By John Sonmez November 24, 2016

My Employee Lacks Soft Skills

Working for a company means not only knowing and understanding the technical side. More and more, companies are searching for employees that know their stuff, not only technically but also socially. And this is what I call soft skills.

Soft Skills is a synonym for “people skills.” The term describes those personal attributes that indicate a high level of emotional intelligence. Unlike hard skills, which describe a person's technical skill set and ability to perform specific tasks, soft skills are broadly applicable across job titles and industries. It's often said that hard skills will get you an interview but you need soft skills to get — and keep — the job. In this email, I receive a question from an employer saying that his employee lacked soft skills. He was an awful person to work with and this was making the process of working with him undoable.

What should he do in this case? Watch this video and find out!

Transcript From The Video

John Sonmez: Hey, what’s up, John Sonmez from simpleprogrammer.com. I got this question, this is a funny one. It’s so entertaining. Help with employee with a lack of soft skills. Yeah, this will be fun. This email says, “Hey John, first let me start with saying your book and blog have been the exact form of virtual mentorship I’ve been looking for so thank you for that.” If you’re wondering what he’s talking about about my book, I do have a book called Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual. You could check it out here. I’m actually writing a new book which you can check out on my blog, but definitely if you haven’t gotten my first book, you should get that especially if you’re interested in Soft Skills or if you’re interested in any of the topics on this YouTube channel.

The question is regarding how to deal with employees who lack social/soft/people skills. “I have an employee who is a good developer. He holds is own well on a technical level. He can code. He refuses to use polymorphism but will dynamically cast like a Mofo, but he can get projects done. The problem is on a social level. I’ll just bullet point them: 1. Walking on the hall or in the morning, no salutation. Feels like a staring or stare-down contest. 2. In meetings, refuses to sit at the conference table, sits in the back. 3. In meetings, he basically faces in entire body in the opposite direction of the person speaking, no presentation to view. Just completely ignores the room. 4. We hold a daily 10-min sprint meeting, he has told me feels this meeting is useless for him so he’d rather skip it. 5. When asked about his status he always replies, “I sent an email, right?” I think this is another—maybe it’s 6 here, in meetings he is very confrontational when we actually really need his input and push for answers. He’s very expensive and has been with the company over 13 years. But the above list makes it hard to deal with him. Any advice? Thanks, Alberto.”

Okay. This is a tough one. Gosh. If he wasn’t with the company for 13 years I would just say fire him. I know that sounds harsh, but these are—some people are going to get upset and say, “Oh, he’s on the autistic spectrum” or whatever. You don’t know that. I don’t know that. I’m going to tell you how to deal in the practical world where you still have to deal with it. We have to get business done. We have to get things done and being a valuable part of the team is a valuable part of a company.

Like I said, if he wasn’t with a company for 13 years what I would tell you is this, if he was a new employee I would say fire him because this is something his mommy should have taught him. You can’t teach these—you can’t train these things into a person, these kinds of social skills. You can train them how to do a job, you can train them technically, but you can’t train social skills and hard work, a work ethic, I’d say, social skills and work ethic you cannot train into an employee without a huge deal of effort. Even if you had that effort they have to be complicit in it, they have to want to do this.

I’m not saying that you can’t learn soft skills, obviously I wrote a book on soft skills and I think that they can be learned but it has to be a self-initiated practice. Maybe you could give him a copy of my book and see if he’s interested and see if he’s willing to take those steps, but it’s like you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. You cannot push them. Someone who doesn’t want to grow, someone who doesn’t want to develop themselves socially or is not interested in personal development, it’s not going to work. It’s not going to happen. It just is not going to happen.

I don’t think you can really, really do this. Now if you talk to this gentleman and you say, “Hey,” in fact, just send him the same email you sent me, bring it out and say, “Look, I’ll be honest with you, dude. You’re a good developer, really like you here at the company, but this is the real issues that I see that you have. I would like to help you address them, are you interested? You can say no if you want.

If he says, “You know what, I didn’t realize that it’s being perceived that way, this is really important to me. Oh gosh, could you please help me. I have social anxiety. It’s hard for me to go to work and socialize with people. I really like to solve this problem, I just didn’t know there was ever a solution for it.” Great, give him my Soft Skills book, mentor him, coach him on it if he’s enthusiastic.

If he shows any resistance to it at all, if he says, “Yeah, are you going to fire me if I don’t work on this stuff or something like that?” You got no hope. You just have to make a decision. You have to say, “Am I going to deal with this guy as he is or am I going to let him go?” Because you are not going to motivate someone to self-motivation, self-motivation is intrinsically a trait that someone has or they don’t. what you’re testing for is to see if he has self-motivation and he just doesn’t have a solution—he doesn’t know how to develop these things or he’s unaware of his circumstance. There’s no way he’s not unaware of his circumstances. He’s aware. He just views it to a different lens. You view it as him being socially awkward and being competitive and just not getting along with people. He views it through the lens of he’s scared of people, he doesn’t know how to interact with them, he doesn’t like being in social environments and he has difficulties, no self-confidence, he’s viewing a totally different lens.

If he wants to work on those problems you could probably help him because he’s been with the company for 13 years. You probably only have a 20% success rate. Most people who try to change, fail. Again, I don’t mean to be pessimistic because I’m a very optimistic person, but most people who try to change fail. I’m hoping that you who are watching this channel that you’re the 20% of people that want to change and that succeed, that actually pursue things and actually develop themselves. You have to realize that this is—it’s probably a lost cost. It’s probably really difficult especially if this guy has been like this for 13 years and hasn’t shown any progress. It’s very unlikely that he’s going to change.

Like I said, I know it’s kind of harsh, if he was a new employee like I said I would fire him because it’s just not worth the investment. You’re going to have to make a huge, huge investment and it’s probably not going to pay off. If he’s not willing then there’s no way it’s going to pay off. Since he is with you for 13 years, like I said, have the conversation with him. Be blunt. Be frank with him, do it in a tactful way, explain to him what the situation is, how he’s perceived, how—give him something—explain to him how developing these skills would help him in his career and make things better for him. Look for the fears that he has that you can help him overcome and see if he’s interested. If he’s not, then just make the decision, say, “I’m either canning this guy or am I dealing with him?” Because that’s really your only choice at that point.

Anyway, hope this helps you. Like I said, if you haven’t gotten it already, check out my book Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual. It has more than just the social skills, it’s all kind—I define soft skills as anything that’s a non-technical skill which includes finance and fitness and mentality and mindset and all that stuff, career development, all these things. Anyway, if you liked this video I have a request for you which is to click that subscribe button and especially if you have problems with some of the things that I described here if you consider yourself to lack some of the soft skills I have a lot of videos that can help you, so definitely subscribe to the video or to the channel and you’ll get plenty of videos on those topics. Anyway, if you like this video and you are subscribed click the thumbs up. Give me a thumbs up, I would appreciate it or share it with someone who could use this advice. I’ll talk to you next time. Take care.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."