African man and caucasian woman have coffee break at office rest room at table near window drinking hot espresso, soft skills

Article by Chrystal Taylor, Head Geek, SolarWinds

The term “soft skills” often invites derision and eye-rolling, especially in the IT sector. While the term “soft” isn’t necessarily a negative word, it does have certain implications, especially when attached to the word “skills.”

In fact, many assume soft skills equal easy skills, but this certainly isn’t the case. Despite the unwarranted sneering that often accompanies mentioning such abilities, they’re not easy to develop and require hard work to master.

It’s firstly useful to understand what people mean when using this term. Put simply, it means people skills and the associated relational aspects. While the term itself may be unpleasant, it simply refers to a set of essential attributes, not just for delivering benefits to an IT professional’s organisation, but to their career.

So, what are the key skills IT pros can develop to better serve both themselves and their organisation? How can these individuals better interact and cooperate with customers, colleagues, and everyone in between?

Providing exemplary customer service

Customer service can mean different things to different people. If you’re working in internal IT, for example, your colleagues are your customers, even though they’re the people you work with every day. In this situation, it could be easy to let customer service slide, with less of a desire to show an exemplary level of service to people you interact with daily.

Providing the same level of service to both internal and external customers, however, offers numerous benefits. Gaining a reputation as the person who handles IT queries in an efficient way can have a significant impact on your status within an organisation and on your career.

While it may seem like a no-brainer, a key part of providing excellent customer service in IT is about remaining calm and polite. Always remember, it’s not personal. If customers get irate, calmly making them aware of where the issue stems from and clearly explaining how you can fix it can diffuse the situation and ensure no more harm is done.

Communicating with colleagues

Communication is an essential skill in every career, and IT professionals are no exception. While it may feel like a difficult talent to develop or refine, resources are available to help, from online tips to improve your written communications to training courses to hone presentation skills.

Outside of the obvious, developing your communication skills can also help you provide better value to customers. Understanding how to offer an appropriate cadence of updates to customers affects the way you interact with the people you serve and their satisfaction levels. For example, with a demanding customer, every update doesn’t need to be a detailed report. The update could simply be why progress hasn’t been made or what has been tried to resolve the issue. It’s important to set clear expectations along with a regular cadence for updates.

Regardless of how you manage interactions, it’s important to adjust your communications depending on your own priorities and those of your customers. Clear and efficient exchanges are a vital part of these interactions.

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Embracing adaptability 

In IT, it’s important to adapt often and quickly to shifting trends and to embrace new technologies your business has adopted. During the pandemic, this has been particularly important as companies found ways to help keep teams online and collaborating remotely.

Companies will make changes to the software you use regularly. If you don’t adapt to these changes, you’ll become obsolete. If you do, you’ll become indispensable. Similarly, processes may change which requires adaptation of a different sort. It’s important to remember communication with any change as feedback is important in determining positive and negative effects, but adaptability is key to maintaining a good reputation within the company.

Taking accountability

A common assumption when discussing accountability is it only refers to taking responsibility when things go wrong. However, while it’s important to be held accountable for any issues, it also means being recognised for your successes.

If a teammate spots and solves an incident quickly and efficiently, it’s worth celebrating. The same thinking should also be applied to yourself – keeping note of your successes when it comes to review time is never a waste of time. It’s far easier to forget the good times and recall the bad, so always remember to keep accountable for the times you achieved something positive.

Collaboration is key

Real collaboration is about way more than team-building exercises. Whomever it is and whatever the problem, it’s a big deal to be willing to ask for help in an area outside of their own expertise. Whether it’s implementing a new tool or solving a ticket with another department, collaboration is vital to achieving the overall success of the business. When done effectively, it’ll be noticed by others.

While some of these skills may need working on, by investing this time and energy, you, your colleagues, and your organisation will benefit.

About the author

Chrystal TaylorChrystal Taylor is a dedicated technologist with over a decade of experience and has built her career by leveraging curiosity to solve problems, no matter the size, industry, or client. Whether tinkering with the family computer, or inflicting general destruction in MS-DOS Tank Wars, Chrystal Taylor has always been a geek.

Taylor is a SolarWinds deployment veteran who’s built a successful IT career by translating client needs into optimised and performant systems. She loves customising current deployments to ensure systems grow in tandem with user needs. She’s achieved every available SolarWinds certification and can’t wait to start her next set (as soon as they become available).

A THWACK MVP since 2011, she understands the power of community and the SolarWinds commitment to its users. In her role as the Global Services Team Lead for Loop1 Systems, Chrystal was the troubleshooting sniper, handling technical escalation for the engineering team, providing break/fix and augmentation support, and assisting clients as SME for SolarWinds® Orion® Platform and Security Event Manager (SEM) (formerly Log & Event Manager) products. Her focus on capacity planning, server architecture, and troubleshooting allow her to attack any issue on multiple fronts.