IT Career JumpStart

Nov 19 2008   5:01PM GMT

The Human Side of IT: Softly Practice the Softest of Skills

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

As I try to broaden my personal horizons and learn how to be a better IT worker myself–so as to be better equipped to dispense advice to others–I’ve learned that this means I need to work on my people skills as and when opportunities present. Luckily for me, I’ve got a nearly five-year-old son, and am in a cross-cultural marriage (East meets West, non-tech traditional meets whacky hi-tech Pop culture and philosophy, and native speaker of English attempts to bridge the gap to a non-native speaker). That means I get lots of opportunities to work on such things, and to see how those near and dear to me occasionally struggle with their people skills as well.

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll recognize the lines “Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little-death…” as a clip straight from the Bene Gesserit canon (Frank Herbert’s Dune for those unfamiliar with this cant). I think this is very true, but in watching myself and my family as objectively as I can (MMV, for sure) I think that frustration could substitute for fear in that litany without altering its impact or significance, as could anger. Not surprisingly, this triumvirate often travels en masse, so that as you encounter (or feel) one of them, the others are often not far behind.

So how to deal with fear, anger and frustration? In the workplace, as in life, the secret is to do for and with others what you would like others to do with and for you. Project Management Coach Margaret Meloni, who writes a pretty useful blog on interpersonal skills for recommends that modeling good behavior is an excellent way to elicit the same kind of behavior from others. (Interestingly, in Latin “Bene Gesserit” roughly translates as “(s)he shall have behaved well”–gotta love that past perfect subjunctive–so there’s more relevance in my wild sci-fi citation than might immediately meet the eye or ear).

In her 10/14/2008 blog, “Diffuse Anger, Strengthen Relationships,” Ms. Meloni goes on further to suggest the following (I don’t usually quote at this length but it’s great advice, so here goes):

Try this recipe next time anger appears on the menu.

Take these ingredients: An open stance that shows interest; direct eye contact that builds trust; a soft and measured tone of voice and a non-threatening posture (sitting down is good). Combine all ingredients by modeling the behavior you want the angry person to exhibit.

Prevent participants from reaching the boiling point by avoiding pointing, raised voices or sarcasm.

Maintain a consistent level of respect while all ingredients are mixed and measured. Don’t give up, sometimes this recipe can be prepared quickly and other days it needs to simmer more slowly.

Serve with generous helpings of patience and enjoy a healthy professional relationship.

Exactly what she said, plus do the same when fear or frustration trot across the stage as well. Seems to work pretty well with personal/family relationships, too.


2  Comments on this Post

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  • Suzanne Wheeler
    It's amazing what the power of uncrossed legs, upturned palms, soft facial muscles, and direct eye contact can do for a tense situation. I go as far as to monitor my head nodding, tilting, and affirming vocalizations as well. I advise techies to think of soft skills like a live RPG where your skills are built with every encounter. It's difficult sometimes, but worth the effort.
    360 pointsBadges:
  • Ed Tittel
    Dear SuzMonster: As always, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. All of the strategies you mention work pretty well with my four-year-old, too. And now that I think about it, all of us--especially techies (including myself)--have rather more than less in common with most four-year-olds than we might like to admit freely and fairly. Thanks again, --Ed--
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