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What do you do? How to answer like a pro

By: Roche Life Science

Posted: | Career & Lifestyle

We’ve all been in that position. Yet how do you answer in a way that is a conversation starter, and not a conversation stopper? And how much information is too much?

Actor Alan Alda, best known for his role on the television show M*A*S*H, is a passionate advocate for clear communication, particularly in the fields of science, health, and technology. In his latest book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?, he discusses how poor communication can limit our interactions. He says, “It jams our relationships with others when people just don’t ‘get it,’ when they don’t understand what we think is the simplest of statements.”

But how can you determine what will work and what will fall flat? Here are a few tips.


Make it interesting

It’s possible that not everyone finds the day-to-day operations of a life science lab to be deeply fascinating. However, it’s likely that they find the outcomes of the research very relevant to their lives. When Google’s Life Sciences division announced its mission to manage and treat diabetes, it was important mainstream news for nearly 10% of Americans with diabetes and their families.


The same probably holds true for what you’re working on. What’s the larger context, and why would it matter to the world outside the lab?


Know your audience

If you’re speaking to someone in your industry — at work, or at a conference — it’s fine to give details about your work. Even people in peripheral industries will likely understand the basics, and be familiar with the language of the lab.


But what about when you’re attending a holiday party with strangers from all walks of life? Your answer should be different. Start with giving context about the company’s work, and then transition into a high-level overview of what you do.


Engage with a question

“Have you seen news reports about X?” This is a way to gauge the person’s knowledge, and tailor the level of detail from there. If they say yes, you can explain that you work in the lab for Y company, which is working on that.


Watch for signals

Watch the person’s body language for signs of interest (or lack thereof). If they’re focused and asking questions, tell them more! If they’re scanning the room or if the conversation stumbles to a halt, change the topic.


With these tips in hand, the next social gathering should go a bit more smoothly. Cheers to that!


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