Being a Host

Until this point, Ren and I have emphasized the individual aspect of social skills. We have written about the actions you can take and the mindsets you can adopt in order to be comfortable and have fun in various settings. These are important skills, but they are only part of the picture. The next step is to put those around you at ease.

For instance, suppose you are hosting a party where your guests don’t all know one another, and the challenge is to engage your guests and help them feel comfortable mixing among strangers. While you cannot guarantee that everyone will have a good time, you can take meaningful steps to help out. Read the rest of this entry »


How to not be Arrogant

A high school classmate once told me that I was arrogant and that nothing I said or did could convince her otherwise. This all changed one weekend when I ran into her at the rock climbing gym. She was working through some of the more challenging paths while I was struggling to figure out the easier ones. I finally asked for her help. She relented and gave me a demonstration. And the more she showed me, the warmer we both became. Her attitude toward me visibly changed.

My grandfather once told me that if you want to relate to someone, ask him a question. Ask him to explain something to you, to teach you how to do something. By doing so, you acknowledge that you have something to learn from him. And by demonstrating that you are eager to learn from others, that you find others interesting, you communicate openness and respect for what they do. Read the rest of this entry »


Stay in Hostels

I recently did a weekend trip to Brussels and stayed in a hostel for the first time. It was a unique experience: much like backpacking, hosteling has in recent years entered the verbiage, connoting not only a particular type of accommodation, but a certain culture – twenty-something Lonely Planet types trying to transcend the mundane, bonding over late nights and early departures. In the past, for convenience’s sake, I’d always booked hotels (or not traveled at all), and certainly, hostels are short on that quality – with twenty bunks to a room, it can be hard to get a shower in edgewise. But I discovered that you meet people at hostels in a way that you simply can’t when you rack up Starwood points at the Hilton.

Especially for those traveling alone, hostels can mitigate the feeling of being an outsider in a foreign place, and they are immensely social. Minutes after my arrival, I was with several other guests, trying samurai sauce on Belgian fries and dodging cyclists. On a free walking tour the next morning, I met several girls from Iowa who were studying abroad in Valencia (in hostels, everyone is coming from somewhere cool and going somewhere cooler). When the tour ended, we continued sightseeing, eating croissants, and generally behaving like tourists. They were very welcoming, and a lot of fun, but maybe one of the best parts of traveling with strangers is that there’s no commitment of any sort, no expectation that you will continue to spend time together. So after dinner, I went back to the hostel, sat by myself, and learned about parametric architecture from a Brazilian exchange student. Read the rest of this entry »


One-Time Opportunities

I spent the evening attending a ceremony in which twenty-four juniors were inducted into Phi Beta Kappa (a club for people with high GPA’s, it’s the same as any other social club except they only ever meet to initiate new members). Anyway, there was a nice dinner and Daniel Gilbert gave a thought-provoking talk about the psychology of global warming. I got to chat with some bright, engaging juniors, most of whom were meeting each other for the first time. They talked about home and Homer and homotopy, and generally seemed to hit it off. But as the night ended and people trickled home, I realized that without explicit effort, most of them would probably never so much as break matzah together again.

Such one time opportunities are tricky to handle. In principle, they’re fantastic career-building romance-sparking events. In practice, they can be hard to take advantage of. Maybe you’re sitting at a table and you converse with three or four people throughout the evening. You make a connection, but there’s no context, and you don’t arrange anything for later. Since you hadn’t met each other before, chances are you won’t run into them much in the future. So how do you build on this? Read the rest of this entry »


The End of Courtship, the Rise of Friendship

What does the ideal date look like? According to this New York Times article, it begins with a phone call from a stranger (initiated by the guy). A time is agreed upon (ideally a week or two in advance). The man shows up with roses, and he treats the woman to polite conversation at an expensive French bistro followed by dessert and a movie.

The article equates romance with financial expenditure. It views informality as a sign of indifference. It plays up the importance of gender roles and tradition. If that is courtship, then good riddance.

I suggest that we fill the void, not with the author’s much-maligned hookup culture, but with meaningful friendships. Viewed through the lens of meeting new people and establishing new relationships, a tardy “want to meet up for a drink or whatever” in the early hours of Friday morning, doesn’t seem so incriminating. A “hey, come join me and my bros at the froyo social.” doesn’t seem so dismissive. Spending time with someone in a casual setting (hiking, drinking, volunteering), allows you to learn about their values and how they allocate their time. Meeting their friends allows you to learn about the company they keep, which is one of the best predictors of their own personalities. Read the rest of this entry »


Cold Calling

When I got into colleges, I called a friend of mine from Mathcamp who was completing his first year at Harvard. I asked him for advice. What courses was he taking? What were his peers like? More than my experience visiting campuses, this correspondence painted a picture of collegiate life and informed my decision to attend Harvard. In addition, his recommendations about specific professors and textbooks enabled me to plan for freshman year.

When gearing up for a new experience, the first thing I often do is contact someone who has had that experience, someone who is in a position to help me prepare. For instance, if I want a job at Facebook, I will try to find someone who has worked there and who I can talk to about the company and the interview process. This is straightforward if I have a friend who worked there the summer before, but what if I don’t? Well, there’s a good chance that one of my friends knows someone who did. Or my computer science professor can put me in touch with a former student. The point is, if you can find someone’s name, you can ask for an introduction. Read the rest of this entry »


Arguments

Over the weekend, a group of my friends had a lengthy and acrimonious discussion about feminism. For the bulk of the conversation, there was no common ground. We disagreed about the merits of feminism. We disagreed about the goals of feminism. But especially, we disagreed about the proponents of feminism. Some of us thought they were touchpad sensitive harpies who would jump on any cautionary statement as “blaming the victim.” Others of us assigned the label more broadly, to average men and women who wanted everyone to be treated fairly. The former group was dismissive; the dismissive group was being called chauvinistic. It was getting ugly.

“The world has real problems – like sex trafficking and forced marriages – why don’t they focus on those?” the first group asked. “Sex trafficking and forced marriages are issues that feminists focus on,” the second group responded. Oh. And as it turned out, that’s what the disagreement was: we all had different images in mind when we talked about feminism and feminists. Once we clarified what we meant by our words, there was nothing left to argue. Such is the situation behind most altercations: people who agree, talking about different things or using different definitions. Read the rest of this entry »