Welcome to last of a 3 part series:  The 6 essential soft skills for security professionals.

If you recall from part 1, we talked about ethics and communications.  In part 2, we talked about teamwork and independence.

Now, we’re going to look at the last 2 professional/soft skills that are important to security:  Problem solving, and diplomacy.

5.  Problem Solving

One of the most important aspects of security is solving problems.  You have heard it frequently throughout this series.  Right?

Problem solving is “the process or act of finding a solution to a problem” – Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary

In security, there is NEVER a shortage of problems! EVER!!!  There are money problems, technical problems…you name it.

And as a security professional, you have to make the best of a bad situation. You have to find a solution to the problem.

Being a good problem solver takes experience, and in my case, lot’s of failure.

When you are trying to solve security problems, don’t be afraid to try things. It’s how you get better.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

But always be aware of the consequences of your decisions. Test things before you implement them. Have co-workers or other people you trust review your ideas.

But do something! Try and solve the problem.

In my experience, here is how I go about solving security problems.

1.  Analyze the problem
Learn the details so you fully understand the problem. Talk to anyone you need to. Look at the technical parts of the problem, if any.

Whatever you need to fully understand the problem at hand…do it.

2.  Understand the impacts and consequences
What does this problem affect? Is it technical, procedure, or another problem? Is it a critical problem? What happens if you don’t fix the problem right away?

You want to know all aspects of the business and system impacts as best as possible.

3.  Identify solutions
Now think about how to solve this problem. How are you going to fix the problem? Is it a technical fix or can you compensate some other way?

Come up with at least 2 different ways you think you can solve the problem.

4.  Confirm solutions
If I’m ever unsure about a solution, or how it might affect a co-worker, I confirm my solution with someone else. I’ll bring in system administrators, security officers, managers, or whoever I need to confirm the solution will work.

2 heads are usually better than 1!

5.  Implementation
Lastly, once everything is good, you implement the solution in a test environment. Test anything before putting into production if at all possible.

If it’s a process or procedure, create it and share it for others to review.

Remember, problem solving takes practice. Be patient, learn from others around you, and always look to make things better!

6.  Diplomacy

Diplomacy is the last and final skill we’ll discuss. I struggle with this skill the most out of any of the others.

Diplomacy in security is a “skill in dealing with others without causing bad feelings.” – Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary

But it’s more than that. It’s all of the other skills we talked about…all rolled up into diplomacy!

It means teamwork, problem solving, communications, and all of the others all at once, dealing with one or more people.

That’s hard to do under stress, when the pressure is on, and when things are going all wrong.  When things go wrong, diplomacy gets harder and harder.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s say someone finds a security problem. They’re going to bring it to your attention. But, before they ever get to you, they already think they know what needs to be done to fix it.

They have made up their mind that “this” is the answer to fix it.

Then when you finally talk to this person, they try to convince you that they know how to fix it. The second you disagree, diplomacy kicks in.

You have to find a positive, constructive way, and ethical way to resolve the problem.

If not, you risk upsetting someone, affecting your relationship with them, possibly even getting into an argument.

I know, because I’ve done all of those at some point! 🙂  Which is a complete breakdown in communications and teamwork.  And a failure on my part.

Now, not all situations are going to be like that. Some will be simple, some will be very difficult.

The easiest way to practice good diplomacy, I’ve found, is to treat everyone like a superior person.

Now, I’m not saying to “submit” to everyone.  Rather, I like to pretend anyone I interact with outranks me, even if they don’t.

Now, it’s not easy and takes practice.

You may get a phone call, someone walking into your office, or a customer that approaches you.  Treat that person with respect and humility. You’ll have much better success in being diplomatic.

If they insist on being difficult, arguing with you, or anything like that, try to remain respectful and humble. Then rely on all of your other skills we talked about to resolve the problem.

Working relationships in security is one of the most important aspects of being successful. Good diplomacy skills will ensure you maintain good working relationships and solve problems more effectively.

I find most security professionals forget about the importance of the professional and “soft” skills that go into this profession.  I hope you found this article, and series helpful.

I can tell you firsthand you will need each of these 6 skills in security (and other professions) at some point.

Let’s just hope you don’t need them all at once!  I may have to write another article for stress management in that case!  😉



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