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10 Things to Remember If Your Loved Ones Are Scientists

10 Things to Remember If Your Loved Ones Are Scientists

Scientists are a strange lot. If you’re lucky enough to have a scientist as a loved one, you’ve also stared at them and wondered exactly what goes on in their heads. I know this because that’s what my wife tells me. I’ve spent my entire career as a scientist, from nuclear chemist to rocket scientist with multiple US Patents.

Being a scientist, I can tell you that there are times when even we aren’t sure what’s going on in our heads. Being the analytical people we are, we tend to be very introspective, very detail oriented, and, for better or worse, very straight forward.

I’ve been a scientist for over 20 years now, so here is some insight into the scientist’s world.

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1. We see the world through scientific lenses.

Just as artists see the world through an artist’s lens, scientists see the world through scientific lenses. We tend to think analytically, always wondering how things work, and sometimes looking for ways to improve whatever it is we’re looking at. Having this worldview also impacts the language we use to describe things to others and how they understand the way things work. If your loved one is a scientist, learning some of their language will be beneficial in translating their words from science-speak to plain English.

2. We’re slightly nuts.

Scientists often perform very mentally-taxing work. Having to think hard, seemingly all the time, can drive some people mad. Scientists, and good scientists in particular, channel that madness into their sense of humor. In the 20+ years I’ve worked as a scientist, I’ve found that some of the most talented people are also just a little bit crazy.

3. We’re always thinking.

For most scientists, the job doesn’t end when the work day is over. We know that inspiration can come at any time of the day and in any situation. Therefore, we all have a whiteboard in our heads where we mentally take notes, work out problems, design experiments, etc. If you catch us looking up and to the left, just know we’re writing on that mental whiteboard.

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Another side effect of always thinking is that we sometimes verbalize our thoughts to help us process. In the 10 years my wife and I have been together, she’s learned to ask whether I’m talking to her or just talking out loud. In the cases where it’s the latter, my wife knows she really doesn’t have to listen to a word I say, I’m just processing data.

4. We’re resilient.

Scientists know that >90% of their experiments will end up in failure and good scientists don’t let this stop them. Rebounding from endless failures in the laboratory transfers to real life where failures are often greeted with a shrug and a few moments of reflection on lessons learned before moving on to the next plan. Talk to any scientist and they’ll tell you far more “hmm…that wasn’t supposed to happen” stories than “eureka!” stories—and they typically involve unexpected fires, broken glassware, and sometimes even explosions.

5. We can come off as aloof.

Being analytically oriented, we take in data constantly. It doesn’t matter if we’re watching television, at the grocery store, or in social situations. If your scientist, like me, is an introvert by nature, being in their own heads is their safe space. In there we review everything that’s going on around us, analyzing the situation we’re in, and formulating the best solution. The downside to this is that we often come off as aloof, disinterested in what’s going on around us. It’s something almost all scientists struggle with how to engage in the seemingly banal after spending our days pondering how to unlock the secrets of the universe.

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6. We often give complicated answers to simple questions.

Scientists deal in complexity. Because of this, simplicity tends to be elusive. It’s like the old saying goes, “ask him what time it is and he’ll tell you how to build a watch.” For those of you who remember the TV series Cheers, asking a scientist a simple question will often get you a Cliff Claven answer. If you find yourself getting frustrated because your scientist won’t give you a simple answer, remember that, to him/her, the question you asked cannot be answered simply. Be patient with your scientist; they’ll get to the answer you’re looking for—eventually.

7. We can be painfully honest.

Scientists often don’t have time to entertain extraneous nonsense. We’re taught and trained to seek out and identify a problem’s root cause. We view data objectively, without emotion, and simply “calls ’em like we sees ’em.” Keep this in mind before you ask your scientist “what should I do?” They’ll ask you a few direct questions, mull over the information you give them, and usually give you an honest, no B.S. answer. Problem solving has no emotional component to it—most of the time. Because of this, we scientists do tend to deliver our opinions without the tact the situation sometimes needs. Think Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory and you’ll have an idea of how this plays out.

8. We can struggle to be empathetic at times.

After asking a scientist what you should do, be prepared to implement the suggested solution. If you come back to your scientist and ask them what you should do about the same problem, they’ll ask you if you did what they suggested last time you asked. If the answer is no, they’ll be disinterested in helping you out further until you’ve attempted the first solution they gave you. They see no sense in offering another solution when the first one hasn’t even been tried. Plus, we can’t offer a different solution if we don’t know how the first solution fared. It’s not that we don’t care about what you’re going through; it’s just that we see little sense in dwelling on a problem when there are solutions available.

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9. We’re creative problem solvers.

Scientists are innovators. Whether in the research lab, on the manufacturing floor, or around the house, we’re always looking for ways to best solve problems—even those that may not yet exist. Now, sometimes our solutions may be 2-parts Rube Goldberg and 4-parts Steam-punk and seem completely illogical to you, but you can never doubt our creativity! This, however, does not extend across multiple disciplines. There are plenty of times my wife has questioned the complexity of my solution to a problem outside of my expertise—and plenty of times she’s rightfully chuckled at my attempts at building a better mousetrap.

10. We sometimes have difficulty making decisions.

There is a downside to thinking analytically, and its common name is “paralysis by analysis.” Scientists hunger for data and, well, if we feel we don’t have enough data to make a good decision we won’t decide. For example, a few years ago I was searching for a new car. Most people will check a couple websites, test drive a couple models, and they’ll have enough to make their choice. Not me. I had a stack of brochures two feet high and a spreadsheet that cross compared every possible specification of the cars I was interested in. I wanted to be sure I was making the absolute best choice for my money. If your scientist has seemingly endless stacks of printed pages, brochures, or bookmarked product review websites, just know they’re doing all they can to make the best choice they can.

Scientists are a proud folk. We pride ourselves on problem solving, pushing technology forward, and unlocking the secrets of the universe. It’s sometimes difficult to transition from data driven scientist to personable human, particularly when working on a complex issue at our jobs. If you are close to a scientist, you’ll have a loyal, smart, and honest companion to travel the roads of life with,

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Christian Salafia

Rocket-scientist, Nuclear Engineer, Theologian, and creator of the TransformRadio podcast

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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