Great IT skills, but only OK people skills?
With increased globalisation, more people than ever find themselves working with colleagues from different cultural backgrounds. Whether working face-to- face or increasingly as part of a virtual team the need to build good working relationships is imperative for business. The reliance on technology pervades everything we do but there seems to be a time lag between the pace of technology and the skills people possess to interact in culturally varied work environments.
For example, how often do you work with colleagues from another culture but never meet them? The need to interact and form relationships online without ever meeting is becoming the norm, especially in the IT sector. However, these work relationships can be improved if more thought is given to developing the soft skills.
Soft skills encompass how we communicate. With so much communication via email the etiquette of sending email messages helps to establish better working relationships from the start. More often than not we are unaware of how others perceive us and do not consider how we could improve those vital first impressions, albeit virtually. You need to work out how other people are communicating and come to a common ground – you need to learn to not take offence when none was intended. Skills like this propel you to becoming more globally competent. Employers want and need development tools to help their employees operate globally and softer skills are vital in this respect. Simple tools are already being developed to suggest how to phrase emails, especially the opening line, to help ensure the message being sent is professional rather than overly personal or inappropriate, but more elaborate tools to assess global competencies could also be considered. Assessment of self awareness, relationship management and perception management can be used to target specific engagement activities to benefit individuals and the organisation.
The partner of an accounting firm once told me: “Make every word count and if you email me more than three bulletin points, you’ll be lucky if I read it.” This piece of advice still applies today. With extensive email traffic how do you ensure your email gets read? Make every word count and people will remember your emails. Ensure you write succinctly and to the point while remembering that this is a formal communication rather than an extended SMS text. This is especially important when dealing with clients, but it also applies to communication with colleagues.
Conference calls expose other development areas which might need attention. Talking over each other is common during a call, so you need to work out in advance how to ensure your points are addressed. Alternatively, not speaking up for fear of saying the wrong thing can be equally frustrating. Write down the points you want make and if you miss the opportunity to address them, follow up the call with an email outlining all the points made by everyone taking part and including all the points you wanted to make. Reflective follow-up emails can really help ensure nothing was misinterpreted.
Developing soft skills starts in early life and is a never-ending quest for improvement. We never get it right all the time, but learning from our experiences is essential.
About the Author
Dr Liza Howe-Walsh is a Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies and Human Resource Management within Portsmouth Business School at the University of Portsmouth. She has extensive international commercial experience and her research is used to inform current theory and practice within human resource management globally. Her current consultancy work includes developing human resources policies and practice, and assessing global leadership competencies in Europe, the Middle East, USA and Canada, Dr Howe-Walsh teaches postgraduate professional courses and is a member of the university’s Centre of Strategy and Leadership.