One can argue that those of us who go into neuroscience do so because we’re fascinated with our own neuroses.
In fact, several folks have expressed just that to me specifically. So… I guess I should figure out what my neuroses are! My mother was a passionate, fiery individual, and my father is quite laid back. My genes are seemingly at odds with each other, so I jokingly say that “I take my own personal brand of crazy to a good place,” thanks, in part, to genetic recombination.
Here’s the thing. I’m a Type-A, get-it-done over-achiever. I consider myself a pretty proactive and responsive individual. While most folks see this as positive, a recent encounter at my current position made me realize that perhaps that can be viewed as aggressive or pushy. So I set out to fix the problem. In reflecting on that experience, I’ve come to realize the importance of soft skills even more.
So what are soft skills? I think of it as those characteristics that make you attractive from a “warm and fuzzy” perspective. These are things you should be prepared to discuss, for example, in an interview (eek!).
Do you play well with others? Can you work as a member of a team, meet your deadlines, and be collaborative? Can you do this with the larger common goal in mind? Conflict resolution also comes in here. Can you effectively persuade or negotiate? Are you willing to address small issues before they become serious problems? Let’s face it, personalities can be tough. Sometimes you have to swallow a little pride for the common good. Can you do that?
How ‘bout those communication skills? This includes SO much. What does your appearance say about you? There’s a whole psychology behind what your appearance signals to other people, including the colors you wear, the accessories you add, your shoes… While what you wear isn’t necessarily the question, you need to ask yourself if you’re giving the impression you want to give. What about body language – things like facial expressions, gestures, and eye contact can convey quite a bit. Are you a good listener, or do you talk over top of people? And finally, can you speak and write effectively? And can you do it for various audiences, from the technically savvy to lay?
The Rubics Cube. Can you solve problems? What kinds of problems have you successfully addressed? Business issues? Personnel issues? Did you actively participate in the solution? And how did it work out? Can you see the problem from multiple perspectives, so that you can better understand what you’re up against?
The Crystal Ball. Can you be proactive instead of reactive? Can you anticipate an opportunity or an issue before you have a “mountains out of molehills” situation on your hands? Really, this involves observation skills. Do you have a prepared mind? Sometimes successful people seem to have all the luck. I’d argue that they’re just good at keeping a prepared mind, so that when opportunity lands in their laps, they can jump on it, and figure the rest out later.
So, how can you learn those soft skills?
1) Take some classes! You can take classes in public speaking, writing, cultural psychology, conflict resolution, and leadership skills.
2) Get out and volunteer! You’ll be working with folks who have a common goal in mind, and who have to work as a team to achieve that goal. And you’ll be making your own heart happy, to boot.
3) Find mentors and peer mentors! It doesn’t have to be a formal mentor-mentee relationship. But find someone who you think is good at whatever soft skill(s) you’d like to improve upon, and spend some time with him/her, ask questions, observe methods… You’re a smart person.
Now get out there and show people just how warm and fuzzy you are!