September 03, 2006

Advice Reply

Thanks to the people who responded to this post. Since comments on posts more than 10 days old are closed to prevent spam, and the other reply is on a separate blog, I'll respond to both here. Continue to the extended entry if you care.

Tommy posted the following:

Wow, de ja vu, it's just like reading me.

In truth, i'm exactly the same way. What i recommend is watch other people, just observe. Like Jane Goodall with the gorillas, you know?

I find that to be somewhat effective, yes. There's the occasional incident where I try to copy acceptable social behavior and somehow manage to screw it up and weird people out, but it's better than just guessing. I've actually found that subtly incorporating aspects of the other person's personality into your own when interacting with them can help form a better connection as long as it's not overdone.

When you feel the urge to interract with your "objects under test" and find thoe awkward silences, mention the facts above. They will explain your behavior to others and warn them for the future. They might also pick up the ball and keep rolling wth it.

Just for clarification, which facts do you mean?

You ound like a classic introvert, like me.

Yeah, pretty much. There's a reason I write so many "I hate people" rants.

You know how the conversation is supposed to go, but the other bastard inconveniently refuses to say what you want them to.

I think that's a perfect way to describe how awkward silences happen. You try to steer the conversation in a certain direction, and then they blindside you with something you're not prepared for and your brain shuts down with confusion. Sucks.

The way that i've gotten around it (sort of) is make friends with a classic extrovert. I'm very very comfortble around her so i don't feel as awkward about opening up to others while she's around. Around her, i'm Casanunda (second greatest, you see) because i always have her to come up with a new topic to react to should th conversation with others begin to wan.

Well, the whole "make friends" thing is what I have trouble with, but I have also had success with this on some level in the past. I actually had a couple fairly extroverted people I talked with on a regular basis for a couple years, but then they graduated, and again, no connections...haven't heard from them in a while.

Also, if you are like me, and you do not have a predisposition to abuse or an addictive nature, i'd recommend alcohol. I have always described myself as about 2 shots low. Meaning that after about 2 drinks i'm as loose of yap as most people are stone sober. (C.f. now.)

I'm gonna have to say no here, however. I have an extremely addictive personality and am basically guaranteed to become an alcoholic if I start drinking. Trust me on this.

Mind you, it rarely helps because most of the people that i hang out with regularly are either a) engineers, and as introverted as i am, but we play off each other well, or b) so freaking over the top that you can't get a word in edgewise, thus making it difficult to start secondary conversations. That, then, is another facet, but probably one that you've run into already, so we'll give it a miss, yeah?

Mind you, i'm shite at dealing with people socially, but great at dealing with them professionally, so my advice is at best apocryphal, and at worst, wholly inaccurate.

We're not quite the same here, I guess. As opposed to being shy socially, I tend to just be a dick professionally. Not on purpose, of course, but it happens. I've been told by a bunch of professors that this isn't going to help a lot in the communications field, so...yeah. But that's another story.

This probably didn't help one tittle or jot, but just know that you are not the only one who went through their entire collegiate life (so far, in your case) not enjoying it to the fullest.

It helped somewhat, if only in letting me know that some of this stuff can work if used correctly. I've heard a lot of it before, so maybe I just need to make more of an effort.

Oh, and just go to a freaking party or three with kegs and the associated paraphrenalia. It might help. Again, stated without prior knowledge.

Without repeating what I said about alcohol, one final question: How do you find out about and get to said parties if you don't talk to a lot of people? Is it usually necessary to make friends first, or can you just go around to various people and shoot off a quick "anything going on this weekend?" Again, this may sound really stupid, but I'm totally clueless as to how it works.

Incidentally, I was invited to a party last week, but a few minutes after I talked to the guy who invited me, I realized that I didn't know where it was or what time it started. Oops.

In any case, thanks for the tips, and I'm glad to hear that you're doing better on the whole social thing.

Crispy posted this:'ve asked some good questions. In my experiences, I've noticed that with certain people conversations flow while with others, it is like running into a brick wall after you get their name.

This is true even for me. I just happen to have a lot more of the second kind. As mentioned in the original post, I think I'm so used to conversations going badly that when one goes well, I get paranoid and back off or something.

I honestly don't know what makes some conversations work and others fall to pieces. The other night we had a movie on the drill field. Since I generally have a high level of situational awareness and I was fairly bored with the movie (imagine that), I started to people watch. Well, someone caught my eye. My buddy kept badgering me to go talk to her so I finally gave in. I grabbed two sodas and headed down by her. I squatted down next to her blanket, and as I held out the drink, basically said, "Would you like a soda? I'm Crispy, how are you?" The conversation took off from there and we were talking until the end of the movie.

This the f-...what? Holy crap!

Sorry about that, but I honestly did a quick mental double take when I read that. This is exactly the kind of thing I see other people doing that I've never been able to do. Ever. I can't recall a single instance of a connection forming that fast. It always takes weeks or months to be that comfortable with someone.

Not to pry too much, but what exactly did you talk about? I really feel like I have enough social/life experience that if I could just keep a conversation going, it could be enough to overcome my natural awkwardness. This is especially intriguing given the experience I posted the other day about how I had a decent conversation with someone I was forced to interview for information. Maybe I should just start looking at more interactions that way.

Still, the whole "approaching someone you've never met and introducing yourself to them" thing...*shudder* The thought terrifies me. Especially when it comes to the opposite sex. I always think I'm going to come off as a creepy stalker and end up with mace in my eyes.

You know, the more I write, the more I think that a lot of my problems are just in my mind...

As for your first question: What can you talk about with someone you've never met? The shortest answer: ANYTHING! The technique that I use is to attempt to find out as much about the other person as possible.

Maybe I am on the right track with the "interview" approach.

Some call it charisma. Let's face it, most people enjoy talking about themselves. Asking questions about the other person also indicates your own interest in them. Dan Reiland, the VP of Leadership Development at INJOY says this, "How can you have charisma? Be more concerned about making others feel good about themselves than you are making them feel good about you." In short, be a good listener.

Dale Carnegie says essentially the same thing. This really must be a big part of it. One of the aforementioned extroverted friends was an expert at getting people talking (on the way to the UConn game last year, he spent about an hour listening to the SU band director discuss his teaching philosophy), and my own mother has, on many occasions, made friends with complete strangers in crowds and remembered a bunch of random crap about them for long periods of time afterwards.

This may be yet another area where my insecurity screws things up more than my execution, since I sometimes feel like I'm interrogating someone and pissing them off when I go for the question approach. Again, it's good to hear from someone more successful that this stuff from the books I've read does work in practice, even though I've seen it myself.

Bits of information that I like to try to find out include where people have traveled, where they would like to travel to, what their parents do, where they have lived in the past, where they want to move to once they get out of college and what they want to do, how many brothers and sisters and their ages, pets, what hall the person lives in and who their RA is, and anything else that comes up.

Whoa. That is a lot. I assume that remembering all this later can also make them feel important, right?

Your next question was: What's a good way to break an awkward silence? Ask a question. Talk about how much the food at the dining facility sucks and make fun of it.

The question thing is good. As for making fun of stuff, I think I usually come off as about 75% more negative than I mean to be, so people take me way too seriously and that approach tends to backfire on me (I could bring up specific examples for this one). Is it a matter of wording or just voice tone? I used to know a guy who made disparaging, sarcastic comments about everything and everyone, but people still loved him because they knew he wasn't serious. I would prefer to be like that, rather than being "Mr. Nice Guy." Thoughts?

As to voice inflections and expressions, I can't possible type a reasonable answer for you. My best advice is to become a people watcher and train your eye to pick up on the slightest facial expression changes. A general rule of thumb, and seemingly obvious answer is that when a question is asked (to include, "Ya know?"), they want an answer.

I could probably solve this one by not looking down so much. As for the question thing, does that include "what's up?" Because I basically use/interpret that as a synonym for "hello" at this point.

Regarding reciprocating questions, I always turn questions back to the other person after I've responded to their inquiry. As you develop your social skills, you will get to the point where you can manage to avoid their question but find out how their classes are going, if you don't want to answer them for some reason, but we'll address that at a future date.

All right, this is an area where I could really use help from someone who knows what they're doing (which you appear to). On one hand, you're supposed to ask a lot of questions and get people talking about themselves, but on the other hand, reciprocation is considered a good thing. This means that, in addition to the possibility of talking about yourself too much, you may actually be annoying the other person if you don't talk about yourself enough, since they're also trying to get to know you. Is this just a matter of interpreting which way the conversation is going, or is there really a way to achieve a good balance here? Again, I'm ridiculously confused about how to handle this one.

If I may be so bold as to recommend one more book for you to read: "The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader" by John C. Maxwell. Of all the leadership-based books that I've read, this is one of the best and one that I continue to relate to.

I may check that out.

As for remembering people's names, try to find something that it rhymes with or take note of a unique feature about the person. If you find a better method, let me know!

I hope at least some of this will be helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to send them my way.

Good advice. If I can ask one more question:

When you go through the random introduction routine like you described early in your post, how important is body language, voice tone, etc. in your experience? I think that one of my main problems is that I don't pay attention to what I'm doing and my lack of confidence/awareness freaks people out. There are some things I'm never going to have full control over (for example, the ADD-induced rapid-fire blinking I tend to do in social situations is almost totally involuntary), but I'd like to know how much of a difference this kind of thing can make from someone who is more situationally aware than me.

Again, thanks to both of you for responding. I've read books, been to counseling, etc., so it seems like I shouldn't have to request help from blog readers, but...socialization is very, very confusing.

Posted by CD on September 3, 2006 11:52 PM | TrackBack
Semi-Intelligent Comments

I'm coming close to deciding that the success or failure of a cold conversation is based on how the new person reacts to the "introducer"/initiator (nice words, huh?). I won't even try to go into the causes of this reaction (sexual attraction, current mood, resembles other known person, setting, etc).

The example I gave was one of my first successful cold conversations (with no other known person, to either party, involved). Ask all the questions you want. I wouldn't have brought it up if I wanted to keep it private. Well, (college setting) I generally start out with what class the person is (FR, SO, JR, SR). This is in most cases met with a reciprocal at the end of their answer (which I tell). Then I'll dive into their major and when I hear what it is, I follow-up with an inquiry as to what they want to do with that type of degree (some are self-explanatory, though). Around this time I'm explaining that I'm a CRJU major and the other person assumes that I'm going to become a cop which opens the door for me to correct them & talk about the Army side. After that its just generally which questions come to mind first or fit the conversation the best: parent's occupation, siblings & ages etc, home town, where they live now, where they've traveled or would like to what location they would to take a trip to (it rejected "travel" Tee-Oh as in "to"), which dorm they live in/who their RA is (as I know most of them), things like that. When talking about their family and military service is mentioned, I generally dig into that a little bit deeper. While asking about where they've traveled or would like to go, the question usually gets returned so I talk about Europe a little. I try to find topics that interest the other person. But keep in mind, this stuff is tailored to me. I'm not use about your level of military knowledge and interest, but it may not do you any good to investigate further to such subjects. Based on what I know about you, you could probably talk to them about what type of music they like or that you share in common. Around here, that generally doesn't work too well for me as I am a staunch hater of country music. Try to pull past experiences into the conversation. Sometimes you have to bait the other person on a little bit (you can also use it to measure their interest in you). In some cases people will ask "Do you play any sports?” My response, "No, not up here." Depending on how the conversation has been going I might throw in the "Back home I used to," which opens up the door to talk about fencing.

Conversations are really fluid and there is no step-by-step guideline that you can follow. No two conversations are alike.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you try to pre-plan what you're going to say before you've even walked up to the person. You "review" the conversation prior to even making contact and somewhere along the way, you talk yourself out of going up in the first place because "It just won't work out." Right? What would be the difference between a conversation hitting a wall and never having said anything at all? If you attempt it and it fails, then you can at least have gained some experience from the interaction and at least you got to talk to the person. Look at it this way; you miss 100% of the shots you never take (Wayne Gretzky).

Remembering what you hear is the key. Eventually conversations will come back to something that was stated earlier. When you make that connection, eyes light up because it shows you were really listening. One of the most frustrating things for me is to repeat myself. Case in point (this has happened MANY times): "Where do you go to school?"
"North Georgia College and State University."
"What class/grade are you?"
"I'll be a senior this coming year. I'm getting so excited; I can't wait to graduate and commission."
"Now where is that school located?" IT'S IN THE NAME, GENEIOUS! Once that's happened, I stop making an effort in the conversation and I let my mind start to wander (had it not already started doing so). Granted, you aren't going to remember everything, but you should have a basic idea of the information.

As for sarcasm, I think it depends on voice tone and the wording. When I start making fun of things, I tend to become very animated. Until you've got it down, be careful with this one as people may think you're the biggest jerk ever. *grin*

Certainly be looking at the person you are talking to. When talking to someone, especially for the first time, I'll spend more time looking at the person than looking away. It shows interest and I can study their reactions to different things. Remember to look friendly and smile.

Don't worry about whether or not you're getting in enough words. If you want to say something, by all means say it, but if they want to know about you, they'll ask. (Tip: And if they don't want to know about you, find a different friend as this one is just too wrapped up in themselves.) Like I said, conversations are fluid and there is no "master key".

Body language, voice tone, where the person is looking, what they're touching or playing with are all very telling as to how the other person is feeling. I don't remember when it happened, but while going up I became very sensitive to people's body language. I've amazed friends with my ability to inquire about them when something was bothering them. If I was talking to someone and they started blinking as you've described, it would probably get my attention. One method that you could use to disarm any concern would be that if you noticed someone is starting to get freaked out or whatever, just tell them that you have these ADD ticks and it’s just something that happens. Then, if you’re feeling gutsy, brush their arm or shoulder and say, "I thought I saw one of those ticks crawling on you." Granted, most probably won't get it, but it will reveal the owners of faster-firing synapses and at least you can have a little fun with it.

Posted by: Crispy23 at September 4, 2006 04:18 PM

Never went to a party in college. Never. Started when i started working. Most painful thing i've ever done, trying to insinuate myself into the party. But three along, i'm geting better at it.

And yeah, avoiding strong drink is a good idea, then.


Posted by: tommy at September 4, 2006 10:19 PM

And as for being a dick professionally, good luck with that. I'll have to satisfy myself with being an extremly talented dick as a hobby on my spare time.


Posted by: tommy at September 4, 2006 10:21 PM
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