Ways to Learn Social Skills

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Post by Lemminkainen on Sun Nov 16, 2014 1:51 am

In light of some recent discussions here and on DNL prime, I've started thinking about safe ways for people to work on their social skills, particularly ones that might make dating easier. So, I was thinking that here, we could discuss activities and exercises which might help with these issues. Extra points if these activities are fun/rewarding aside from the social skills building! Here are a few that I found helpful (and I started out with very, very bad social skills, thanks to a weird learning disability).


Acting: Participating in theater was, hands-down, the best thing ever for my social skills. Being in plays helped me to develop a wide battery of skills. Some of them were really basic-- like learning to speak clearly and stand at appropriate distances from other people. Others were more complex, like learning comedic timing. Almost all of them grew from the fact that I had to be much more aware of my speech, my body language, and what I was communicating with them than I normally had to be. During rehearsals, I also got very legible, explicitly-phrased feedback, which I've found is hard to come by in most other forums for improving social skills. If you stick with it, you'll notice a lot of improvement over time-- directors will praise you, you'll get cast in better and better roles, and the audience will laugh at your comedy bits more often.

I also found that theater helped me feel much more socially comfortable. Part of that was getting used to having people look at and watch me, which was a regular part of rehearsals and performances. Another aspect of it was getting more comfortable with my own body and with other people's. Actors get dressed and change costumes together and sometimes have to be in underoos onstage, so you get used to seeing other people and being seen yourself in various states of undress. And, between what you need to do in performances and the cuddle culture which seems common in American amateur theater, you'll get a lot more used to touching and being touched by other people, in ways that make it very difficult to accidentally creep people out.*

Your local college or community theater production probably needs some people to fill out minor parts. (Particularly true if you're a guy.) Playing small roles is a good way to get your feet wet, and it can be a lot of fun. (For example, in college, I was in a production of Hamlet as one of the non-Horatio guards who sees the ghost of Hamlet's father and goes to tell him about it. The director had the other guards and I stick around for the rest of the play to fill out court scenes and deliver messages. I had a great time thinking through my guard's emotional arc and character-- which mostly involved a deep fondness for the prince, a lot of distress about how everything goes to shit over the course of the play, and a good deal of endearing clumsiness.) I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to get better with people in general, and get better at romance in particular.

*People do sometimes take advantage of this and cross boundaries, but in theater contexts, this is almost always deliberate. If you're just doing what you need to do to play your part well and hugging people who hug you, you'll do fine.

Social and Partnered Dance: This is all about learning to communicate nonverbally with people and move through space gracefully. These things are pretty invaluable skills for seducing people and having good sex. It also will make you better at dancing generally, which is a big asset if you're trying to meet people at dance parties or nightclubs. I imagine that doing something like contemporary dance or ballet would have similar benefits, but I don't have as much experience with those things. (Although the people I know who do them all tend to be strong and super-graceful, which seems like a big plus).


Reading social science about interaction: Having a good theory of mind and theory of social interaction can really help you interact better with others, particularly if your own aren't well-developed. For a nice, digestible foray into contemporary cognitive psychology, I would recommend picking up Daniel Kahneman's Thinking: Fast and Slow. For a read on what people are doing when they socially interact, I'd recommend checking out Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and for what kinds of effects different kinds of interactions can have on people, his student Arlie Hochschild's The Managed Heart. (I found her concept of emotional labor really informative and helpful!)


Questions? Comments? More suggestions?



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Post by Guest on Sun Nov 16, 2014 3:26 am

Since learning to handle social rejection seems to be a critical step in improving social skills, I thought I'd leave this here:

For some time now, I've been thinking about some of the people at uni who look to get people's attention to sign petitions, gain votes during student elections, etc. I find these people pretty brave considering the amount of rejections they face, and because I don't think I'd be very capable at doing what they do.

I wonder if volunteering in activities where you petition for people's attention might be a good way to get used to handling social rejection at a very basic level (this may be great if you're the type to get dejected easily?).

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Post by Kiskadee on Mon Nov 17, 2014 4:23 am

Cool ideas!  I think that when I worked as a cashier, it really helped me socially.  It was very scary at first, since I'm pretty socially anxious, but having a specific task to do helps.  You can learn to put up a friendly, comfortable façade for anyone who comes up.  I think that this has helped me - sometimes when I'm nervous in day to day life or dating this façade can last long enough for me to become genuinely comfortable with the situation.  

This is less fun than the theatre/dancing suggestions, for sure, but did help me.  Or at least the paychecks did.  I dunno.
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Post by reboot on Mon Nov 17, 2014 9:22 am

Volunteering to staff a booth for an organization at a local festival, heath fair, public event, is good for practicing talking to strangers at the drop of a hat. It is easier than starting up conversations in regular settings because you have a built-in topic and the people who stop to chat share an interest. The conversations can go beyond the volunteer organization and their work because people will often tell you stories of working on the cause, which can lead to you being able to ask questions (e g. Oh, you used to live in Portland? What brought you here?) and they often ask questions about you in return

One caution, though, if you are an introvert one of these days will probably be exhausting.
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Post by Hirundo Bos on Mon Nov 17, 2014 10:28 am

Role-playing games. Presumably both tabletop and LARP and hybrids between the two, although I've only tried the tabletop variety myself. One of the most important social skills is the ability to learn and navigate a lot of unwritten rules. In an RPG, those rules are written down. They come with chapter headings, neat tables, and an index at the end. For those who like that sort of play, it provides the structure to get the interaction started, the enjoyment to keep it going, the freedom to keep it challenging. I think this may be one reason why RPG circuits, at least where I live, have a fairly high concentration of people with social learning disabilities.

Forum interactions are themselves a social exercise, and these forums are specifically about learning social skills. I know I'm learning a lot by being here, particularly from 1) asking for and receiving help (something that's been hard for me before), 2) helping others when I can (an exercise in kindness and shared vulnerability), 3) observing explicit talk about how people here should behave, and 4) simply participating in social exchange. Whether or not a forum user has other arenas to practice social skills, paying attention to the interactions that go on here is likely to be of some use.
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Post by fakely mctest on Tue Nov 18, 2014 11:27 am

Definitely agree on the volunteering and retail work suggestions. Retail was actually really helpful for me at a time when my depression was otherwise super vicious, because I had to get out of the house and I had to interact with people and help them find what they were looking for (small, independent gift store), but it was in a structured way so I could be interacting, but there were Rules.

A small thing you can do is to make pleasant conversation with cashiers. I often chat up my grocery store cashiers since I'm going to be standing there while they ring up a week's worth of groceries anyhow.

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Post by kleenestar on Tue Nov 18, 2014 11:53 am

Seconding theater (for me: improv) and role-playing games (hell yes, taught me so much about teaching, public speaking, confidence, thinking on my feet).

Because I am a giant nerd, I also spent some time just observing people and taking notes. When I was in high-school and very socially awkward, I would actually sit near the popular kids at lunch and write down in my notebook the kinds of conversation openers they used and topics they liked to talk about. Then I would go home and crunch the numbers to figure out ways that what they liked to talk about overlapped with what I liked to talk about. Shockingly, this actually worked.
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Post by reboot on Tue Nov 18, 2014 12:01 pm

kleenestar wrote:Seconding theater (for me: improv) and role-playing games (hell yes, taught me so much about teaching, public speaking, confidence, thinking on my feet).

Because I am a giant nerd, I also spent some time just observing people and taking notes. When I was in high-school and very socially awkward, I would actually sit near the popular kids at lunch and write down in my notebook the kinds of conversation openers they used and topics they liked to talk about. Then I would go home and crunch the numbers to figure out ways that what they liked to talk about overlapped with what I liked to talk about. Shockingly, this actually worked.

Already a a researcher Smile

That is excellent advice. I try and do the same for interpersonal interactions and body language/social cues when I am in a new country. Even without knowing the languages, I still learned a lot about how you great a stranger vs someone you know, social distancing, touch, eye contact, what raised voices signified, etc.. It is very useful.
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Post by Enail on Tue Nov 18, 2014 1:20 pm

I'm going to put a little plug in for chatting with the barber/hairdresser while you're getting a haircut. When I was in high school, I found that a really great place to practice keeping a conversation going, because they're going to be reasonably friendly, it's longer than most service interactions but not overwhelmingly long, and they're usually open to talking, but it's not awkward to lapse into silence from time-to-time.
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Post by Gentleman Johnny on Tue Nov 18, 2014 2:13 pm

HermitTheToad wrote:Since learning to handle social rejection seems to be a critical step in improving social skills, I thought I'd leave this here:

For some time now, I've been thinking about some of the people at uni who look to get people's attention to sign petitions, gain votes during student elections, etc. I find these people pretty brave considering the amount of rejections they face, and because I don't think I'd be very capable at doing what they do.

I wonder if volunteering in activities where you petition for people's attention might be a good way to get used to handling social rejection at a very basic level (this may be great if you're the type to get dejected easily?).

I'l say this never helped me much in life. If someone rejects my sales pitch, eh, whatever. Generally, there's a very specific script you're supposed to follow. So it feels like a failure of the script to me. Its not the same as the feeling that someone is rejecting <i>you</i>.

LARP, on the other hand, was where I really learned social skills. Having a game goal and knowing other people did made it a lot easier to open up to people so we could find out if we had any mutual plot threads to work on. I always loved playing the independent operator who had an excuse to work with (and betray) multiple factions because I got my hands in everything. The fact that I had to meet (and persuade) everyONE didn't occur to me until after it had already happened.

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Post by Guest on Sat Nov 22, 2014 7:39 pm

Where the hell can you find a good RPG thingie to take part in? I've always been interested in trying to play a couple of those, but not with the kinds of people who usually do (neckbeards, MRAs, etc.)

How do you find a group who doesn't scare the shit out of you?

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Post by Spiffo on Sat Nov 22, 2014 8:22 pm

Glides wrote:Where the hell can you find a good RPG thingie to take part in? I've always been interested in trying to play a couple of those, but not with the kinds of people who usually do (neckbeards, MRAs, etc.)

How do you find a group who doesn't scare the shit out of you?

Most RPG nerds are pretty alright, although if you hang out in comic shops and game shops you'll probably run into one or two of those guys that seem to coast on the geek social fallacies.

For me, I meet a lot of nerds from the Internet. Like, I'll post an Internet ad to meet up with other geeks in the city. If you're willing and able to be the GM, you get a lot more control over who you play RPGs with (since you can meet up with them for a casual lunch and geek-out and screen for creepos). Then invite them to game if they seem cool.

(From what I understand about LARP, the groups are generally big enough that you can avoid the really unpleasant types and just hang out with the people who are good).
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Post by kleenestar on Sun Nov 23, 2014 5:24 pm

Glides wrote:Where the hell can you find a good RPG thingie to take part in? I've always been interested in trying to play a couple of those, but not with the kinds of people who usually do (neckbeards, MRAs, etc.)

How do you find a group who doesn't scare the shit out of you?

I've found awesome groups in one of three ways:

1) When I moved to NYC, I didn't know anyone except my husband, so we posted ads online and in local gaming stores asking people to let us know if they were interested in joining our game. We then went through a fairly rigorous interview process to narrow all the responses down to four people, who all turned out to be really awesome. After two of them moved away, we went through the same process and found another couple of great people. But this relies on you being willing to organize, and having good screening tools to send away the jerks.

2) Personal contacts. If you're willing to tell me where you live (general region), I'll see if I can hook you up with awesome gamers I know nearby.

3) Internet research. If you search for people writing about their games - G+ is a great place for this - then you can start to get hooked up with people running and playing in games that you think sound interesting.

I have successfully used all three of these techniques; if you let me know which one you are going to try, I can give you more specific advice about how to do it effectively.
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Post by Guest on Sun Nov 23, 2014 5:45 pm

Glides wrote:Where the hell can you find a good RPG thingie to take part in? I've always been interested in trying to play a couple of those, but not with the kinds of people who usually do (neckbeards, MRAs, etc.)

How do you find a group who doesn't scare the shit out of you?

It's funny you mention that because a few weeks ago I went to an RPG meetup at a Game/Comic Shop and there were these dudes playing Warhammer 40k and I kid you not, these dudes looked like clean, respectable dudes, whom, if I were to meet outside of this setting I never woulda thought they were nerds. Razz

So, goes to show, I mean I don't look like a nerd, but I totally am. Razz

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Post by Jayce on Fri Nov 28, 2014 10:51 pm

I used to think that the card game shops in my city mainly just held Magic the Gathering, Yugioh and Vanguard card game tournaments but it turns out that they have a weekly free D&D Roleplay event as well as a board game meet up every week. I'm definitely going to go to these events to see what they are like. Hey maybe I'll become a regular. Hope this gives me a chance to interact with more fantasy nerdy communities in my city since I don't meet lots of those people.

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