Soft Skills: Be Present

On the heels of an industry conference, there are so many emotions running through me. Excitement – to apply new techniques and tools to my work. Frustration – that I didn’t get over my shyness to engage with others that also looked shy. Happiness – that I got to see friends from around the world that would otherwise be logistically difficult. Pride – that I didn’t screw up too badly while talking in my sessions. Exhaustion – that I didn’t get enough sleep because there are only 24 hours in a day. This time for me, it was Enfuse 2017.

In reflection, there was one trend that I noticed quite a lot during the conference. Many people were not being present in their conversations with others. I saw this in hallways between sessions, during mealtimes, and at the various parties. I wasn’t immune either, as I caught myself a couple times as well. There is always a lot going on at conferences, and that makes it especially hard to stay focused on the current engagement. This is one of the best times to either start building or further reinforce a connection with other like-minded folks in the industry. Some call it networking, although I prefer the word connecting because I feel that ‘networking’ doesn’t convey the right meaning.

Networking is when you go to an evening mixer party with a stack of business cards hoping that the numbers will work for you. The larger the number of people that have you card, the more likely you are to get contacted about something. That something might be a sales lead, a job opportunity, or even a free meal. This is not a bad thing.

Connecting is when you spend time to get to know a person. The key difference is how you engage. You focus on the one or few people in the circle and you pay attention to those people. You listen to the conversation and interact.

Some focus points to be present:

  1. Keep your phone in your pocket, purse or bag
  2. Turn your phone alerts off if you are too easily distracted
  3. Look at the person talking, not behind or beside
  4. Point your feet at the person (or group) to help keep your body engaged

Some points to help others be present:

  1. In a networking/connecting event, don’t latch onto one person and prevent them from being able to make other connections
  2. If you notice another person drifting away from you, politely bring it into conversation to either lock in attention or give the opportunity to disengage
  3. Pay attention to your own behavior to ensure you aren’t causing someone to drift
  4. Respect other people’s conversations – don’t barge in and take over

Any other tips you have to be present?

UPDATE: Reading Material

How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Part Two, Section 6 – How to Make People Like You Instantly

Key point: Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

This book was originally written in 1936 and is still considered one of the best on this subject. It is referenced by almost every book that presents thoughts and ideas. You will serve yourself well by reading this book, and not just once.

This chapter gives many examples of situations on both sides of this recommendation – making yourself the most import and showing others that they are important. It is a great read with a lot of perspective.

There is nothing more frustrating to a person than to feel like the other person doesn’t value the discussion. Although some people do love to talk for hours regardless of anyone actually listening, I will hold off that discussion for another time. If you don’t want to be there, respectfully disengage. If you want to be there, be there.

James Habben
@JamesHabben

Real Self Improvement

This Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) industry attracts a lot of hard working individuals. The curious nature of people is what has stood out to me the most in all the people that I have talked to. We have an internal drive to find out how things work, and that is not satisfied until we know every part. This is a big part of what makes us stick to a job that can sometimes seem like a battle that could never be won.

The Ongoing Battle

The battle we face is a constant discovery of new artifacts and techniques. These come from both the offense side and the defense side. We don’t all have time to research these on our own, and the community is fortunately very supportive in that there a blogs to detail these findings. The offense finds a new hole and shares with their like minded folks. Then often times the defense finds a way to detect or monitor, and there is more sharing with the like minded community. You only need to see the list of links for a one week period on thisweekin4n6.com to understand the volume and community we have.

Constant Improvement

Because of the community, there are tons of resources to explain all the technical loveliness that we all enjoy. Improving our technical skills is a very achievable task. Reality is that some of the skills I learned to examine Win2k systems are (thankfully) starting to fade. Our tech changes with rapid speed.

What about our non-technical skills? Do you make any effort to improve how you interact with other people? These are often referred to as ‘soft skills’ and you will find them listed, in some form or another, on every job opening.

  • Strong communication skills
  • Ability to convey technical concepts to others
  • Be a team player
  • Comfortable speaking to a crowd

In fact, you might have been a witness to a peer getting a promotion instead of yourself while you have proven multiple times that you are far more technically capable than this peer. Your technical skills were likely not even part of the consideration for that promotion, as the soft skills matter much more when moving up.

Steps

The first step is always to realize. I won’t call this a problem because I don’t see it as such. It is a deficiency, and one that can easily be corrected if you will first make that realization.

Next, make a commitment to improve. I mean a real commitment. You won’t make much progress if you don’t take it seriously. Improving soft skills is a whole lot harder than improving your technical skills. You cannot do it alone.

Find someone to help you be accountable. This can be a sibling, friend, classmate, coworker, workout partner, or even someone you just met at a local association meet up. The important thing to find in this person is the ability to be called on the carpet if you are not following through. You know yourself best and what type of person you would be most receptive to.

Find a mentor (or two). This mentor doesn’t have to be someone in the DFIR industry since soft skills are pretty universal. In fact, you might find some extra insight from someone outside your circles. Don’t be afraid to aim high either. For the most part, I have found that people are very willing to give advice all the way up through the C-suite. If there is someone who you admire for a certain trait, go talk to them and find out about the struggle they had to gain that trait. There is an interesting program called infosecmentors.com that might be a good start.

Lastly, don’t waste time. This is one of the only things in this world that we can’t just make more of. We can make more money. We can learn more things. We can drink more whiskey. We can’t take back the hour that we sat listening to that one guy who just wanted to blabber on and on about the things only he thought were important. Be respectful of your time and anyone else you ask for time from. These people will want to see improvements made, or they will start to see time spend with you as a waste. Set an expectation of time with a person and don’t waste it.

More to Come

I have seen and heard a lot of discussion about soft skills in more recent times. I initially wanted to put together another ‘must read book list’, but I decided that I would take a little more time and talk about some various soft skills that we can work on improving together. I will be writing about these in future posts and I will provide information about some of the books that I continue to use in my path of improvement. This can be an intimidating set of skills to improve, and I want to help you do it.

James Habben
@JamesHabben