Founder and CEO of Alpine Security, a cybersecurity engineer, & certified high-performance coach
Technical people are losing the cybersecurity war, and it’s going to take a major shift to change the outcome. As an industry, we need to work together more effectively, communicate clearly, and be able to solve problems with less conflict. In short, we need stronger people skills.
Too often, technical people don’t listen, lack empathy, or react defensively when their intelligence is questioned. This hurts collaboration and makes it harder to create winning security solutions.
Fortunately, as leaders, we can strengthen our technical employees’ people skills—starting with these eight steps.
The first step to strengthen people skills is raising awareness. That includes both self-awareness, which is understanding the behaviors you’re in control of, and the awareness of others.
As a leader, you’ll want to help your employees understand that their actions will impact others. Many technical people (and people in general) struggle with self-awareness because we tend to fill our lives with stimuli (music, TV, games, social media, and more) and make little time for reflection. By improving their awareness, your employees will be more focused on their work and more understanding of their colleagues.
Next, you’ll want to help your employees change their mindsets from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. That means ceasing to be stuck in their ways and becoming open to learning and listening.
For example, a lot of technical people will say, “I’m not good with people.” This is a fixed mindset. Someone with a growth mindset will say, “I have challenges with people, but I can get better.” They know they can learn and change. Moreover, they’re willing to put in the effort required for personal growth.
You’ll also want to make a habit of acknowledging your team. Technical people need to hear feedback—both positive and negative—if they are to learn and grow.
They should also focus on the power of self-acknowledgment. Many people on your technical team probably think they aren’t good enough, but this is simply not the case. They aren’t broken and they don’t need to be fixed. Your technical team is enough and whole the way they are, and when we encourage them to acknowledge that, defensiveness and insecurity start to dissolve.
As a next step, you’ll want to train your staff to improve their communication skills.
Communication boils down to the way we interact and the language we use, and many technical people need help in this area. They aren’t naturally talented at communicating their thoughts and concerns, and they’re not great listeners, either. Good communication goes both ways.
Technical people need to understand how they communicate; leaders should understand their own communication patterns, too. Make improvements wherever possible to facilitate understanding between team members and make sure everyone is on the same page.
If employees are focused and present at the moment, their people skills will improve. That’s why the next step is to encourage monotasking instead of multitasking.
We often get caught up thinking we need to respond immediately to everything—to phone calls, emails, text messages, social media invites, and so on. But if you can convince your employees to put down the phone and focus, they’ll become better listeners. They’ll be able to communicate clearer thoughts and pick up on non-verbal social cues, all of which should improve collaboration on your team.
Empathy is another important skill that you’ll want to train your technical employees to practice. A lot of technical people assume they’re the only ones with challenges and that everyone else has it easy. However, this is self-centered (some would even say narcissistic) thinking and can only lead to problems.
For example, when interacting with others, self-centered thinking often leads to quick and incorrect conclusions. In cybersecurity, incorrect conclusions can result in your company suffering a cyberattack, so work with your employees to see the world from other people’s perspectives.
Encourage your employees to practice kaizen, which is striving to continually improve oneself. This practice could be internal—a daily habit or a daily “morning routine.” It could also be external—like improving a process at work or your procedures for detecting cybercriminals on your networks.
The underlying idea is that you can’t contribute to the team unless you grow, and you can’t grow unless you practice kaizen. Help employees see the benefits of doing this: happiness, a feeling of fulfillment, and more wins in the fight against cybercrime.
Lastly, commit to following these steps with your employees and helping them improve their people skills. The steps all weave together to gradually move your technical people toward mastery but know that skill development and growth won’t happen overnight. It requires patience and hard work to change who people are.
You might face resistance or setbacks, but don’t give up. Having technical employees with strong people skills—employees who can better collaborate with one another to fight cybercrime—will be worth the effort in the long run.
This article was adapted from the book The Smartest Person in the Room written by Christian Espinosa.
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