Yet, many in our field do not actually seem to be interested in this aspect of User Experience. Or UX professionals may think they already have these skills when, in fact, they do not. While I have written a bit about the importance of soft skills in my previous columns, I’d like to look at this topic in greater depth in this column because I am seeing more and more that these types of skills are critical to career success. Your design, usability, and technical skills get you in the door for sure, but its usually the soft skills that expand your ability to grow as a leader.
What Are Soft Skills?
Ten years ago, I moved an hour away from my dentist. In the ten years since, I have traveled back and forth to see him at least twice a year. Why would I do that? Surely there must be other talented tooth cleaners and cavity fillers out there, right? The reason comes down to soft skills. He is an extremely friendly and gentle dentist. He spends time with me each visit and answers all my questions. I trust him, and that inspires loyalty. Yes, there are other dentists who do an amazing job, but for me, driving an hour is a small price to pay for what I receive in return. This is an example of soft skills at work.
Similarly, in UX consulting, soft skills are those interpersonal skills that most people assume to be talents. This is why soft skills are rarely taught in any profession—and they are not really taught in the UX world either. However, it is critical that we teach these skills to both seasoned and novice UX professionals. As UX professionals, we discuss having empathy and putting ourselves in the user’s shoes constantly, but we fail to attack the issue of soft skills with as much vigor. Why is this a mistake? Because, these days, there are interpersonal interactions happening in our workplaces that we simply cannot ignore—at least, not if we’re looking to master our soft skills.
Overlooked and underappreciated acts—such as presenting ideas to audiences, really listening to people to understand them instead of listening to respond with our own ideas, resolving conflicts in a way that does not alienate others, and creating a collaborative, open environment—relate to how we not only build, but can also sustain relationships. These are not relationships with a design or a tool. These are relationships with people. Our ability to leverage and rely on these relationships, while also contributing to them, enables us to get the support we need for our work as UX professionals.