Saturday, August 20, 2011

People Skills

I've just read this great post which I found on Hacker News, and felt sympathetic.
For too many times in my short career I was forced to work with people that has no people skills. Those people held a programming, admin or other technical roles, which means they weren't "customer facing", so for the employer, there was no need to require people skills when hiring them.

But that's a wrong call in my opinion. Even if the people in question were among the top 5% of the most professional people I met, I'd rather not work with them at all, than suffer their presence. Even if that means spending a few more days on solving some technical issues.

Many things bother me with such people:
  1. Some of them know they're so good at what their doing, and leverage their bad people skills in a way that no one would be able to learn from them. This gives them job security.
  2. Some of them use the fact no one wants to communicate with them in order to get this quiet room "in the basement".
  3. If there's a "dirty job" that involves communicating with customers, obviously they aren't tasked with handling it. That's an ugly way to get only the "nice" tasks.
  4. They get away with ugly code, since no one wants to communicate with them and get them to beautify it or write documentation.
So yeah, I know many people don't go to work in order to socialize, but having people with zero people skills, no matter how professional they are, simply hurts the organization.

When it's time for me to hire employees, be sure that having decent people skills will be a criteria.


  1. Ironically, several of the points you listed which bother you about such people are actually traits of a poor work ethic and *UN*professionalism, and have nothing to do with not having people skills. Take point 4, for instance... *NO* respectable programmer would ever _deliberately_ write ugly code, and even if they actively do not want to have to communicate with other people, they might tend to document *EVERYTHING*, and write extremely readable and maintainable code so that other people will not *have* to pester them about it.

    And if you think making it so that nobody can learn from somebody gives them job security, it's exactly the opposite situation when you have somebody in your company that nobody can effectively work with.

    People with poor social skills are often tolerated in technical positions because they often excel at the technical tasks associated with that position, which has absolutely zero to do with how professional they might be (or unprofessional, for that matter).

    Professionalism requires integrity, a positive attitude, and the willingness to work hard and learn new things when required. That has nothing to do with technical competence, nor the presence or absence of people skills.

  2. Mark - I agree with you. Especially with the summary paragraph.

    It always amazes me to see such people "survive" at work, especially when they're unprofessional.
    The fact professional people are "tolerated" for being unsocial simply annoys me, and I guess this is what lead me to write this post.

  3. I used to want one of those jobs were I wouldn't have to deal with people, but that never happened. Quite contrarily my first couple of jobs were in customer service, which helped me BEGIN improving my people skills. I believe it's a life long process, as you meet people from all walks of life. We have published a few pointers that can help people be more 'people-friendly'.