Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Yeah, they’re difficult to get along with. But their work is ah-mazing.
We all know someone who’s managed to sneak by in life by virtue of their talent. Unfortunately, that means they get a little bit of extra grace than the rest of us when it comes to things like attitude or punctuality.
It can be tempting, as creatives, to think our work is everything that matters. But that couldn’t be further than the truth. All evidence points to the fact that soft skills are going to be just as much in demand as technical skills during the coming decade and beyond.
Sure, creatives like copywriters, designers, and UX researchers may tend to be a little loose with the rules. Especially when we work in agile environments where every decision can always be held up for review.
But does that mean we can get away with everything? Not at all. And little things add up over time. These small mistakes could mean the difference between an enthusiastic recommendation at a future job, or missing out on the freelance gig of a lifetime.
The future is dominated by soft skills
Yes, the future is dominated by technology, and we’re all going to be talking with chatbots by 2020—but if you think that means we only need to focus on the technical, then you’ve got another thing coming.
LinkedIn publishes a list of the most sought-after skills every year. Soft skills are high up there. Why? Because technology doesn’t mean anything if you can’t bring anyone along for the journey.
It’s one thing to capture some data; it’s another to actually weave a story out of that data and convince stakeholders what needs to be done. Interpersonal skills, conviction, the ability to present in front of groups of people: these are crucial for succeeding in a 21st-century career.
By the same token, not being able to adjust to 21st-century modes of communication or behavior can have some negative effects on your career. We all know the consequences of major taboos like showing up late without calling, but there are some other things you should note that could harm your creative career.
“Because technology doesn’t mean anything if you can’t bring anyone along for the journey.”
These don’t all seem like critical issues, but when they happen too often, they can be deal-breakers. Read on for what behaviors to avoid—and how.
Bailing on your office-mates
Look, this one is really going to depend on your company. There are plenty where you can work from home every day and no one bats an eye, and some—like InVision—where working remotely is a way of life! But for the majority of us, working from home is a privilege, not a right.
So it’s going to rub people the wrong way if you start taking working from home days too often, or when you’re supposed to be attending meetings, and instead have to dial in to everything. It’s not that it’s bad. It’s not that you can’t do the work. But it gives the impression that you don’t want to be there.
Again, this comes down to culture. Stay in tune with how your organization runs, and give the appearance that you’re in the game just as much as your colleagues are.
Arguing in front of stakeholders
Ever been to dinner with two people fighting and throwing passive-aggressive jabs back-and-forth? It isn’t fun for anyone. The same goes for arguing in front of stakeholders.
Creatives are passionate people. We wear our hearts on our sleeves, and with good reason: it helps us tap into the emotional side for our work. But that can be a problem when we access it at inappropriate moments—like in front of stakeholders.
“Interpersonal skills, conviction, the ability to present in front of groups of people: these are crucial for succeeding in a 21st-century career.”
Not only should you have your ducks in a row when you present to stakeholders or superiors, but you should have the good sense to zip it if you feel an argument coming on. Even if you’re 100% right, it isn’t going to look good for anyone—especially you.
Pick your time and place, because if you do it too much then people may start to second-guess whether you should attend those meetings in the first place—and being locked out of important conversations is not a good career move.
Taking feedback personally
It’s okay if you take criticism personally, but it’s not okay if you let it show in the wrong moments—especially if you can’t tell the difference between criticism that’s meant to better your work, and criticism that’s designed to harm you as a person.
You need thick skin to work as a creative. If you take feedback too emotionally, then you’ll gain a reputation as difficult to work with—whether you are or not.
Not keeping up with industry trends
This is a tricky one. No one expects you to know everything that’s going on in every corner of your industry, but at the same time, it’s going to become obvious if you’re not keeping up with what’s going on around you.
Having a blank face when others are talking about what competitors are doing, or the latest programming language, or whatever they talk about—well, it’s not a good look. Again, it’s not about having to know everything all the time: it’s about creating an impression, and your general behavior patterns.
Just keep your antenna up instead of looking at the ground, and you’ll be fine. (Hot tip: schedule an hour or two a week for just reading blogs and industry news. You’ll be up-to-date in no time.)
Not presenting tidy work
It’s the quality that counts, right? Well, not exactly. If your work is great, but your Sketch files are a mess, your Google Docs aren’t in order, and nothing can be found, then it doesn’t count.
“Be humble. Be passionate. Be willing to learn. And most of all, just be a pleasant person to be around. It’ll do wonders for you.”
We’re agile, so yes, we work quickly—which for some of us means skipping documentation. That’s not an excuse, though, for making life difficult for your colleagues. If you’re consistently having to tidy up your Sketch files, or your copy is thrown on little bits and pieces of paper everywhere, you’re just adding to the frustration of everyone around you.
Not understanding how your company works
It’s pretty amazing when you come across someone who’s worked in a company for years but doesn’t know the basics of how it runs. Look, you’re not on the board, so no one’s judging you, but the more you know, better off you’ll be. For instance, what CRM are you using? Who are your main stakeholders?
Can you—right now—describe the different ways your company makes money?
Hell, have you even used your company’s products? Even taken them for a free trial? You can keep these things quiet for a while, but after a while you’re going to get found out. And it’s not life-ending. It’s not going to get you fired. It’s just not a good look if you want to appear on top of things.
Being destructive—not constructive
Creatives can get egos, and when that ego gets big enough, you tend to view every other piece of work as something for you to break down and destroy—and you forget that there’s a person on the other end who created it.
Now, while people certainly need to keep their emotions in check when receiving criticism, copywriters, designers and any other creative can go too far in being brutal.
You know you’ve gone too far when your criticism is too broad: when you can’t mention specifics, and when you start insulting the person who made it rather than the work itself.
When you give criticism, you need to build up—not tear down. That’s the only way work gets better. If people know of you because they feel bad after being with you, that’s not a good sign for your career.
Always be working on the little things
Look, can you get by with a few mistakes here or there? Sure. But the problem is these can become bad habits, and they stain people’s reputation of you—something that spreads faster and wider than you think.
Your work always needs to be number one. But every bad habit you make means your work has to do much more to cover those sins.
Instead, be humble. Be passionate. Be willing to learn. And most of all, just be a pleasant person to be around. It’ll do wonders for you.
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Patrick Stafford is an experienced digital copywriter and journalist, having worked at companies including MYOB, PwC and Private Media. His journalism has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Polygon, and Lifehacker, among others. His business, Stafford Content, provides copy for many businesses including KPMG, SelfWealth and Data Republic. He doesn’t like coffee—but loves video games and books.