Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Soft skills

Early last month, I spent a long weekend in a facilitation skills class. I've taken facilitation classes before, I do and have done a lot of facilitation in my work, and I'm considered to be very good at it. However, I was delighted to have the opportunity to reexamine some of the basics, work on some of the things that can be rather challenging, and receive (and give) feedback from (and to) others doing the same.

Facilitation skills are among those so-called "soft skills" that many argue are critical to the success of experience management and non-management personnel who more often than not find themselves working in "hostile territory."

As Lisa Anderson, Director of User Experience at Autodesk, argued during her appearance as a guest speaker in my recent User Experience Managers and Executives Speak course: "We're the glue that binds -- that brings different people and thinking together." Hence, "the soft skills, too often neglected by user experience managers, are critical. Develop these in yourself and your team."

Jim Nieters, Director of User Experience at Yahoo! and another of my guest speakers, has stressed that user experience practitioners need strong teamwork, communication, and advocacy skills just to get product teams to want to work with them. And another guest speaker, Klaus Kaasgaard, Yahoo!'s VP of Customer Insights, addressed this from the perspective of the researchers whose work he oversees:
"It is all about getting people on your side. Researchers won't get an SVP of business to act just by presenting their insights. One needs to build momentum to get people behind you in order to convince them, which is a long process. You have to wear 2 hats -- your scientist hat and your strategy and business hat, which is like becoming a different person. This is difficult for all of us to learn."
During presentations at HCIEd08 and Mx 2008, I included the need for experience management and non-management personnel to develop soft skills among several of the key challenges that need to be better addressed (see "Realities, dilemmas, framings, ..."). And since then, it has been great to see soft skills given center stage at an IxDA-SF presentation entitled, "Herding Cats and Taming Lions: Using Facilitation Skills to Create Better Design," and at a Slideshare event entitled, "An Evening of Presentation Zen."

Look for and take advantage of opportunities to further develop your "soft skills." (And don't overlook your local improv classes.)