It is not uncommon for me to tell people what I do and for their faces to display a very puzzled look. Perhaps they are thinking I am something to do with virtual reality, or that maybe I am the voice of an app on a phone helping people find their way to the nearest supermarket. So, I often find myself explaining my work, what I do and how it works. I don’t mind this. It usually doesn’t take long to clear up any initial puzzlement and then everything starts to make sense.
But when I think about how I present myself to the world, I have to confess that I focus on the core of what I do in terms of actual work and skills. And while they are real and very valuable skills, I tend not to focus on one element of them that is really important but which I do not give enough air time. Known by some as ‘soft’ skills, they are the skills that enable me to communicate, empathise, understand, sympathise and support my clients in a way that they might not have if they are small businesses or sole traders without an administrative infrastructure around them. To be the ‘ear’ that will listen to them if they need a sounding board and to offer advice in a confidential and respectful way.
I have always regarded administrative roles as crucial to businesses – whether they are employee roles or freelancers providing virtual support. We enable things to run behind the scenes, in order that everything should play out as planned on the stage. We are, if you like, the backstage crew. And whilst we may have the skills to carry out our work successfully, our softer skills cannot be underestimated. I spent many years in roles in businesses where I provided direct administration support to senior managers, including a long time working as an Executive Assistant working very closely with a CEO. Whilst my work skills, knowledge and experience were incredibly important, I brought something else to my roles that was not requested in a job spec or advertisement. I brought me. My soft skills are around my ability to empathise with people, to feel real compassion, to act in my life in a kind way, and to enable people to feel calm. One might feel these skills are better utilised in an employee role in a business, but they have a crucial place in a client/virtual assistant relationship.
I don’t feel this is something that can be taught. You do not necessarily develop these skills to become a better communicator, you become a better communicator because you have these skills. But I do feel these are attributes of many people that are often not encouraged in workplaces. Kind business is not something we hear a lot about but it should be highly regarded and perhaps we should think of a new name for ‘soft’ skills to give them more prominence. In a new world of working where we are embracing fluid, flexible, virtual work, and valuing work that has a balance with home lives, now is a good time to recognise this.