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 »
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 »
Recently I’ve been asking a question that always takes my friends aback: am I a good girl or a bad girl? In asking, I never define the terms, so my poor respondents are left considering the vast social and sexual minefield between good and bad. The guys I ask, in particular seem to have been brought up thinking bad girl equals slut, but the idea I’m trying to get at is broader – who am I? What defines me? Am I an academic achiever? New York review of books reader? The girl who has a Github repo or the girl who has a social skills blog?
As expected, the responses I receive depend heavily on the context in which I know the person. People I pset with or lecture to will unequivocally say good girl. People I’ve met at parties or hostels will qualify that. My closest girlfriends laugh, and given the number of conversations we’ve had under the influence of Cards Against Humanity, I forgive them. One friend says I’m a good girl pretending to be a bad girl pretending to be a good girl, which is just aphoristic enough to be right. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
A little while ago, I was delighted to receive an email from a friend back home. She had been admitted to Harvard and wanted to ask me a couple questions. Amid mundane worries about the weather in Cambridge and about Harvard’s many course offerings were some more provoking in nature: How happy are you on a day-to-day basis? How often do you compare yourself to those around you? What advice would you give to a freshman entering college?
I want to touch on that last one because while advice is ubiquitous, it is often difficult to apply. “Start a fresh chapter,” people will say, or “be open to new possibilities.” What that means now in hindsight is change your name, cut your hair, and dump your boyfriend.
Life moves in limps and lurches. College, especially the beginning of college, is a sprint. And in the spirit of giving useful advice, here are fifteen actionable tips to help you run faster. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
I value the people whose words I can take at face value. But many situations require you to interpret words that are not meant literally. When people tease you or joke around, they often mean the opposite of what they say. When they don’t want to hurt your feelings, they use white lies or outright lies. When they tell stories, the quality of the story generally trumps its veracity. So whether you want to avoid accusations of gullibility, know what people really think, or not be misled, it is important to know how to decipher what others say.
When you add a little skepticism to your world view, social interaction begins to make sense. You start to understand what people really mean. I can picture myself way back in high school, a little too earnest. If I asked a girl on a date and she responded with “oh, well I’m actually kind of busy this month,” I might have marked my calendar and called her thirty days later. I took things way too literally. Many variants on this like “I don’t think I know you well enough” or “I’m not interested in dating anyone right now” ought to be translated as “I am not attracted to you.” People will say things they don’t mean so as to avoid hurting your feelings. Read the rest of this entry »