What Are People Skills and Why You Need Them

by Radoslaw Fabisiak

Intro to people skills for developers

Have you ever thought people skills are even more important than your technical knowledge?

Especially these times, and today I will explain why.

I will tell you what people skills are, why you should work on them every day, and how you can train some of them.

Don’t worry if you do not know which skills are people skills and good people skills. I will give you examples.

We’ll go through a list of good people skills, and you will learn why each of them is important.

In the last step, I will show you a few resources, like people skills books, that will help your journey.

Let’s start!

And if you prefer video, here is the youtube version:

Why people skills

Imagine you’re a very experienced developer (maybe you are, so do not need to imagine).

You know a few programming languages, frameworks and are like the swiss knife. When the client, manager, or business tells you the project’s final result, you split that into the many small parts and know what code you should write to build each of them.

You know when serverless will be better than regular servers, which services you should build in Golang, and how to optimize your frontend on React or Angular to get the best performance.

Shortly, you could build the whole project alone. When junior asks you for help, it’s just distracting you, and one sentence that you’d like to shoot is “let me code, we have deadline!”.

It’s great you can build code, and you’re like the machine gun, but what about your relationship with the team?

Even if your knowledge can be a team-rescue in a project, it’s very short-term, and it won’t work in a long-term relationship.

It doesn’t matter if you change team, company, or even country.

If you don’t have people skills, you will never build a close relationship with the team, feel common goals, and your teammates’ behaviors will be the enigma. 

It’s why people skills are essential, even in tech jobs.

What are people skills

You are in the project, with few people, and we got the new requirement from the business part, but it’s not very clear for us.

What do we do? Talk with the people that gave us the requirement.

When our requirement is clarified, we know how the business or client expects us to translate that for the tasks.

What do we do? In most cases, we gather together with the team and start the planning phase. We talk about how to do it because we know each other, know who can build what, for how long, and whom we can help.

We started the sprint, are in the coding phase. One of our colleagues is stuck with tasks and needs help.

What do we do? We come to his desk, start talking about the problem, sometimes do pair programming, or explain how he can fix it.

That colleague finished his task and is proud of his work, but during the code review, you see some of the code that you would like to do better or have some concerns if it’s not dangerous for the project?

What do we do? Do we tell our less experienced colleague he is a bad developer and should throw his computer through the window? No, talk with him, sometimes suggest a better solution, sometimes offer your help with fixing the issue.

Do you see some connection between all of these cases?

All of them are proof. Our job is mostly related to the people, communication, and contact with them, even if we are developers.

Those are the people skills. 

Good people skills examples

Many people think people skills are just how to communicate, and it’s some truth in that because how you communicate with people is very important.

You communicate not only via the mouth. Important is what you say, how you say it, and the most important is how gets you the person you talk to.

One of the most crucial things that result in how you are understood is your body language, which is very difficult when communicating with written messages.

Why patience is important

As the software engineer, you probably had many times when you had to explain things slowly and repeat them, trying easier.

Especially when talking to less experienced colleagues, designers, or business.

Sometimes people will not understand why you need to migrate and refactor most of your project built in Angular 9 to Angular ten and why it’s crucial for all of the world’s life.

Besides jokes, working as a developer, you need to have patience every day. When things don’t work, you need to investigate for hours the bug that can be fixed in one line of code, when you explain things to less-tech people or wait until your build completes.

Why empathy is important

Empathy is a skill that allows you to put somebody’s shoes to take his point of view.

It’s essential, especially for the team players, and in the projects where teamwork is crucial.

When you understand somebody’s point of view, see his struggles and vision, it helps a lot during brainstorming, planning, or even talks about solutions that were already made.

What is most important, empathy helps eliminate negative emotions and pick your way of communicating with the people you talk with.

Why communication is important

You will communicate a lot, in most cases, with people.

It’s one of the most crucial people skills. Even if you work in the server room on the -3 floor, somebody can still visit you and talk, and probably more often than you think.

In most IT companies, we work in teams, have meetings, brainstorm sessions, do pair programming, and even see the clients often.

Even if you’re very tech-person and feel much better talking to the computers by writing code, communication is crucial for you, maybe even if you should improve that skill.

It doesn’t matter you’re an introvert. Good communication doesn’t mean that you need to always spend time with tons of people talking without seconds of pause.

In many cases, introverts are much better communicators than extroverts.

It means you need to know how to communicate with people in the right way, be transparent, know how to listen, and never interrupt.

Now I will tell you what you can do to have our communication on a good level.

Don’t stop people from finishing their thoughts

Stopping people from finishing their though is just impolite, and shy people can get it doubly difficult.

When somebody is talking, we should let them finish even if we do not agree with their thoughts or ideas. 

Even if something is not clear for us, we can wait until the person will stop his sentence and then ask. Sometimes we won’t need to because the person will clear the thing in the next sentence until we ask.

If it’s a long speech in front of a group of people and you worry about forgetting what points you would like to ask, you can do short, simple notes and ask the questions later.

Warm your written messages

Written communication is challenging to handle because we do not have the major factors that help us show the vibe.

I mean things like body language, microexpressions, smile, or touch.

Thus, written communication can look a bit cold, but thankfully to emojis, we can improve that a bit.

Of course, emojis are not a solution for every type of communication, and definitely not for the very formal ones, but in this case, we cannot forget about things like “Best regargs”, “I wish you a good day”, or simple “I hope you’re doing well”.  

Talk instead of writing

As we already know about the difficulties and obstacles in written communication, we should avoid that if we can.

During telecommuting times, it could not be easy to talk in person every time. In this case, we can use at least phone or video-call when possible to ensure we can pass the positive vibe.

If we are in the office, it’s a much better way to put the headphones off and come to your colleague’s table to discuss things or even do pair programming instead of just sending cold messages on Slack.

Try public speaking as much as possible

Public speaking can be stressful and difficult, especially if you’re shy or new in the workplace, but you should do it as much as possible.

Public speaking, I don’t mean only giving talks on the enormous conferences, but you can train it daily in a group of your colleagues, for example, during daily standups or brainstorming sessions.

If you actively train to speak to people every day, your self-confidence will improve, strongly related to your positive body language.

Why active listening is important

Do you know that feeling when you talk to somebody who is looking in a different direction and responding just with “yhm”, “yes, yes”, “aha”?

Many of us know, and it’s not only impolite, but can waste much time when we confirm we understand requirements, and in reality, we were thinking about something else.

When somebody is talking for a longer time, and at some moment we stop listening, it’s named microsleep.

Even 15 million people affect microsleeps, but active listening helps us live in every conversation.

Active listening skills

There are a few active listening skills that you can use to improve being alive.

Of course, the obvious one is just paying attention, but what when microsleeps stop us from doing that?

One of my favorites is to move a big finger of your foot from time to time to confirm the presence in your brain. Sounds funny, but it works.

The next which works is to keep eye contact and mirror the body language or facial expression of the person you talk with.

There is one more way to make sure you’re actively listening and remembering the conversation’s subject.

Question: Ask the questions.

Reflect - Paraphrase what the person said, and repeat it.

Clarify - Clarify everything that is not clear.

Summarize - Repeat the summary to prove you’ve understood all as the listener.

Why humility is important

Sometimes can happen you’re a much better programmer than your colleague.

Sometimes you are the person who runs the dev-team, are the first with delivery and maybe even better than more experienced than you.

Until you’ll compare yourself to your dev colleague, especially until you try to tell it loud, try to use empathy.

Maybe he has worse days, got worse days, or get stuck. Sometimes it happens.

One more thing that you need to remember, your success is the success of the team.

Why teamwork is important

I was working with some teams. I had an outstanding performance and delivered 300% of the average.

It wouldn’t be possible if not perfectly prepared requirements, knowledgeable designer, colleagues’ cooperation, clean codebase, or brainstorming sessions.

Why accountability is important

Accountability is the thing that helps your colleague to rely on you.

If you do mistakes, you should take responsibility and fix the issue.

Sometimes it can be somewhat difficult to tell it’s your bad, and in a longer perspective, it’s much more healthy.

It’s never a good idea to look for excuses for your faults, blame other people, or random things, and it can kick your relationship a lot.

Why self awareness is important

It’s similar to accountability.

If you know what you are good at, it’s excellent, self-confidence is very important, but if you do not see your weak points, it’s very dangerous, especially in the long-term.

Awareness of your weak points is something that can help you work to eliminate them ASAP.

Still, you cannot go too deep into that side as well. The best combination is self-confidence, but self-aware about the weak points and working to improve them.

Why body language is important

Did you know only 7% of your communication is what you said?

Next, 38% is your voice tone, and the whole 55% is your body language.

Body language is a huge topic and covers gests, facial expressions, and your pose. We should write a separate article about it.

Even if you have uncomfortable clothes or if the sun is hitting your eyes can have a massive impact on your body language, which can result in a wrong understanding of your message.

Shortly, body language is what you should take a look at, at least to verify if your body language is not sending horrible signals that can kick your relationship with other people.

How to improve people skills

There are a few methods of improving people skills, and most of them will be successful, but with one condition. You need to add practice and train.

You will never be the best developer if you will not code, and the same is with people skills.

It doesn’t matter if you watch online courses, go into live training, or read books. Always you need to practice it. 

People skills books

When I learn new coding frameworks, I usually use other sources of knowledge because books can be outdated in a year.

If I learn about video, I usually watch video courses, so I have a chance to see the real motion, scene, composition, sound, or camera moves.

But for soft skills, I’ve noticed books are the best source, at least for me.

This knowledge is not going to be outdated, and there is tons of valuable information.

Below is the list of 5 books that I’m sure will give you strong knowledge about people skills.

People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts (Robert Bolton):
https://amzn.to/3niFhGZ

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (Travis Bradberry):
https://amzn.to/2ILoSMi

The Charisma Myth (Olivia Fox Cabane):
https://amzn.to/37ePJtJ

How to win friends and influence people (Dale Carnegie):
https://amzn.to/37hEnVJ

Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, Revised and Expanded Third Edition: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst (Rick Brinkman): https://amzn.to/3mmEpjj

Outro people skills for developers

It was a very long article, but you’ve done it, congratulations!

I hope you have a lot of valuable knowledge, and if you find some weak points in your people skills, you know how to improve them.

If all of us developers will have good people skills, the IT world will be a better place!

Thanks for reading,
Radek form Duomly

Radoslaw Fabisiak

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