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Leadership Our Culture

How Social Skills Shape Success in Modern Technologies

I deeply believe that thanks to technology, we are able to change our world for the better. But apart from being a professional (and avid) engineer, I am also somewhat of a humanist who invariably prioritises people’s needs, happiness, and uninhibited development. I have always thought that technology is for people, not the other way round, and that people should be put at the centre of all endeavours.



I have a strong conviction that as people dealing with modern technologies, we primarily focus on developing expertise in a narrow field. By default, we reject as unnecessary all kinds of social skills. Even if – while gaining experience – we do notice we’re somehow detached from all things human, once we master a given area, we typically take yet another technical path (most frequently, one that broadens our knowledge), not a social one. This is a grave mistake.

In a report delivered by the McKinsey company, it is estimated that by 2030, 400–800 million employees all over the world will have been forced to change their job due to automation. Technical skills are getting outdated faster and faster – some experts evaluate that their longevity will soon be reduced to mere several years.


To produce solutions helping people with their everyday matters, we need to actually be close to our intended recipients.
It’s impossible to:

  • understand other people’s needs without empathy and communication skills;
  • streamline corporate processes without comprehending the essence of problems encountered by others;
  • come up with a solution aimed at aiding specific groups of people – for example chronically ill patients – without stepping into their story;
  • devise an interdepartmental tool for people of different needs and requirements without a relationship-forward approach, active listening, and creative thinking.

How do we find the golden mean or suggest a remedy if we have lots of ideas but are unable to even verbalise them, let alone explain them (especially to a non-technical person) in a way that would account for all the values they are to represent?

How do we help if we are unable to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes (this ability doesn’t necessarily have to result from emotions, it’s chiefly about empathy and critical thinking)?

How to define human skills

The skills I refer to are often described as ‘soft’. I don’t particularly like this denomination, as I fail to understand why they should be thought of as such. Does ‘soft’ mean that they are featureless, bland, indeterminate, erratic, malleable, and vague? The adjective in question hardly captures their essence, which is why I prefer to call them ‘social’ or ‘human’ instead. Thanks to this, as technical people, we are able to envision – more or less – the data falling within their scope.

While the majority of people get hired because of their technical skills, it is human skills that ensure the so-called job longevity.

Individuals who demonstrate a high level of interpersonal competence are able to establish better, more valuable, and stronger relationships with others. This, in turn, makes for a solid foundation for positive outcomes in terms of innovation, adaptive and critical thinking, and cooperation with colleagues or clients.

If we analyse the ‘Future of Work: Global Hiring Outlook’ survey, we can notice that organisations – asked to enlist the most crucial skills required from employees – named such competences as:

  • the ability to work in a team / cooperate,
  • the ability to solve problems.

The above skills are directly linked with our ability to connect with others, and relate to the aspects described below.



Together with sympathy, it entails an authentic concern for other people. Thanks to empathy, we can understand another person’s situation and their perspective.

Empathy is not what first comes to mind when we consider modern technologies, especially if our sole objective is to specialise in one of them. Nevertheless, it’s part of everyday work and should be cultivated so that we can preserve harmony and comprehend the problems we want to solve through digital means.

For example, being a software engineer doesn’t consist only in delivering code. It’s a complex role that involves analysing millions of contexts and finding a common denominator. For the most part, empathy is needed to understand another human and make the process we try to streamline actually useful.

Additionally, according to an article by Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter, and Louise Chester, published in Harvard Business Review, out of over 1,000 surveyed leaders, 91% claimed that sympathy (along with empathy) was extremely important in terms of being a good manager, whereas 80% declared their willingness to deepen their empathy towards others, but did not know how to do it.

Meanwhile, empathy and sympathy are the very basics of effective and authentic communication.

Authentic communication

If we have well-developed abilities to verbalise and present our own thoughts, we can work better in teams, communicate successfully with others, express our needs, and suggest solutions – all with our interlocutor in mind. And in the era of the remote and hybrid work model, these are the skills that are as important as they are hard to actually develop and put to use.

  • 86% of both employees and managers attribute failures at work chiefly to insufficient cooperation and communication.
  • 74% of employees feel that the communication flow at their company leaves a lot to be desired.
  • 80% of employees in the USA report experiencing stress due to poor communication.
  • 28% of employees think that poor communication makes it impossible for them to complete tasks on time.
  • According to the report by David Grossman (based on data garnered from 400 large enterprises and 100,000 employees), it is estimated that the cost of communication barriers at a single company amounts to 62.4 million dollars per year.

Mastering the art of communication helps scientists and engineers convey their or their team’s results in a clear, logical, and structured manner. The visualisation of ideas, solutions, or data gains a new level of depth, while the recipients (for example decision-makers) can look at an issue from a different perspective. An interesting take on a problem lets the stakeholders understand the presented information to a greater extent and empowers them to use it in the future (for example in support of the decision being made).

Building trust

Trust belongs to the most essential elements contributing to a team’s success. It’s the foundation of everything that involves interpersonal cooperation. Building trust is necessary for moving on to carry out any further tasks. If people work in a team that inspires a feeling of safety and trust, they are more likely to make the most of their potential. Creating such an environment is not an easy venture, but being authentic, sincere, and empathetic would be a good starting point.

  • According to the ‘2018 Trust Outlook’ survey, 23% of 1,202 adult Americans state that they would be ready to suggest more ideas or solutions if they trusted their leaders and co-workers,
  • while one third of respondents declare they would be part of a team for a longer time if the leaders kept their promises.
  • According to the ‘Edelman Trust Barometer’ (a survey conducted in 28 countries, on a group of 33,000 people), one person out of three doesn’t trust their employer or leader.

Meanwhile, employees who trust their employers feel 74% less stress and are 40% less likely to experience a professional burnout.

Critical and creative thinking

Creative and critical thinking is indispensable if we want to come up with original ideas and introduce innovative products or services into a market. Without it, no start-up or tech company stands a chance to make it big.

As early as in 2015, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, creative thinking and critical thinking were ranked second and third on the list of the most important skills needed to flourish during the industrial revolution.

And as stated in the ‘Future of Jobs Report’ presented at the very same forum in 2020, by 2025, as many as 50% of employees will need to retrain due to the increasing presence of technology. Critical thinking and problem solving are still perceived by employers as skills that will continually grow in pertinence.

As artificial intelligence and automation progress, creative and critical thinking skills are becoming more and more needed to make up for what machines lack. In the case of data engineers, for example, critical thinking allows for an objective problem analysis. It also helps formulate relevant questions and determine how the available information can get an organisation closer to its objectives.

As shown in the ‘Society for Human Resource Management’ report, 84% of recruiters claim that job candidates seem to lack such key social skills as creative and critical thinking. This proves the competence’s desirability in the labour market.

Let’s look at real data

The advantages of acquiring social skills are evident even in the case of children. More often than not, those who demonstrate them make faster learning progress (Caprara, 2000; Denham, 2006; Wentzel, 1991) or consider themselves happier (Ryan and Deci, 2001). As they go through life, they have it ‘easier’ than people who don’t develop their empathy, critical thinking, or communication skills.

According to the ‘LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends’ report, 89% of recruiters claim that when a hired person falls short of expectations, the commonest reason for it are poor social skills. Despite the fact that 77% of managers look for candidates who are able to think critically, 46% of them state that the newly employed people still need to hone their communication skills.

Now, looking the other way round – 70% of employees dealing with managers (also technical ones) perceived as having low emotional intelligence judge their overall experience of working at the company as mostly negative.


This seems to be supported by a study conducted by LinkedIn Learning, which revealed that almost 57% of high-level managers consider social prowess as more important than the technical one. Interestingly, interpersonal communication skills ranked extremely high in the majority of lists presenting desired competences – 88% of 41 sources.

‘I haven’t studied IT to talk to people.’

This is a sentence I quote repeatedly. Even though I now use it jokingly, it did resonate with me for a long time. As a technical person and a researcher through and through, I like to surround myself with data and structures – with all things tangible, comprehensible, and certain.

Coming into contact with a new person often means stepping into unknown territory. We have to quickly analyse all the incoming data and react immediately. The incapability to collect sufficient information to draw conclusions makes us feel uneasy.

The same holds true when, as specialists in a narrow field, we need to verbalise our reasoning so that it’s comprehensible for a non-technical person. Such situations tend to short-circuit our inner systems and cause us discomfort so severe that we prefer to stay silent rather than potentially offend another person or be perceived as freaks.


Meanwhile, the message we get is that what underlies all company processes are people (employees and customers) and actions aimed at establishing empathy-based relations. So, given that even digital transformation depends on human competences, we cannot possibly underestimate their worth.

Contrary to ‘hard’ skills which can be learned by reading textbooks, practising, or listening to experts, social skills are trickier to master. In essence, they are like impressions or observations that let us ‘read’ others. They are also harder to measure and assess. The market offers myriad expert courses, guidebooks, and even university specialisations that may help in this respect. In my opinion, however, this all comes to naught if we don’t step out of our comfort zone and actually start to act on what we have learned. I have a motto that I repeat to myself (sometimes also to others) whenever I have to do something that makes me uncomfortable,


When we leave our safe, well-known place, we expose ourselves to ‘danger’. Without doing so, however, we won’t be able to grow. Of course, this doesn’t apply solely to human skills, but – in principle – to any other competence we want to acquire.

After all, it’s practice – or experience – that makes us perfect. So, the sooner we start working on transparent, honest, and people-forward communication, the easier it will be for us to master empathy and critical thinking, and build trust.

Empathy can’t be learned from a textbook, nor can it be certified. It’s best to begin by approaching our interlocutor with an open mind, giving them our full attention, and trying to put ourselves in their shoes. To streamline communication at our workplace, we can simplify the subject we bring up, stay down-to-earth, and ensure we don’t talk about our suggested solutions for more than half a minute. It would also be worthwhile to check communication-related courses and resources for start-ups. They teach how to present your idea in an attention-grabbing manner under mere three minutes – and, while doing that, how to suggest solutions to the target group’s problems, describe the market, and discuss the suitable strategy in relation to business models, timelines, teams, sales efforts, etc.

Organisations all over the globe pump tremendous amounts of money into ideas and solutions related to digital transformation. Many of such initiatives, however, yield less-than-satisfactory results. One of the reasons for it is that companies focus solely on technology. They tend to forget that the top priority should always be people and that our ability to adapt to even more digitised reality relies on how well we develop our human skills.

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