Are you wielding your powerful soft skills effectively, or are you perpetuating workforce collaboration bias?
A recent conversation I had with a friend of mine got me thinking about the power of how we choose to incorporate our soft skills within our places of work.
She was in the midst of couples’ therapy. She told me the therapist she was working with was teaching her and her (soon to be former) spouse how to argue. Not just disagree. How. To. Argue.
I asked my friend what she wanted to accomplish as the outcome of therapy. She told me: “I want our marriage to work better.” So, I asked her: “Shouldn’t that therapist be focusing you both on the root cause of why you both argue, in the first place, rather than perpetuating dysfunctional habits?” “Well,” my friend replied, “My husband likes things just the way they are, arguing. So, he wants me to learn how to argue with him, just better.”
Not only did these folks (including the therapist) have a failure to communicate effectively. The habits being taught reinforced a bias towards collaboration. While everyone, apparently, was working together towards a common objective, there were three conflicting objectives on the table.
Powerful soft skills come into play especially when STEM professionals are involved in cross-functional collaboration.
According to Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge in the known universe, soft skills describe the combination of people, social and communication skills. These aggregated skills include character traits, social and emotional intelligence and career attributes which an employee brings to an organization’s business table. These skill sets may, or may not, involve level of acquired knowledge or formalized education (hard skills), since soft skills describe an employee’s ability to get along with people in various, potentially stressful, scenarios.
Stereotypically, as the thinking goes, STEM professionals (science-technology-engineering-mathematics, the hard-core scientific disciplines) have trouble communicating effectively with non-STEM professionals. Namely, those on the business side of the corporate table.
This soft skills scenario is well-accepted, organizationally-perpetuated folk lore. Unfortunately, the never-ending story apparently gives everyone involved a free-pass out of addressing the root cause of the collaboration disconnect. Like my friend in couples’ therapy, employees may like things just the way they are, thank you. So, do not rock the organizational boat.
In reality, there is nothing “soft” about soft skills, at all.
These tools are powerful. When utilized effectively, powerful soft skills contribute to an organization’s value stream. Otherwise, when Us versus Them mindset describes the organizational behavioral norm, everyone stays safe and comfortable within the limits of their departmental mindset.
However, the root cause of this communication and collaboration disconnect is unavoidably visible. Pay attention to word choices used by everyone seated around the table. Some folks put great stock in the words they use to communicate their intention. Other folks appear careless and casual in their word choices.
For example, let’s consider those STEM professionals. Word choices are important to them because they design solutions based on the terminology used to express desired project outcomes. Then again, business professionals use words for different purposes than do STEM professionals. So, when a business professional uses a term like “exactly” or “precisely,” they are connoting agreement rather than the design specifications for the orbital trajectory of a satellite.
Hmmm. Just because a design spec is not involved, your business colleague may have something important to communicate that impacts design opportunities down the road.
How does the value stream lose out, when the status quo soft skill impasse reinforces cross-functional collaboration bias?
“You both cannot have each other’s backs if you are perpetually at each other’s throats.” ~ Babette Ten Haken, Do YOU Mean Business? A Book of Cross-functional Collaboration Hacks
My advice? Pay more attention to everyone’s word choices. Ask people to define what they mean, if you do not understand what they are saying. Most likely, you are not alone.
After all, depending on where we sit around the business table, we all see and hear the same things differently. And, unless the individuals are babbling fools (which, at times, might strike you as a possibility), they actually do have a firm intention behind what they are trying to communicate.
Why not choose to clarify their intention and do more than just communicate? Instead, use your powerful soft skills to collaborate across organizational stereotypes.
Take your next steps towards powerful soft skills which overcome collaboration bias.
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Babette Ten Haken, Founder & President of One Millimeter Mindset™ serves organizations as a corporate catalyst and innovative speaker, strategist, coach and storyteller. Babette’s One Millimeter Mindset™ Workshops and Speaking programs leverage collaboration to catalyze professional innovation, workforce engagement and customer retention, especially in challenging Industrial Internet of Things environments. Babette’s playbook of IIoT team collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon. She is a member of SME, ASQ, SHRM and the National Speakers Association.
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