How many soft skills to master for a successful career

The first time I thought about this kind of “soft skills starter pack” was about a year ago. Googling gave lists of 10-15-20 skills without explaining how to implement them, and why the list is exactly like that. The apotheosis for me was the book “12 soft skills for the 21st century”, which is a summary of 12 other books.

It’s hard to believe that all these skills are needed at once. If I test a candidate for 15 skills in an interview, will I hire anyone at all? In how many years will I develop them myself? Emotional intelligence – a couple of years? Systems thinking – another couple of years? Okay, at least with how many skills can I qualify for team work? What about the role of a leader? In general, I did not find a “minimum program” then.

But as a team lead, I hear a lot of career stories: at interviews, at 1-to-1 with colleagues, just consulting a newcomer with a question – everywhere I learn stories of successes and mistakes. And in exchange, I try to give structured and understandable feedback. Gradually, from these stories and feedbacks, a set of minimum required soft skills was formed. They will be useful even for an engineer, even for a leader. Generally speaking, they will be useful not only for an IT specialist and not only in a career.

There are three such skills in total: reflection, awareness, responsibility. Let’s look at a specific example of how to apply them. Let’s say your manager says that you are bad at managing tasks in the task tracker.


Reflection is skill number one. With her help we are from information retrieve knowledge… Also, by reflecting, we synthesize completely new knowledge from previous knowledge. We can even shape our own experience from someone else’s by reflecting on a story or a report at a conference. Generally speaking, the inability to reflect means the inability to adapt in a changing world, and this is characteristic of a condition called “old age”.

The term “reflection” is very broad, and different definitions are used in different fields of science. Let’s stop at this definition:

Reflection is the process of analyzing facts and comparing them with our inner feelings. Comparing one with the other, we realize the reasons for our feelings and actions, and also draw conclusions for the future.

Now let’s look at an example about a task tracker.

In general, reflection begins with the recognition of the existence of a problem. Perhaps not at all the one that your boss told you. But there is definitely a problem. Comparing the statement “you are bad at tasks in the task tracker” with our feelings, we can try to understand this problem.

But let’s first discard reactions that are definitely not reflections:

  • Value judgments:My leader is m * duck. ” Or: “Well, what am I for an undisciplined gouge …”. Or here’s another: “Our task tracker is generally unusable.”

  • Generalization: “Why am I? Everyone is bad at doing tasks. “

  • Devaluation: “Didn’t he find a more important problem?”

  • Shifting responsibility: “He needs to – let him do it, and my task is to write the code.”

  • Conjecture: “Yes, he himself was stuffed with caps, so he dug in.”

  • Demonization: “He dislikes me and shits on me on purpose.”

It is also not a reflection of “capturing” with the promise to strain and start doing everything according to feng shui. You are doing poorly for a reason. She must be found.

Giving up on the search for the culprit and hasty action, we can understand the following:

  • “The task tracker is slow, and it pisses me off, so I try to have less to do with it.”

  • “I don’t understand the rules for conducting tasks. Even creating a ticket is a puzzle. Therefore, I avoid working with a task tracker ”.

  • “There are many fields on the problem form, and almost always empty. In my opinion, the tracker is overcomplicated. “

  • “I think task management is useless and I don’t want to waste time on it.”

These judgments, like the first ones, have an emotional color. But the important difference is that you do not blame others or yourself, but listen to your feelings and try to understand their reasons.

The second important difference is that constructive action can be derived from each such judgment. If both you and the leader have really good intentions (and this almost always like this), then you can calmly discuss your thoughts and, for example, simplify the project settings. Or reconsider the value of doing tasks. Maybe no one really looks at them.

Of course, it happens that emotions go off scale, and valuelessness is not given in any way. The brain persistently gives out the same thought: “My leader is m * duck”. If so, add the phrase ”I have a thought that …”. That is, not “My leader is m * dak ”, and“ I have an idea that my leader is m * dak”.

The point is that your opinion is subjective. But the fact that you have this opinion is objective. And, having made such a switch, you will return to the consideration of reality. An attempt to answer the question “Why is my leader m * duck? ” causes only a sardonic grin and remains unanswered. What are the options for a constructive solution to this problem? Invent a spell for unraveling? And here is the question “Why do I consider my leader a m * duck? ” is quite subject to analysis. For example, you may realize that this is the fourth time he has postponed the revision of your salary and the task tracker is another reason why he does this. That is, the problem is not in the task tracker, but in the salary revision policy, with which you disagree. This problem should be discussed.


So, what we understood: the task tracker slows down, the rules for managing tasks are opaque, the project settings are overcomplicated, and the value of tormenting with the task tracker is questionable.

The time has come for the second tool – awareness. Its meaning is in an attempt to go beyond the situation and consider it from all sides in order to understand the scale and possible consequences of our actions (or inaction). How to do it? Ask yourself a few “expanding” questions. For example:

Question: how do my colleagues see the situation?
Answer: they probably find it difficult to manage tasks too. If we solve these problems, it will become easier for a large number of people, and not only for me.

Question: how does the leader see the situation?
Answer: he probably does not realize that the rules for conducting tasks are clear only to him. You can document them or do a mini-workshop. It is also likely that the manager does not consider task management to be bureaucratic. This can also be discussed. Perhaps he will explain to me a value that I am not aware of. Or we will understand that now this is really bureaucracy, but if we wind up analytics and dashboards with the health of the project, it will be useful.

Question: How do external participants (customers) see the situation?
Answer: they do not use a task tracker and ask my manager to write letters with the status of the project. If we simplify the task tracker so much that they can understand it, it will increase transparency, their trust in us and save time on emails.

Question: what happens if nothing is done?
Answer: it’s unlikely that my relationship with the leader will work out if he thinks that I have problems with discipline. And colleagues will continue to suffer because of the task tracker, managers will micromanage, and customers will not trust us.

Question: the problem under consideration has a value on the horizon of five to ten years?
Answer: If the hypotheses are correct, then improvements in the task tracker can greatly improve the climate in the entire team.

That’s all. The main trick of mindfulness is to devote the allotted time to the issue, and not to twirl it in your head in the background. It also helps to “unload” the question from the head. When we talk about a problem, write down or draw a diagram, suddenly a lot can fall into place. This is the principle that works duckling method… Or, journaling is a common practice of mindfulness.

Why do we need awareness? To get a deeper understanding of the problem, its true complexity and choose the right actions, avoiding local optimizations. For example, “to ask the manager to tell you personally about the rules for doing tasks” is a correct solution, but local. But “to hold a seminar for the whole team” is what you need.

A responsibility

On the one hand, responsibility is simple – it’s a way to turn reasoning into a tangible result.

But at the same time, everything is complicated with responsibility. It often refers to the habit of shouting “I!” and valiantly rush to do something. Just like in the Soviet classic – the short story “Partner” from “Operation Y” and other adventures of Shurik.

But such responsibility will not last long, the light bulb burns out rather quickly. And then the situation can develop according to two scenarios (and here I begin to retell what I heard during the interviews). Can be solved: “Let others tear your back“, But you can decide:”One in the field is not a warrior, I will begin to delegate”.

As you can imagine, the second option continues. But delegation is a pretty tricky skill. It’s hard to master it without bumping. And, having received a bump on the head, we are again faced with a choice. Can be solved: “You can’t rely on people“, But you can decide”I’ll go and watch the reports on the topic of delegation and ask the head how he does it”. Further, the chain can develop indefinitely, so I’ll get to the point.

Responsibility is not to shout “I!” and rush to do heroically. Responsibility is a willingness to deal with all the consequences of our decisions.

Even if we decide not to change anything, this is also a decision. He will have consequences too.

Let’s say an alcoholic settled next to me, who yells at night and does not let me sleep. With a lack of sleep, I become irritated, so today I sneered in a conversation with a colleague, and in the evening I had a fight with my wife. Well, okay, he explained, apologized – everything was settled. But then I decided that the drunk would calm down over time and did not do anything. And so half a year passed. The drunk didn’t calm down for six months, and he yelled again tonight. Who is to blame that I slept badly? Well, with a stretch, still a drunk. And who is to blame that at work I have the image of a toxic asshole and discord in the family?


Reflection helps us find the real problem instead of finding the culprit.

Mindfulness helps you understand the scope of the issue and choose the appropriate action.

Responsibility helps you choose the right decisions from the entire set of possible ones.

In general, all three of these skills are about how to act so that the plot does not come to a standstill and develop. And the characters became happier, or at least suffered a little less.

But why exactly these three skills? Because if you throw out at least one, then the result may turn out to be completely different: a conflict instead of solving a question, a waste of energy on unnecessary actions or reasoning that is reasonable, but in no way embodied in the result.

Are these three skills enough? Most likely, they will not be enough for the whole career – this is exactly the starter pack. But reflection and awareness will help you understand that it is time to pump the next skill, and understand which one. And responsibility will help you really do it.

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