Relationships are hard

Building together.
Living together.
Improving together.

The human side of software development.

Applying development practices against every-day life, and applying life lessons to development

This is developer++

New here? Check out part 1 of this series: So, You’re A Developer hey?

Who needs soft skills?

I do.

You do.

Also, anybody who talks, emails, chats, sees, hears, or otherwise interacts with a fellow human being.

If you fit into one of these categories, please keep reading.

If you don’t, you may be part of a hive mind and share your thoughts with your whole race.  Congrats! I look forward to joining you soon.  Resistance is futile.

What are soft skills anyway?

Surprisingly, soft skills is not in the Webster’s Dictionary.  #wat?

Here’s a portion of what wikipedia tells us (full description):

Soft skills is a term often associated with a person’s “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.[1] Soft skills complement hard skills which are the occupational requirements of a job and many other activities.

Here’s the part we need to remember:

characterize relationships with other people

There’s a scary word in there: relationships

Many people shy away from building relationships with their co-workers for various reasons:

  1. Don’t want your worlds to collide
  2. Feeling too vulnerable letting people get to know you
  3. sudo doesn’t work on humans

[source: xkcd]

What do relationships have to do with soft skills?

Everything.  Thanks for asking.

Soft skills are the glue, the grease, and the guts of every relationship.

Now, you might be thinking: “we’re talking about work here, I don’t have and don’t need relationships to be a great developer”


Relationships give you a head start or a handicap in every interaction with another person.  Their past experience with you sets up an expectation every time they see your face, or your name pops up in their email.

Fostering a good relationship is the way to make sure those expectations work in your favour.

Your behaviours have a cumulative effect.  Being consistently unsure and afraid is a sure-fire way to make others around you feel the same way about your technical skills.  And in the opposite way, confidence and a positive outlook will shape your persona and capabilities in a positive way.

Delivering the news that you missed an important deadline with tact and confidence can minimize the fallout.

The same message from a frazzled and broken individual will have the opposite effect.

Great relationships are critical to achieving high performance.

It’s hard to get noticed if no one is paying attention.  If you don’t get noticed, you don’t get interesting work, you get skipped over for promotion, you don’t make as much money, and someone will probably steal your lunch from the fridge. (side note: can you believe people do this?)

Relationships can also be your #1 resource for learning.

Virtually every person in an organization knows a certain nuance, business rule, or exception that will never be properly captured in a requirements document.

Others know the political ropes and can guide you to the right person at the right time.

By fostering relationships with these people, you get access to all this knowledge!

Relationships are hard

There is no getting around this one, no silver bullets.

Relationships are a lot of work, and it’s not like that cross-stitch project I started for my girlfriend, now wife, during a brief period of unemployment.  Cross-stitch projects get done.  There is a defined end-point where it is clear that you have achieved something, and it is complete.  At that point, you stop working on it.

Relationships are not like that.  They require constant guidance, attention, and sacrifice.  The best way to get something out of a relationship is to give.  Put yourself out there, get to know those people you work with.  It will pay off.

Before I got married, my father took me aside and said: “Are you crazy?!??”  Ahem, what he actually told me was much more insightful, and something that I was taught again in leadership training:

Relationships are not 50 / 50.  You have to give 100% of the time.

I just had dinner with my parents to celebrate their 46th anniversary, so I’m thinking he was on to something.

Take Aways

Everybody needs soft skills.  No exceptions.

Good relationships work in your favour.

Just like bad ones work against you.

Relationships give you access to knowledge.

Relationships = giving.

Read more about why work relationships are important and how to overcome differences

Full disclosure:

I never did finish that cross-stitch project.

Yes, she still reminds me about it if she is able to stop laughing long enough at the thought of me doing needlework.


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