From NPA: A Strong CV is Not Enough: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You
At the NPA conference, Mary Mitchell explained the importance of face-to-face communication and gave several tips on improving it. Whether during interviews or while attending conferences, this form of communication is key to our success as postdocs.
Like other skills, this is a skill you can train -- don't make the mistake of thinking that those that are good at it were born that way! Practice is the secret to improve your communication skills but there are two key principles that are worth pointing out:
Ensure you feel comfortable. During the workshop, Mitchell repeatedly and half-jokingly offered power bars to attendees to convey the message that feeling comfortable during social occasions is vital for effective communication. One of the reasons for this is that the other person can perceive our discomfort and become uncomfortable himself or herself. The other reason is that being uncomfortable or stressed reduces our capacity to be aware. Ensure that you prepare, rest, sleep and eat enough before attending social events!
Be aware of yourself and others. The other principle is to explicitly pay attention to others and yourself. This does not just refer to what people say. Instead it refers to how they say it, their posture, their gestures and their position. Mitchell gave numerous bad examples of behaviors that she personally saw at conferences: getting too close; having a closed body position or trying to touch and hug others! Some of these aspects are culture dependent. Given that we, postdocs, often work in cross-cultural environments being consciously aware of others is particularly important. But even within a given culture, different people have different personalities and comfort zones: we should adjust our behavior so that others feel comfortable when we are communicating with them (and so should they).
Related to this topic, the TED talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy on body language has a good mix of entertainment and information and is well worth watching!