Creating

5 Soft Skills to Cultivate for Crafting Better Content

5 Soft Skills to Cultivate for Crafting Better Content
Written by Natalie Dunbar

Learn how to harness the power of soft skills — those non-technical skills that relate to how you work, how you interact with colleagues, how you solve problems, and how you manage your work — to craft better content.

Riddle me this: What do ABC-TV’s ‘The Bachelor’ and career social media site LinkedIn have in common?

I promise this is not a trick question.

And I promise not to judge if, like me, you just happen to somehow wind up tuning in to a certain network on Monday evenings — or you binge-watch on Hulu — to get your weekly fix of mayhem from the magical marital mansion. But seriously.

What ‘The Bachelor’ and LinkedIn have in common is that both have touched on the topic of emotional intelligence: the former as a point of contention between two men vying for the most recent Bachelorette, Tayshia Adams, and the latter on LinkedIn’s list of most in-demand soft skills for 2020. For the sake of my reputation, we’ll focus on the latter.

I wrote about soft skills — and more specifically about emotional intelligence — as being integral to developing active listening skills.

But what of the other soft skills? There are the more obvious ones, like creativity and collaboration that have obvious benefits for content creators.

And then there are others, like adaptability and curiosity, that may require a bit more unpacking to understand their relationship to crafting better content.

We’re going to take a look at five soft skills that you’ll want to cultivate and use to create better content for your brand or clients. But before we do, let’s first get aligned on what we mean by soft skills, and also take a look at how they are different from hard skills.

Cultivate these 5 soft skills to help you craft better content. #contentcreation #contentmarketing #contentstrategy #softskills Click To Tweet

We're going to take a look at five soft skills that you'll want to cultivate and use to create better content for your brand or clients.

Defining skills… by texture?

Except for pillows, blankets, and certain other textiles, describing something as “soft” doesn’t always have the best connotation. Soft is tactile, not tangible. So how has the notion of possessing soft skills in the workplace become so prominent and in-demand?

Trust me on this one — when it comes to skills, you’ll want to understand the power of soft.

According to the job site Indeed, “Soft skills are any skill or quality that can be classified as a personality trait or habit.”

And the job advice website The Balance Careers offers this definition: “Soft skills are non-technical skills that relate to how you work. They include how you interact with colleagues, how you solve problems, and how you manage your work.”

The opposite of soft

For a definition of hard skills, we turn again to Indeed: “Hard skills are technical knowledge or training that you have gained through any life experience, including in your career or education.”

The Balance Careers describes hard skills as being “part of the skill set that is required for a job…[and] include the expertise necessary for an individual to successfully do the job.

Hard skills related to content creation might include:

  • Editing
  • Design
  • Proposal writing
  • Reporting
  • Researching

According to The Balance Careers, skills like these are usually acquired through “formal education and training programs, including college, apprenticeships, short-term training classes, online courses, and certification programs, as well as on-the-job training.”

Soft skills and content creation

The content creation world has a history of colorful personas, and I think I’ve personally worked with many of them. From frazzled MarComm directors to grizzled newspaper editors and everything in between, my most memorable mentors were blessed with an abundance of hard skills, but the soft stuff? Not so much.

Being “soft,” whether in the newsroom or even in the cubicle farm of a large corporate marketing department, just didn’t cut it when charged with cranking out content.

Rather than regale you with my tales of woe and drag you into reliving the full dressing down I received from a newspaper editor in the middle of a newsroom for turning a story in too close to deadline — this after a hard-to-reach but critical source surfaced at the 11th hour — or revisit the shock I felt when the leader of an academic department I worked with ripped up a hard copy of the content we’d worked on together and asked loudly and quite publicly, “Do you even know how to write?”

What I would have given if soft skills were “a thing” back then. Thankfully, I was able to learn from both of those situations (and many others), and while I didn’t have the vocabulary to label or articulate what I gleaned at the time, each experience proved to be a teachable moment for me, impacting my role as an employee and later as a team lead, and aiding in my understanding of what we’ve come to describe as soft skills.

The list of lists: an aggregate of soft skills

To arrive at the five soft skills that follow, I first created a “list of lists” from several sources, including career and networking sites like the aforementioned Indeed, LinkedIn, The Balance Careers, and CareerBuilder; and I also included lists from ForbesMarket Expertise, and Search Engine Journal, among others.

There was quite a bit of overlap and redundancy when taken all together, so the resulting list of five was actually easier to arrive at than I initially thought it would be:

  • Adaptability
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Emotional intelligence

Soft skills: application for better content creation

Now that we’ve identified the five soft skills that can help you craft better content, let’s dive in. For each skill we’ll consider:

  • What it means
  • How it helps
  • Practical application(s)
  • How to cultivate it
  • Related skills

Let’s take a closer look.

Soft skills: application for better content creation.

1. Adaptability

 “The only thing that is constant is change.” — Heraclitus of Ephesus

What it means

If you’ve spent any time creating content, you know these wise words from Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who was also an early content creator, ring true. Simply put, being adaptable means you can flow with change.

How it helps

If you’ve been in the content game for any period of time, you also know that “change” comes in many, many forms. Whether it be a story taking a near-deadline “this just in!” turn, a last-minute request for a change in creative direction from a client (“Can you make it ‘pop’ more?”), or the kinds of changes that come with voice and tone as you move from brand to brand, client to client, or project to project, the ability to adapt and be flexible will serve you well.

Practical application

Adaptability allows you to turn on a proverbial dime when things take a different direction — and they most definitely will — and mastering this soft skill means that you can pivot on a project and deliver pristine deliverables under deadline. Adaptability also has measurable outcomes, such as when you’re able to change content strategies to adapt to trends in topics, article lengths, and word counts, to reap tangible and measurable benefits, like more traffic, more social shares, and backlinks that are relevant to your brand or industry.

How to cultivate it

Chances are you won’t have to look far for opportunities to demonstrate how adaptable and flexible you are. In fact, if you regularly receive feedback from editors, clients, or teammates, you demonstrate your adaptability when asked to make (multiple) content changes — some reluctantly — while continuing to churn out good work with a positive attitude.

But if you really want to stretch out, I’d encourage you to volunteer to take on a task that might scare you a bit. In my role as a UX content strategist, that might look like donning an Information Architecture hat and digging into the navigational structure of a content management system (CMS) to make it easier for content editors to find the tools they need. It’s messy work, but it pushes me outside of my comfort zone and ultimately adds to my adaptability.

Related skills:

  • Flexibility
  • Patience
  • Stress-tolerant

Collaboration as a soft skill.

2. Collaboration

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller

What it means

Ever been told that you “play well with others?” In all seriousness, that’s what being collaborative is — the ability to work well and co-create with others.

How it helps

A basic skill usually learned in early education settings (and sometimes sooner for those with multiple siblings), being collaborative actually has practical — and desirable — applications in your adult years. You want to be known as a content creator who can work well with a multidisciplinary team, whether as part of an in-house marketing or digital experience organization or when teamlancing — collaborating with a networked team of freelancers — working on client projects together.

Practical application

Aside from brainstorming with a group of creative colleagues to come up with a concept for a client or working with a cross-disciplinary team on things like design challenges, being a person that other colleagues enjoy working with can open doors to new opportunities.

ClearVoicer Angela Tague sums up the benefits of collaboration this way: “It’s the tiny daily challenges, nuggets of insight and words of wisdom each day from your colleagues that accumulate over time to make you realize, dang, freelancing is a pretty amazing career. That positive mindset goes a long way to stave off creative fatigue, writer’s block, and freelancer burnout.”

How to cultivate it

If you’re part of a creative team, chances are that you’ve already got some experience in collaborating regularly. If you’re flying solo as a freelancer and tend to stay safely ensconced in the client-creative feedback loop, consider joining (virtual) professional groups, or participating in workshops where you can share your work and get feedback, or better still, work on group challenges together with other creatives to help flex your co-creation muscles.

Related skills:

  • Teamwork
  • Team mentality
  • Team player 

Creativity as a soft skill.

3. Creativity

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” — Maya Angelou

What it means

As a content creator and strategist, I tend to believe I am inherently creative. I create. It’s what I do. Yet, I struggled to figure out the best way to define creativity as a soft skill. That is until I came across this definition in an Indeed article on Creativity in the Workplace: “Creativity is the act of transforming new, innovative ideas into reality.”

How it helps

Beyond the act of making things, creativity in the workplace functions in some of the same ways that curiosity does, in that it helps foster new and fresh approaches to doing things (like solving problems) and making things (like developing new products).

Practical application

If you’re lucky enough to work on a team comprised of a variety of creatives, you may benefit from learning new approaches to your craft, such as participating in creating a service blueprint with designers and researchers to help identify untapped content opportunities. Not only will you learn a creative approach to problem-solving, but you’ll also have a new skill in your toolbox that you can use on future projects.

How to cultivate it

I am a big fan of design challenges, hackathons (even the slickest tech solutions need content!), and similar crowdsourced opportunities to stimulate creativity. The Balance Careers also offers this advice on cultivating creativity: “To think creatively, set aside any assumptions or biases you may have, and look at things in a completely new way. By coming to a problem with an open mind, you allow yourself the chance to think creatively.”

Related skills:

  • Innovation
  • Open-mindedness
  • Originality

Curiosity as a soft skill.

4. Curiosity

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.” — Albert Einstein

What it means

Simply put, as a soft skill, curiosity means you’re always looking for opportunities to learn. Whether you wonder about new approaches to crafting digital content, or you come across a concept you want to know more about and embark on a path of self-guided study, being inquisitive brings a sense of freshness to your content and how you practice your craft and also shows that you’re open to opportunities to share knowledge and insights with other members of your team.

How it helps

Curiosity is a mainstay of the content creator, and perhaps one of the most important soft skills to cultivate. When I wrote about active listening, I shared how I regularly include curiosity high on the list of the most important skills for content creators to have. That’s because so much of what we do revolves around asking questions — questions about a brand or product, or an interviewee, or perhaps a new trend. Being curious helps surface questions that will yield the best answers — and ultimately, yield even better content.

Practical application

Curiosity not only keeps you on your creative toes but can also open doors for new opportunities. Demonstrating that you have a thirst for knowledge can lead to new assignments. And it can also help you adapt to changes in the workplace (virtual or otherwise) as the way we work continues to change.

How to cultivate it

In a piece titled The Importance of Being Curious, author Dalia Molokhia offers these suggestions for developing curiosity:

  • Apply a beginner’s mind: Be open to and look for new and novel ways of doing things.
  • Ask questions, listen and observe: Seek first to understand, not to explain.
  • Try something new: Take a different route to work, read a book in a genre you usually avoid, go to an art gallery you wouldn’t normally go to. Each of these activities opens your mind to new points of view.
  • Be inquisitive: Ask others their opinions, perspectives, and their approaches to certain things. Everyone does things a bit differently, and there are potential new answers and solutions to problems hidden in other people’s thinking.

Related skills:

  • Continuous (or continuously) learning
  • Thirst for knowledge

Emotional intelligence as a soft skill.

5. Emotional intelligence (EI)

“In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels.” — Daniel Goleman

What it means

MindTools.com defines emotional intelligence as “…the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you.”

How it helps

According to MindTools, “People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they’re feeling, what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect other people.”

Practical application

In my research on active listening, defined as a communication technique by Carl R. Rogers and Richard E. Farson back in 1957, the authors warned that our emotions can sometimes act as a barrier to active listening, and they particularly called out personality clashes as a danger signal.

In addition to dealing with clients and editors who sometimes test our mettle — and our patience — content creators who are both self-aware and in tune with others will find that emotional intelligence helps them create authentic connection, and to avoid clashing with others in pursuit of crafting great content.

How to cultivate it

If there’s a triple crown given to a great source of information, then it’s MindTools for the win with these tips for improving emotional intelligence:

  • Observe how you react to people. Look honestly at how you think and interact with people.
  • Look at your work environment. Do you seek attention for your accomplishments, or do you give others a chance to shine?
  • Do a self-evaluation. Consider taking an emotional intelligence quiz for more insight.
  • Examine how you react to stressful situations. The ability to stay calm and in control in difficult situations is highly valued.
  • Take responsibility for your actions.
  • Examine how your actions will affect others before you take those actions.

Related skills:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Self-awareness
  • Social awareness
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Soft skills for hard times

If there’s ever a time to hone your soft skills, it’s now, during a pandemic, when many of us are working from home. All of these skills are equally important, the need to cultivate emotional intelligence is paramount as many of us continue to experience blurred lines between work, home and school, and the upheaval of work-life balance.

In an article titled Leaders and Employees Need Soft Skills Now More than Ever, author Jathan Janove, J.D. also cites the work of Daniel Goleman, listing what Janove describes as the “necessary attributes of emotionally intelligent leaders” as follows:

  • Self-awareness
  • Motivation
  • Self-management
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

Janove continues: “For today’s times especially, related soft skills would include active listening, resilience, perseverance, approaching disagreements in a solution-finding rather than fault-finding manner, and having an abundance mentality versus scarcity mentality.”

In one way or another, we’ve all had a peek into each other’s home lives as we share space (and bandwidth) with extended family, roommates, and even pets.

For many content creators who are seasoned freelancers, sought-after contractors, or part of a network of teamlancers, this is not new. We’ve been part of the work-from-home army for some time now, watching as more and more companies experimented with remote employees and distributed workforces.

And that’s OK. It just means that as we use these soft skills to craft better content, we can also help our colleagues and work partners acclimate to a workstyle that embraces the whole human — or as Janove describes it, we can help “inject greater humanity” into our virtual workspaces.

Go deeper: additional resources for soft skill cultivation

Articles

Books

Interactive Tools

Adaptability, collaboration, creativity, curiosity and emotional intelligence: Learn how cultivating these five #softskills can help you craft better content #contentcreation #contentmarketing Click To Tweet

About the author

Natalie Dunbar

Natalie Dunbar is a user experience-focused content strategist, freelance writer, speaker, and builder of engaging content experiences for brands that include Anthem, Inc., Farmers Insurance, Kaiser Permanente and YP.com, and several federal government organizations including the Food and Drug Administration, US Department of Agriculture, and the Veteran's Administration.

When she’s not herding content or writing all the things, Natalie teaches yoga, and also enjoys dancing Brazilian Samba and Forró into the wee hours.

Natalie's first book, "From Solo to Scaled: Building a Sustainable Content Strategy Practice," will be published by Rosenfeld Media in 2022.

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