The Soft Skills Gauntlet

Do you have these?




Business magazines and newspaper articles are touting the serious dilemma of the missing job skills in the current workforce all over the country. College and tech school graduates are entering the workforce with the hard skills they need to satisfy an employer’s job openings, but surveys and reports are bemoaning the lack of crucial soft skill sets in these workers. 

These include:

  • Communication skill sets, such as interpersonal skills, oral communication, an ability to articulate one’s ideas clearly to those they work with, engage in on-going conversational exchanges—and being tactful. 
  • Dependability. Having a high work ethic, the dedication, timeliness, professionalism, accountability, commitment, a willingness to do the job and being an ethical worker. 
  • Understanding the importance of manners and etiquette with one’s team and peers, as well responding to the clients when providing customer service, and building a rapport with them for increased business growth that comes from satisfied clients. Understanding about conflict resolution as well as the ability to accept change. 
  • Having and utilizing problem solving skills. Thinking critically and listening. Possessing and displaying leadership and presentation skills. 

Isn’t this the stuff we should have started building on from Kindergarten, like showing up for school on time, and turning homework in on time? Or listening when the teacher gives the assignment instructions for the rest of the week? 

He picked that toy up first? I guess he gets to play with it then. I’ll wait my turn. 

Maybe I should volunteer to help the teacher tote all those books from the back of the room after class tonight. 

Yeah, Tommy D is a bully and foul-mouthed moron, but I don’t think it’d be in my best interests (or his) to run over him with my car later tonight.

If you are a freelancing writer, photographer or artist–whatever kind of freelancer you are who works from home, you are more invisible to the outside world than if you have a storefront, gallery or office in a bustling business district.

We freelancers have offices or work corners in our homes. We communicate with the hiring agencies and editors via email, fax or the occasional phone call. 

I have written for editors I’ve never laid eyes on or heard their voice. I submit according to their editorial calendars, or email them proposing a story or article, or I respond to calls for submissions. They respond with a yes, the date the item is due, I go off and write it, submit it on time. They publish it and eventually a paycheck comes. And we never have any actual face time. 

Between you, me and the shadow on the wall–freelance writers must polish their soft skills to the point of blinding in order to not only survive the invisible gauntlet, but move out ahead of the rest of the writing hoard. The dominating view people have of us is from what we write on the page, in the email or how we present over the phone. 

What does this look like, you ask? 

The editor said your article was well written, but you failed to address her original intent, and please rewrite it, will you? Do you:

a)   Verbally rip her a new one,

b)   Tell her you disagree and refuse to rewrite,

c)   Say you don’t have time because you have other, better paying jobs,

d)   Agree to revisit the original instructions, ask more questions, if you need to–and then rewrite. 

You need this last resource interview, but he’s being a pain in the a** because the newspaper misspelled his name last time and misquoted him, and, you writers can really mess things up, can’t you? Do you:

a) Turn defensive and challenge him to try writing the article himself,

b) Look for ways to goad him into a fatal heart attack,

c) Ask him to spell his name for you—again—very, very slowly, making him back up and restart it two or three times,

d) Tell him how much you appreciate his time for the interview, and assure him that you will represent his name and his statements to the very best of your ability. 

Soft skills are your people skills. 

It’s intuitively knowing when to speak up, utilizing tact and civility, and when to shut up. Study up on reading body language. It will take you far in maneuvering the human work world. Watch facial expressions, listen to word choices and tone of voice. Does someone keep checking their watch? Are they fidgeting? 

It’s submitting your projects on time and in the cleanest form your ten digits can produce. Editors and publishers have production schedules. If you want them to like you and use you again, they need to know you aren’t a lagging pain in the butt on every project. 

Your interview resources do have more to do than just sit and give you an interview. They are busy people and business owners with supplies to order, staff to oversee and phones to answer. Be organized with your questions and data needs before the interview, and for heavens’ sake—thank them sincerely when it is over! They don’t have to talk to you, you know. 

No way am I suggesting the freelance writer be anyone’s door mat, but let’s face it—we are freeform workers. No one is going to force us into doing yearly performance reviews so that we can identify our weak points. 

Hold yourself to a high standard of writing, and treat people the way you want to be treated. Examine your work processes and tweak the anemic zones. 

The goal, after all, is to continue living and working the freelancing lifestyle, isn’t it? 


2 thoughts on “The Soft Skills Gauntlet

    • Actually, Patty, too often I think it seems like far too many in the “every day” retail/commercial world have allowed their soft skills to go to pot. When I hear someone say they provide customer service, I get a bit cynical at times. Not sure nearly enough people really, really, really know what that is supposed to entail these days.

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