Premise

Someone made a blog post on their opinion about what it takes to become a worthy Tableau Desktop developer.  It was a good article and while it focused on technical ability (and not just with Tableau) it did have a section about working with others.  The author posted a link to it on Twitter and one of the replies was that it is easier to teach technical skills (a.k.a. hard skills) than human support & personal interaction skills (a.k.a. soft skills).  The author agreed, stating

Tech skills are much easier to teach but attitude has to come with and from the person.

I disagreed with this and a very short debate ensued.  One cannot have a worthy discussion on Twitter so we mutually left each other in disagreement.

 

Why I Disagree

One reason many people think that teaching hard skills is easier than soft skills is simply due to lack of education.  They already know the hard skill as they learned the skill themselves, either by self-study or through formal education.  However, they didn't learn soft skills.  It could be due the type of parenting they received.  It could be the cause of higher education failing them in their degree and, typically, most tech people are under the false assumption that if you have the tech skills you don't need to have strong (or any) people skills so why bother with any human conditioning education!

 

I would say it safe to say that it's hard to teach something you aren't familiar with, right?  So, yeah, if you're a Computer Science major, teaching someone how to publish a report is easier than teaching someone how to respond to an angry customer while it's the opposite situation for a Psychology major as they have the better education to match the teaching to the situation and to the student.

 

Another reason people claim that soft skills are more difficult is because you don't usually see immediate, concrete results.  Soft skills tend to have more variability, for example, what one may consider "angry" another may consider "miffed" depending on the context and who's doing the interpreting, thus they are also more subject to result interpretation i.e. answers are grey, not black and white.

 

Finally, teaching is not a skill everyone can do so while they will stumble with a hard skill a nebulous soft skill just looks about impossible.  I get it.  That's why I don't teach

 

Yes, Emphatically

What lit a flame under my **** was that the author stated in another tweet during our short debate:

well you can't exactly 'teach' someone to change their character...

I'msorrywhat?  I'm thinking a great number of psychiatrists, psychologists, & therapists would emphatically disagree.

 

Excluding obvious outliers (radically abused, physically/mentally deficient, etc.) humans are very adaptable creatures and changing one's character can be done, if not completely then at least swinging the pendulum the other direction.  Naturally there are people who have a disposition or innate ability for certain tasks; this is why my career took the path of computers and my sister took the path of nursing.  Admittedly my sister can handle human interactions more naturally while I sometimes have to default to prior training to help guide me.  I say "sometimes" because it was more difficult for me earlier in life but education changed that.

 

Character Can Change

During my high school years (primary education) my mother gently told me I was too pessimistic and that life would be a lot easier if I changed by seeing life in a more optimistic viewpoint.  It took years and life experiences but I was able to change my outlook on life.  I eventually reached a balance where my opinion is more realistic instead of pessimistic, with a leaning towards optimism.

 

In college I was a resident assistant in a residential life system that was in the top of its class at the time -- for those not familiar with residential life on college campuses I was a kind of assistant manager for a dormitory but the job was so much more involved, including para-counseling tasks.  A huge part of the job is interacting with fellow students so communication skills were key.  We took a personality exam and I remember on the Introvert - Extrovert scale I was deep in the Introvert region of the chart.  No surprise to me, I already knew this.  We were then taught how to communicate with the various personality types, did exercises, etc. throughout the quarter.  When we retook the exam I was in the dead-center of the Introvert - Extrovert chart.  I was balanced instead of skewed.  I had improved and people noticed it.  I changed.

 

Both of these personal examples highlight a character change in me and thus pushing the pendulum in the other direction.

 

I've had other personal moments of positive change and I've witnessed others close to me change as well.  Most of this change was imparted by a professional, taught and experienced in teaching such skills.  If one has been taught the skills they can teach others, you don't have to be a professional to do this.

    • If you're a parent like I am then you are proof of this!  I want my daughter to be an independent person, to value education, and to value diversity.  My wife and I are helping to mold her character.  Sometimes it's fast and easy, sometimes it takes repeating...multiple times...
    • If you work with others then you can teach subtly or overtly:
      • How you act in front of others, your response in emails, how you talk in person and on the phone, are the subtle examples.
      • When you talk to someone directly about an action is an overt example, like explaining to a subordinate when they respond to a customer's email it should be done as soon as possible, not waiting until the last minute of the SLA.

 

This Call May Be Recorded For Training Purposes

I briefly worked in a call center and they did record the calls.  A supervisor would get a random phone recording and evaluate it.  If anything wasn't right you would get pulled aside and told what was wrong and how to better handle it next time.  All done in a non-threatening manner as it is, indeed, part of one's training.  This works and people did improve.  Once people improve, get positive feedback, and continue to implement their training it then becomes habit, reflexive, action-without-thought.

 

These mind habits work similarly to the physical habits of those who practice martial arts/boxing/etc.  For example, when my son tries to sneak in a poke at my belly I block him without even thinking, it's a natural reaction for me.  Mental actions can act the same way, becoming without thinking.  A mental example would be when my daughter exclaims that her math is impossible and she'll never be good at it.  My old self would've rolled eyes and just tried to show her how to do the math but thanks to child therapy sessions I know to ask her questions like "what part do you find difficult?" or "why do you think you'll never be good at it?", or throw my arm over her shoulder and tell her, "I know you'll be good at it because you aced last month's test so show me where you're having difficulty and we'll figure this out together".

 

Simply A Lack Of Knowledge Or Information

The word "ignorance" tends to have a negative connotation, unfortunately, but it's definition is pure:  A lack of knowledge or information.  Based on my life experience it's my opinion that ignorance is in play when a person states:

  • ...the average person cannot change "who they are"
  • ...that it's more difficult to teach soft skills than hard skills.

 

A person will change if they are willing to.  So even with the right information, even with the right training, if they refuse to accept it then they won't change.  Duh.  That does not validate the argument that character cannot be changed.  I have some business users who still don't understand how to connect to non-db data sources even though they've read the materials and have been trained on how to make the connection.  That doesn't mean hard skills are difficult to teach because some are failing to understand.

 

Twitter Sucks At Conversation

Twitter, with only a measly total of 140 characters allowable, is pretty much an awful medium for online discussion.  Even a simple reply or Like can have a deep impact.  I think choosing one's words becomes critical in that medium regarding opinion.  As a friend told me, Twitter is really only good at posting headlines, and that makes sense.  So when an opinion like this comes up it's not easy for either party to discuss what they exactly mean so I'm hoping what the author stated about character is not what they meant.  However, the whole argument about soft skills being more difficult to teach than hard skills is where I am in disagreement.  Everyone has their opinions and that's fine so we're both right