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 »

Sexual Humor

I make a lot of references to sex in my posts. This is not because I’m obsessed with sex or because I have run out of other things to talk about, but because sex lends itself easily to humor. That is, sex is funny to most people in a way that the Harvard Lampoon is not.

This is related to social skills because I’ve noticed that a lot of socially awkward people are most awkward around the topic of sex. I’ll say penis and get an audible wince. Their eyes will kind of slide downward, and then they drop some cutlery for good measure.

So what I’m suggesting is that people become more comfortable with sex as a conversation topic, if not as a physical act. The point isn’t to be bawdy or lewd. But familiarizing yourself with enough terminology to lie during a game of ten fingers is a skill well worth acquiring. At the very least, learn to guffaw with the best of them. Read the rest of this entry »

Conversation: The Quintessential Social Skill

Dale Carnegie will tell you that the secret to being a great conversationalist is to be genuinely interested in the other person. This is a good first-order approximation. Sure, if your partner is in a chatty mood and wants to tell you about his current business venture or his latest casserole recipe, it won’t hurt to indulge him. But if everyone tries to follow this rule and listens attentively, eventually someone will have to say something. This post isn’t about conversation as a whole. I’m not going to delve into the details of calibrating body language or of judging when to change topics. Instead, this is about what to say and the content of enjoyable conversations.

Most importantly, if you want to tell exciting stories, lead an exciting life. Add variety to your routine: talk to homeless people and sign up for pole dancing lessons. Do things for the sake of the story, and then tell the more outrageous of your stories. Let everyone know about that time you woke up hungover to a call from Larry Summers responding to your interview request, which you forgot to prepare for but pulled off anyway. Read the rest of this entry »