A few days ago I was flying home from a business trip and started a conversation with a very congenial fellow passenger. The subject came up as to what I do and I described my corporate etiquette training in great detail. I went on to say that it is relevant to everyone from “a university student to a rocket scientist.”
I then asked my fellow seat mate what kind of business he was in. He very humbly replied, “I am a rocket scientist.” There it is, this is how life goes. What are the chances?
Would you believe that even rocket scientists have etiquette questions? Here are some of his questions about etiquette for the rocket scientist.
1. How do I avoid the “rocket scientist” stigma and let people know that I am a “normal person” just like them?
To feel more comfortable when meeting new people and to put others at ease as well, show a genuine interest in others. This means listening and asking questions. As a rocket scientist you have a natural advantage in your field and curiosity is a skill you use all the time. As a bonus, many people would be especially pleased that a “rocket scientist” wants to know more about them! Others may be curious about what you do, so explain it to them in a simple, jargon-free way that anyone can understand.
2. How do I present myself in a way to avoid jargon and get my points across in a clear and understandable manner to the person on the street?
As a starting point, try explaining your idea in its simplest terms, so even a five-year-old could understand (however, do refrain from using any cutesy language or making spaceship noises). From there, gauge the person’s interest; if they want to know more they will ask questions or you can layer in additional information. Practice presenting an idea as though you have 30 seconds to explain it to someone you just met on an elevator ride.
3. How do I show that the work I do is relevant, but the payoffs are just delayed past the normal horizons and may in fact bridge generations?
In our world of instant gratification this is a difficult concept but one well worth explaining. A good starting point is outlining the long-term goals that your work is contributing to, such as traveling to Mars. You might put your work in perspective by explaining how long other major advances have taken, such as successfully sending humans to the moon, and that the challenges today are even greater.
4. How do I do an effective job of selling my ideas to both NASA and the public?
A few general tips: people always want to know what’s in it for them. What’s the payoff for what you’re proposing? Start by identifying the problem and how you propose to solve it. For example, why is it important that we figure out how to put humans on another planet? Enthusiasm is also important; if you are passionate about what you are doing, your excitement is contagious.
5. How do I avoid being perceived as being anti-religious even though I feel that the solar system took 4.5 billion years to get to its present state?
This is one of those areas where it’s polite to tread carefully; just as you’d never debate someone about their religious beliefs, someone with a differing view about how the universe was formed should not be judging your beliefs. That said, a scientific approach to the universe can peacefully co-exist with spirituality. Although you’re never obligated to go into a discussion of your personal beliefs, you can mention this if you feel it’s appropriate. If all else fails, redirect the conversation to something less personal.
The bottom line is, whether you’re a rocket scientist or high school P.E. teacher, successful connections call for treating other people with respect and interest. It’s a two-way street. It’s much easier to be open to a person that you feel comfortable around than a person that you are intimidated by or seems disinterested in what you have to offer. Civility and a sincere desire to connect are important for everyone, no matter what business you’re in.