Technical People Have Social Skills Too
The social awkwardness of Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Raj on the Big Bang Theory is funny and entertaining because these characters represent relatable, though exaggerated, versions of technical people we have met or have known. Ironically, the most socially savvy people I have known also happen to have technical degrees. It turns out that these socially savvy technical people typically share one thing in common: they have received personal coaching of one form or another.
Why would a technical person need personal coaching to develop social skills for the workplace? I think there are three reasons. First, a technical degree program is so demanding that little time is left over for developing social skills before a technical person enters the workforce. Second, once in the workforce, the development programs offered do not typically cater to the needs of technical people. Third, technical people tend to display the traits they most detest in a leader when they get their first managerial assignment.
When you are studying for a technical degree, you learn to focus your attention and block out as many distractions as possible. In fact, I would isolate myself in a favorite nook on the top floor of the university library to study for hours on end. No people to distract me up there. When a person distracts us, it is typically through engaging one of the automated emotion systems in our brain. In fact, being able to identify your emotions is one aspect of emotional intelligence often cited as foundational to social skills. With little practice of people distracting me in college, it is no wonder I struggled with identifying my emotions early in my corporate career.
I remember being enrolled in many different types of training programs over the course of my corporate career. Only a handful were memorable because I found them to be useful. The ones that were memorable helped me leverage the traits that come naturally to me as a technical person. For example, I remember a training program on influence that leveraged my natural problem-solving ability.
I think there are traits that draw people to a technical career and help make them successful in that career. People who don’t possess these traits tend not to stay in a technical career. Being aware of these traits helps technical people understand how these traits can help and hinder performance in the workplace. For example, attention to detail tends to make technical people intolerant of micro-managers. Attention to detail also tends to make technical people be micro-managers themselves. Talk about calling the kettle black!
Because technical people have limited opportunity to develop social skills during college, and because many corporate training programs do not teach technical people how to leverage the traits that come naturally to them, technical people who become leaders tend to need personal coaching to increase their effectiveness. This personal coaching helps them to see how the traits that come naturally to them can hinder their effectiveness as leaders. While the traits that draw people to technical careers are primarily cognitive in nature, these traits can be leveraged to develop the emotional and social intelligence which provide a foundation for leadership.
If you would like to learn more, then please click on this link to take a short survey on technical traits and you will receive the final list of technical traits with a white paper on how these traits can be leveraged for leadership: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/63KKV8K.