. This is especially true when one of the persons in the dialog is from another country, or even a different region of the same country.

Once you have a command of the language, knowing the local accent and slang can win you over as an expert communicator. All too often, I have conversations with someone, in English, and I find myself asking them to repeat because their accent was too much for my brain to translate. A good tip might be to slow down. There may even be some cultural groups in your locale which can offer advice on improving communication skills. My best advice is to interact with your coworkers and really observe how they communicate with each other. Pick up on the slang and the way they interact.

I am not advocating that everyone talk the same. I am suggesting it is very advantageous if everyone on the team can understand and comprehend a conversation without too much trouble. If you are a person who is having other issues with teamwork, then poor communication skills will be another point against you.

In the next series of blog entries, I’ll talk more about communication and team dynamics. Let me know if you have any tips or stories which might highlight the importance of good communication skills.

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