Soft Skills That Are Not That Hard:  6 Soft Skills that will Elevate Your EDiscovery Career

By Nicole MacCallum posted 09-05-2018 12:56


Often times, the term “eDiscovery professional” or “technologist” doesn’t immediately conjure up the image of a smooth talking, extroverted, social-chair. The first three qualities that come to mind when I hear “technologist,” are highly intelligent, great-with-data, and introverted.  These are of course three blatant stereotypes. That said, having strong communication skills and being a talented technologist are not mutually exclusive and one direction is not greater than the other.  But, if an individual is able to achieve both of those components, it will make him or her all the more successful, well rounded, and attractive to clients and or future employers.

The term “introvert” often carries a negative connotation but in actuality, it’s simply a different skillset and or way of being. And on the flip side, a lot of extroverts are great at talking, but talking and communicating are two very different things. From a recruiting perspective, I’m noticing a significant uptick in hiring managers across the board seeking candidates who possess strong communication skills in addition to exceling from a technical standpoint.  Roles in eDiscovery are evolving and whether it’s a Project Manager who is expected to interface with clients, a Subject Matter Expert who has to present to potential buyers, or a Team Lead championing a group of eDiscovery Analysts, soft-communication skills are required in order to be both competitive and effective.  In this article, I will give you six applicable communication tactics we are all capable of mastering regardless of our natural dispositions.

The most important soft-skill that is absolutely critical in every single eDiscovery role in existence doesn’t even require talking! It’s simply, listening.  I speak to fifty plus job seekers in a given week and more often than not, I notice that people are so caught up in their own heads, likely worrying about how they’re coming across, that they’re not even listening to my questions.  And isn’t what all humans want, in or out of the work place, to be listened to and beyond that, heard? In any form of sales or client consulting, the number one priority is understanding the customer’s pain points. How can you understand what a client needs and provide that service if you don’t listen to what they are?  One of the ways I practice listening is when I’m having a conversation with a client I’ll repeat information back to them in the form of a recap.  I find repeating information to be effective because when I enter a conversation with the intention to do so, it keeps my listening game sharp, and also makes the client feel heard.  

A second soft-skill that is useful when consulting with clients, or building a rapport with your team is, asking questions that genuinely express an interest in others.  This can be as simple as “How is your day going?” or “What did you have for lunch/breakfast/dinner today?” Food is always a good topic. And of course, “what tool are you using for processing data?” works too. And then remember to apply our first soft-communication skill and listen to their answer. There are countless times when I leave a conversation in both my professional and personal life thinking “wow, that person did not ask me one question about myself.”  And the tricky piece is, talking about oneself and not asking questions is often a natural default for people who get nervous in conversation. Challenge yourself to incorporate at least one question in each conversation you have.  Get your attention off of yourself and put it on the other person.

A third and important soft skill that I find separates folks who are progressing career wise versus those who are not, is knowing when and how to ask for support.  This is a great way to set yourself apart especially if you’re in management, because half of the battle of leading a team, is learning how to identify a problem.  We all have strengths and weaknesses, and it is a strength in of itself, to be able to identify our own weakness.  Once a struggle is identified, we can strategize what and how to ask for.

If you’re a team lead, for example, and you can see that your group is working insane hours and are burnt out, you need to make your manager aware of the problem and ask for help.  And, the best way to ask for help in any situation is to come to the table with a concrete solution.  If you know the company is thriving, you can frame it to your hiring manager in a way that reiterates how much work the company is doing and revenue numbers must be great, but your team is over-worked and you need to add headcount.  If the company is not financially in a position to add to staff, you are more likely to get a desired outcome if you can come up with a less expensive solution.  Maybe it means dividing your team up into specific rotating shifts, or proposing the opportunity for remote work.  Identify the problem, create multiple solutions, and figure out the best way to ask for them.

A fourth soft-skill which is closely related to the listening skill, and effectively asking for support, is understanding what motivates someone.  We are all driven by different things.  Sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s acclaim or recognition, sometimes it’s simply wanting the feeling of adding value.  If you can understand what motivates someone, you can leverage that to get the desired outcome from them.   This is closely tied to understanding an individual’s pain points.  And in terms of managing employees, some people are motivated by wanting to get asked to speak on a panel at Legal-Tech while others have the end game of wanting maintain status-quo so that they can spend time with their family on the weekends. 

Once you understand what drives someone, you know how to appease and leverage them and likely sculpt a more collaborative working relationship. This is also a great tool to use when interfacing with clients because our clients are all motivated by different things.  One individual might be trying to impress their boss, while another might be prioritizing the speed of a project because they don’t want to have to deal with it when they’re out on vacation.  Understanding what motivates someone can also be put into practice during the interview process.  If you hear a hiring manager repeatedly talk about wanting to grow their business, you can tailor your answers to support that and talk about a time you spear-headed a project in a way that saved your employer tons of money or about a time when you took initiative to serve as a subject matter expert and were able to help the sales team land a new account.

Give others support and validation in the way you want to be supported and validated is our fifth skill. I’ve found the individuals who I find to be the most effective in their roles are constantly validating others.  Who doesn’t love being validated? Validation is such a powerful tool. A client validated me this week and not only did it make me feel like a million bucks, but it inspired me to work even harder for this particular account. The client said to me, “I recognize this is a very difficult search and I really appreciate you bringing this particular candidate to the table.”  This made me feel valuable because the client identified that the type of talent I was sourcing was difficult to find and then showed appreciation for my work. And that simple comment inspired me to go find more obscure talent!

I’ve saved my favorite soft-communication skill for last and it is one I strive to put into practice every single day both in and out of the work place.  Not taking yourself too seriously.  We live and work in such a cut throat industry that revolves around deadlines and many times I personally fall into the trap of treating each work task as a life and death situation.  Will it be terrible if you screw up a production? Yes.  Will it be your death sentence? No! Might you get fired? Yes. But will you live to get another job? Yes, you will!

Listening, asking questions, understanding when and how to ask for help, understanding what motivates others, validating, and not taking yourself too seriously are from my perspective, the six most effective soft skills that can help elevate your career. These are all attainable, and all they require is some self-awareness and some practice. And you can start applying them right now!  Go ask someone a question and really listen to their answer.  Understand what motivates them, then validate it.  And most importantly, don’t take it too seriously.