The hard thing about soft skills

The hard thing about the ‘soft’ skills of courtesy and consideration is that they’re only partly skills. They’re far more about our attitude: how much we value other people and their purposes and feelings, and the interest and care that we show them as we go about our business.

Consistently showing up for people – seeing, hearing and serving them – is far harder than going about our business focused only on our business. And there is a cost: it takes time and energy and attention to engage with and serve others when your ‘real’ job is doing something else. But it’s worth the time and energy, because this is the right way to be – whether we’re dealing with customers or the CEO or the person who cleans your office.

This means that ‘soft’ skills require us to be better at what we do, so that we have the time and energy to spare when we need them – you need something to be generous with. And if this is important to us, we need to do more than show up in the moment: we need to choose to manage our work and commitments so that an attitude of generous service is built into everything we do.

This is much harder than just doing your job.

Much harder, and much better – now and in the long run.

Courtesy and cold fusion

One yardstick of wealth is how much you give away. It’s easy to run out of time and money, but there are no hard limits to your supply of courtesy and consideration.

I’ve had several interactions with courteous, engaged service people this week, and they made a huge difference to a difficult week – I still feel glad about them. Being courteous – assuming the best, being polite, giving respect and space to people before you’re forced to concede ground or fight for it – is a wonderful form of generosity. It makes almost everything better, feels great, and almost always creates more energy than it costs.

It’s cold fusion.

Passionate about their beliefs

This familiar phrase gave me pause when I heard it on the radio recently, used in praise of a cast member who passed away. It was a tribute to a loved colleague, but I thought to myself: “I hope they don’t say that about me.”

Intensity can be a virtue. Passionate commitment can change the world – but direction matters. “Passionate in their commitment to insert cause here.” is much better.

Better still to say something specific about what they actually worked for: “… working to help people in poor communities gain access to clean water, driven by their belief that a better life should be possible for everyone,” or similar.

Better still if they have something to say about the way you did it: “They were known for countless small kindnesses and many large ones, and for (only rarely stumbling in) their graciousness toward those they disagreed with… and for having fun along the way.”

At the end of the day, though, I’m not sure that passion is as important as commitment,* and – to misuse Eugene Peterson’s phrase – “a long obedience in the same direction.”

*Though in my experience they feed each other

The toll gate

There were several cars backed up at the toll gate. Was the toll gate broken, or had the front car broken down?

The problem was simply that the driver at the front of the queue had forgotten to top up their payment card – so they were stuck.

They rifled through their wallet. Tried their backup. Thought for a moment. Asked for help from the car behind. Several drivers refused before – finally – someone lent him a card in exchange for a ten-thousand rupiah note.

The barrier opened. He drove through. He went back to return the card. He got back into his car. Finally, he drove away.

And all the time people watched and waited, and the queue got longer.

It would have been better for all of us if someone who had seen the problem – those closest could see best – had gone forward with their card and paid to let him through.

It needed clear vision (to see the problem), prompt action (to fix it quickly) and generosity (to pay someone else’s way).

Motto (1): Be Kind

“Have fun, learn lots, work hard, be kind.”

If you’re not…

  • kind to others
  • spending time with people who are kind to you
  • doing work, reading stuff, making choices that will make you more kind, not less

… then really, what’s the point?

Kind doesn’t mean…

… weak, or passive, or bland. It doesn’t mean lazy, or soppy, or aimless.

Being kind is a choice, is often hard to do**, and will probably cost you. It might get you into a fight, but one you’ll be glad you showed up for.

We’re born…

…and we’ll die, and stuff of all kinds happens in the middle.

The stuff of kindness is what counts most at either end – and in fact, all the way through.

This post is for Peter – thanks for the reminder

** It’s usually hardest when it’s most important

Some rules for future success

  • Know what’s important
  • …and know what’s for you (and what isn’t)…
  • … and act accordingly – NOW.
  • Be ‘on assignment‘ – make stuff happen, get stuff done.
  • Really – determinedly, doggedly get stuff done. Done is better than perfect.
  • Find the right people. Say the words. Collaborate. Coordinate. Lead.
  • All the time, be learning.
  • In particular, identify and work on foundations and fundamentals.
  • Communicate clearly and well.
  • Be attentive to feedback of all sorts.
  • Be able to use the best tools of the day to facilitate the above.
  • Be kind.**

** This might sound a bit limp at first pass, but really – If nothing else, what would you hope for in your interactions with yourself, family, friends, strangers?

Kindness

Note to self: what seems important to you from moment to moment often isn’t what’s most important.

With your family; with friends and neighbours; with colleagues; with strangers – what are you like?

And what will you wish you’d been like when they’re not around anymore?

Smarter? Richer? Funnier? More driven or effective? Probably not.

The word I keep coming back to is “kind”.

I don’t want to find myself wishing I’d been kinder.