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My Childhood Experiences Built Soft Skills

There has been much discussion of late in my world about the necessity of the soft skills.  These skills are often loosely defined, but noted as some of the most critical to mastering successful business acumen.

Peggy Klaus penned an entire book about these skillsThe Hard Truth About Soft Skills – Workplace Lessons Smart People Wished They’d Learned Sooner.  I would like to start a campaign to note these as Essential Skills over Soft Skills.

Everyone always seems to ask where these skills are accumulated.   I love the Southern concept of “home training” as the source. I know I learned some classic lessons in my youth that have been instrumental to my success, and I was reared in the Midwest, not my now beloved South.

Raised in a home that doubled as my father’s second office made an impact on my perspective.  The phone was a business tool, and not primarily for our social use.  We were to answer the phone properly, at all times.  If it was a customer or potential customer, we were training to offer some initial triage ideas and then we would work to get a service call request to my Dad or Uncle Ted.

There was often a bit of panic in the voice of the caller as our business was Plumbing & Heating.   I can still instruct someone on how to turn off a water source from miles away and learned early on how to coach little old ladies against opening the door of their gas ovens as a heat source.

I credit my Dad’s business and his Essential Skills with the development of my savvy problem solving skills and a keen sense of listening and questioning.

In my yesteryear, we did not have smart phones in which to connect — these were land-lines with long cords attached to walls.  Dad did not adopt the early pager technology, so we left messages at his business office if we could not reach him directly.  I remember a Morse code option available for him to “pick-up” these messages.  He would often “borrow” a customer’s home phones to retrieve these messages.  There was also some antiquated radio technology I briefly remembered before I moved away from home.

Somehow, without all the connection options we have today, his business managed to thrive!

I also learned lessons in detail as I was instructed to get as much information as was possible to help my Dad and Uncle proceed.  A phone number and address were imperative in this note taking.  We did not have caller ID so these details were most important.  We always had the White Pages, but this was not a good resource if you did not have the proper spelling of the last name (some of these names were hard enough to pronounce, much less spell).

Many times, folks were referred to us and we took these as notes as well as my father would recall a name of a former customer.   Referrals were important to his business. I learned how to ask good questions so as to arm Dad or my Uncle Ted with the best information.  I also learned the important lesson of calling folks back for clarification.

I remember being able to go with Dad on a few service calls after dinner and realizing even more about his work.  Most times, this was an easy assignment such as lighting a pilot light or turning off the water source as no one was around who could help a damsel in distress with this important task.  Often these callers were my grandmother’s counterparts, widowed, without neighbors or kids to assist.

I always remember the relief in their voices when we would call and confirm that someone was on their way to fix their problem. The importance of follow-up was a garnered lesson.

Educated in the Liberal Arts, I seemed to have had more opportunities to use and master these skill sets.  I continually work to ask better questions. I am diligent to understand another’s point of view. I think about next steps and follow-up with my correspondence. I remain organized and focused on how others can follow me and my work efforts.  I laugh when I repeat back numbers, something my Father taught us to always do to verify our work.  And most importantly, I remember the impact of tone in our conversations.