As much as we all might find stereotyping distasteful, it would probably be difficult to refute the contention that people who gravitate toward the IT profession tend to be somewhat introverted, and more comfortable working with technology than with other people. There would probably be less consensus on whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.
I've long argued that it's a bad thing. It's been a year and a half since I wrote the post, "Why the Preponderance of Poor Social Skills in IT Is Unacceptable" in which I discussed a conversation I'd had with Peter Handal, chairman and CEO of Dale Carnegie & Associates. In that conversation, Handal noted that improving the interpersonal skills of IT people is big business for Dale Carnegie:
Some of the largest clients that we have are the IT departments in very large companies. I think in large part it's because interpersonal skills are really essential to success. We all have gotten so used to sitting in front of our laptops or working with our iPhones that we're more comfortable doing that than we are dealing with other people. A lot of companies are realizing that and are encouraging their people to take the face-to-face interpersonal skills-type training that we give, because it makes them more comfortable [relating with other people]. People to a certain extent forget how to deal with other human beings. The essence of customer service and leadership is interpersonal-the skills that you learn from dealing with other people. So I think one of the reasons why IT has been such a large and growing part of our business is that there's a real need for redirecting people back to some of the basics.
And, having written in the post about the "dark side" of being devoid of interpersonal skills, I drew this conclusion:
Yes, there's a huge need to redirect people back to the basics-to things like civility and common courtesy that far too many IT people have lost in a profession that has tended not to provide enough opportunity for social interaction. Isolation is unhealthy, even when it's isolation in the company of a computer. Or, perhaps, especially when it's in the company of a computer. That seems to be when the darkness is most successful in enveloping us.
That's the sentiment that came to mind a couple of weeks ago when I read an excellent interview conducted by Computerworld's Patrick Thibodeau with Billie Blair, a Los Angeles-based expert in organizational psychology who sees IT managers as aloof and insular.
It is a little bit of both. It is the type of job, and clearly people choose their professions based on their proclivities, interests and natural inclinations. It's the same thing with CFOs, or people in the financial accounting arena. In IT's case, it is a love of things technical and they are typically very good at it. Mostly, in these days, people in those positions have been told since childhood that they were gifted in all things technical. They feel very comfortable in what they do. They have chosen their job because they like it a lot. I would tend to say that they love it. Technical jobs are an engagement with things rather than people, for the most part, and it's that engagement with things which is what got them to the management level. Now, as managers, they have to deal in a whole new arena. With IT managers, within their group, their cadre of other IT folks, it's pretty much an "us vs. them" approach. We are the gurus and the knowledgeable people and those other people are the ones that are always making demands and keeping us from doing our real jobs.
If IT managers have an Achilles' heel, Thibodeau went on to ask, what is it? Blair's response was unflattering:
They isolate and insulate themselves from any outside world, the outside world being the rest of the organization, and they form these cadres where they are true to one another. That's what brings them down every time; if they are brought down, it's the arrogance combined with insularity.
So with that as the backdrop, I'd love to get some feedback on the question this discussion begs: Why do IT pros tend to have such lousy people skills?