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Post by inbloomer on Fri Nov 08, 2019 12:05 pm

I wanted to open up a discussion about social skills. I’ve made the point before that such skills don’t correlate that closely with attracting intimate partners, but nonetheless it’s hard to disagree that working on your social skills is a good thing to do.

Something I strongly believe now is that social skills are a broad portfolio rather than a single thing you are binary good at or not good at. I’ve known plenty of people who’ve been strong in some areas but weak in others, for example they might have charisma and charm but lack empathy for anyone else, which ultimately turns people off.

So I’m interested in people’s thoughts on: a) aspects of social skills you’ve always been strong at; b) things you didn’t get in the past but now understand; c) things you feel really are difficult; and d) any good learning you’ve picked up, either individual tips or strategies for improving social skills overall. My answers would be:

a) I’ve always had a wide range of interests and mixed with quite a range of people, so I’m relatively good at finding common ground, e.g. being able to respond to something they like talking about with a relevant funny story or interesting fact.

b) When I was younger I didn’t get that whole point about the poisoned well: women are often assessing your conduct through the lens of having experienced harassment or threat. An easy elephant trap to fall into is suggesting a meet-up that in your mind is perfectly innocent but could come across as trying to lure her somewhere where she’d be vulnerable. As a teenager I didn’t get why those got a snotty reaction but am much more careful now.

c) Social media really is a minefield. The fact that we look up people who we aren’t exactly friends with – everyone does it and everyone knows everyone does it, but make one wrong click and accidently like that picture of her in a bikini from eight years ago and hoo boy… (I believe it’s known as free-climbing.) Even deliberate, risk-assessed moves can get unpredictable reactions. After all, you’re not there when she sees whatever you’ve sent so can’t abort or withdraw it, and if you get an ominous silence but have to interact with this person a few days later it’s awkward.

d) I am increasingly convinced of the primary need to focus on other people and be genuinely nice and kind, while absolutely having firm boundaries yourself and not getting suckered into doing things that you really would expect some payment for. I’m hardly the person give lectures about how to achieve sexual success, but when I have had small successes it’s really always come when I didn’t expect it and wasn’t trying to get something from the other person, but was trying to give them a good (platonic) time. Like it or not (and I don’t) people do notice things you do and talk to each other about you. An example tip is that if you’re at an event or party, if you make the effort to have nice conversations with a diverse range of people, it will help your image far more in the long run than if you just make a beeline for the most attractive woman and focus all your energy on her.




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Post by Werel on Mon Nov 11, 2019 9:20 pm

Good topic and thoughtful points here. Thanks for injecting a little life into these relatively dead forums. Wink

While I agree that people with different social skillsets can find pretty widely different levels of success in dating, I think certain social skills correlate strongly to someone's ability to maintain healthy relationships. Like you said, social skills are a range rather than a binary; some skills are good for attracting folks, and others are good for keeping them around and on positive terms with you.

I think for me, it goes like this:

a) I've always been good at the thinking-on-your-feet part of social skills, the quick-witted facets like banter and keeping up with unfamiliar topics of conversation, as well as the hyper-earnest "talk about your true feelings" stuff. It's hard for me to get thrown off balance by somebody who plays rough, or takes the conversation to unexpected places, or banters very pointedly. I think this ties in with something like privilege-induced social confidence, the ability to feel/act like I belong in any room I walk into (cause when you're privileged, you actually do belong in most rooms you walk into).

Similarly, I've always been pretty good at the general charisma thing--making people laugh, making them feel seen, being warm towards people I don't know well, drawing out shy people, striking up conversations with strangers, etc. I can usually have positive interactions with folks from all walks of life, and it's easy and fun for me to interact with all kinds of people. I feel like I got pretty lucky as far as innate talent/comfort with social skills.

b) That quick-witted thing was occasionally a liability when I was younger, cause I sucked at keeping it reined in with folks who were less quick on their feet; I think it made them feel condescended to or overwhelmed at times. I think I've gotten a bit better at toning it down, and trying to meet people where they're at in terms of verbal acrobatics, but it's always been something I have to pay attention to. I have definitely felt people get chilly towards me when I forget to keep a lid on my smarty-pants shit with folks who are not smarty pants.

I got really sad a few times when I was younger, because I realized that what I thought was being sassy/play-fighting was just intimidating to some people, and they were actually scared of me or I'd hurt their feelings. So the older I get, the more I try to temper "let's do verbal duels for fun" with "we don't have to do verbal duels if you don't like that, we can just be boring nice."

c) I still struggle with being genuine with folks I'm legitimately bored by. I can autopilot smile and nod with literally anyone, no matter how lame I find them, but I worry I'm not good enough at it to avoid coming off real phony. And I think it hurts people when they can tell I'm smile-nodding at them in a phony way. I wish I could get better at actually doing the hard work of giving a shit with people who don't interest me, because it's important to me to actually care about the people around me, regardless of whether they are dazzling or fascinating individuals. Everybody deserves genuine attentiveness while we're interacting.

d) Main thing I'm proud of getting better at over the last few years: I'm just gonna call it "chill", or maybe it's more like "generosity": the ability to value a person for who they are, regardless of what they end up being able to give me, or whether they act like I want them to. Not being grasping or controlling about it. Like, "even if this person will never [sleep with me/collaborate on an article/go hiking with me/communicate in the style I prefer], I still like and value them as a human being and it's all good." And my interactions go better as a result--even if I'm stressed out, or a little annoyed with someone, or worried about what they think of me, I can mostly inhabit a mindset of liking them, where my primary feelings are warmth and well-wishes. It makes it easier to forgive minor disagreements and disappointments, and makes me less likely to pick fights or hold grudges. It's hard to verbalize, but basically, I've gotten better at focusing more on simply liking a person, and focusing less on whether they do all the things I want them to do. Maybe having a series of interpersonal disappointments where no one was wrong, we just wanted different things, helped build up this skill. Maybe it comes with age. But I like it, and it's a really good skill for maintaining solid relationships of all kinds.
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Post by Enail on Thu Nov 14, 2019 6:54 pm

Late to the party. I totally agree that social skills is a broad set rathr than a good/bad binary, but, like Werel, I do think they're very helpful in maintaininging relationships, though I'd say the skills most critical for that aren't the ones that most people first come up with when they're thinking of social skills, which tends to be stuff more like charming or quick-witted or friendly with strangers.

I disagree that they're not that closely correlated with attracting partners - I'd say that there are both social skills that can help show oneself in a more attractive or more romantic/sexual light to more people, and ones that a lack of can make it really hard to attract partners even if you otherwise have many appealing traits. But the former can be more specialized skills than just the general ones one most people practice in their day-to-day life, like  "getting along pleasantly with people" or "forming platonic relationships," and I think it's often hard for people who generally have good social skills to pinpoin what's missing there.

For me:
A. I've always had a degree of natural skill at...hmmm...not coming across as an easy target? Somehow I'm just not someone that bullies tend to pick on, even though I've often had a fairly precarious social positinon. Possibly relatedly, I'm pretty good at boundaries and self-confidence, it's not a problem for me to stand up for myself or say what I want, or to try to connect with people I think are interesting. I'm also a decently quick thinker, I'm good at coming up with comebacks (sometimes!) and being able to speak intelligently at things off the top of my head (but not always coherently, see below!). And I think I'm fairly good at reading social situations, picking up on the vibe in the room, telling what other people are feeling. And

B. Same as Werel, I used to snark to the point of hurting people's feelings without meaning to, I've gotten better at raining that in. I also used to generally be a lot less empathetic and patient and much more judgemental, I make a lot more effort now to keep a little compassion in mind for otheres and to try and rein in and question my automatic judgement.  I'm still awkward and bad at small talk, but I used to be a lot more so, and improved after a lot of conscious practice, so I think it counts.

C. I find interaction w people I don't click with or don't have much common ground with really difficult and exhausting, I become much more stilted and awkward and just can't think of anything to say even for simple small talk, and would have absolutely no idea how to give have a more genuine interaction with them. I'm not good at bending to fit the people around me; I'm basically always very me, and can't adapt very much to different groups' social style and norms, and it's a struggle to rein in my opinions, quirks, interests or way of speaking to seem more 'normal' or laidback or less intellectual or more adnventurous or whatever. Part of that is probably that I don't really want to, but it certainly would make it easier to get by in different social situations and get on with a wider range of people.

I'm good at reading social situations, but bad at writing, if that makes any sense? Even if I can tell the subtexts of a situations, I often don't know how to navigate it, I'll find myself feeling constrained by how I think people are supposed to behave in that situation and struggle to react or come across as really fake when I'm not sure I know the rules instead of responding from the heart or and falling smoothly into the expected rituals.

I don't always have a lot of control over what comes out of my mouth or know where a sentence is going to end up when I start it - most of the time, it works out okay, but occasionally my convoluted way of thinking translates into attempts tat expressing complex thoughts that make no sense to anyone who isn't me, I'll lose words and have to use "the thing, you know, the thing" (sometimes for multiple words in a single sentence!) or just lose track of what I was trying to say and landd up having to give up on a sentence altogether.

D. The thing that made the most difference for me in handling the surface social situations that you run into in daily life was practicing actively every time I went to get my hair cut - the fact that you're there for a while and it's normal to chat or not chat means that it's a socially apppropriate place to get into something more like a real conversation than the sentence or two you might exchange with a cashier or waiter, without too much pressure (if you're polite and tip them, they're probably happy with the interaction), and if the conversation dies down, it's not awkward because it's not expected that you have to talk the whole time.
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Post by Datelessman on Sat Nov 16, 2019 3:03 am

Great topic. I was always a shy kid and as I got older that didn't really change. I've just gotten better at faking it due to work over the past 8 years. Honestly for me I do feel social skills are essential for life in general, so of course that coincides with dating. The problem for me is I am very good at casual chat or whatnot, and not good at crossing that divide between "That weirdo is actually kind of funny" and "I want to touch his lips to mine." In some ways I prefer the social stuff to the dating due to the stress for the latter. I've chosen to remain a friend than risk more quite a few times because I value friendship so highly. I hate to lose a friend and I try to keep the few I have for as long as I can.

For me, from A to D :

A). It does not show in text or my entire experience with DNL, but the easiest thing for me socially has been my sense of humor. In "meat-space" I can make most people laugh almost without trying. I was the class clown in elementary school and I have gotten better at it now. I actually have to focus on not being funny for work. I am not into it all the time, as I get bored/serious/tired/sad/angry/etc like anyone else. I can't stand up and do a set per say, but when I am having a dialogue with someone and working with what they or the environment gives me, I just come up with the banter. The one liners always come. I can even made a bad or lame joke work. My friends used to say I could read the phone book and make people laugh. I don't know how I do it. I just do it. Like I shift my tone just subtly in a barely conscious way. I have used, if not overrelied, on my sense of humor socially for as long as I can remember. I can vary it better now, going from PG to double entendres with an audience.

B). When I was younger I was lousy with reading signals and gauging interest. The few times I did I second guessed it. But when I started working a telephone sales job in 2011 and have made my living with call center work ever since, I learned how to sense interest, disinterest, emotions, etc. I can better sense that exact moment when I have to lose someone's attention, at least in a general, non-romantic way. A few years ago I watched my associate try to hit on a woman on a subway (which I tried and failed to dissuade him from doing) and I could follow the entire flow, realize when he had it, when he lost it, and when he should have quit. I am not a master of ceremonies but I am better at reading signals now, at least compared to my youth, at least in general. I also use a bigger vocabulary than I used to. I have learned to vary my subjects somewhat so that while I may have a Black Belt in Geek-Fu, I can cover a range of topics from sports to politics to pop culture.

C). Difficult? Making any kind of move romantically, even admitting basic "I like you" stuff. In a more general social sense, I can have a very bad temper which I do my best to bury, I can sometimes be quick to assume I know more than I do, and my sales job has given me a bad habit of interrupting people which I am still trying to unlearn. I suppose I don't do as good a job as selling myself as I do of selling whatever service I am offering as a job. I also can be very stubborn and slow to change. I can perfectly understand what someone says but still either dismiss it or over analyze it to the point that I get lost in the exercise for its own sake. I have been told more than once by co-workers that I can some off as smug or condescending.

D). What have I learned? Empathy. I have connected to many people on a friendly or professional basis by sorting out where they are coming from. I also have learned more perspective and try not to sweat things I used to when I was younger and pick my battles more. I learned I can use my vivid imagination to try to imagine how I would feel in another person's situation and while it isn't always right or accurate, it goes a long way towards understanding. As someone who rarely fit in anywhere for long, I learned that the more I understand about someone, the better we can get along, and to pay attention to small details that we all show each other. Even stuff as simple as remembering someone's favorite color or flavor of Snapple or even what they said 20 minutes ago is key. It can sometimes take so little to make someone's day; or ruin it.

Anyway, I did this really late after work, I hope I contributed well. Thanks for the topic, inbloomer!
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Post by inbloomer on Sat Nov 16, 2019 8:49 am

Thanks all for replies. I absolutely agree with Datelessman that remembering small details of things people have told you is a really strong way of showing you care about them as an individual. Similarly, it’s so important to remember and use people’s names. There’s a small window after being introduced where you can ask for a reminder of what their name is, but after that “sorry – I’ve forgotten your name …” comes across as insulting.

Werel and Enail – I think the thing with sarcasm and snark is that when you’re in a tight group of friends, you subconsciously build up a model of where the lines are, so it looks like you’re saying wickedly outrageous things but it’s actually quite controlled. It then goes wrong when you meet new people, where you don’t know their lines and they don’t know your style. As someone who used to be very dry and sarcastic, I’ve found that even with friends it’s better to bring that out occasionally but balance it with some positivity, as relentless cynicism gets wearing even if it’s funny.  

Enail – I certainly don’t discount the possibility that there are specialist social skills related to escalation. It’s always felt to me that I see the before and after, but there’s a missing step in between. I see the parties and events, with people making anxious attempts to come across as friendly and charming. Then I see the big reveal – either loved-up pictures appearing on social media, or they’re coming round to my house and with no warning at all it’s “I’d like you to meet Cordelia…” , from which I’m meant to understand that this person who’s come out of nowhere and I’ve never heard a word about before has now got to be treated like an intimate member of the group. (And they don’t usually do the big reveal until it’s an established relationship that’s for the long haul.) I never quite understand how it got from one to the other.

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Post by Hielario on Sat Nov 16, 2019 11:02 am

Oooh yeah. That last one has happened sometimes to me, since I barely can perceive body language due to Asperger's. Like that time I was at aclub: they were talking casually one minute, and the next time I looked, they were making out.

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Post by Enail on Sat Nov 16, 2019 3:01 pm

inbloomer wrote:
Enail – I certainly don’t discount the possibility that there are specialist social skills related to escalation. It’s always felt to me that I see the before and after, but there’s a missing step in between. I see the parties and events, with people making anxious attempts to come across as friendly and charming. Then I see the big reveal – either loved-up pictures appearing on social media, or they’re coming round to my house and with no warning at all it’s “I’d like you to meet Cordelia…” , from which I’m meant to understand that this person who’s come out of nowhere and I’ve never heard a word about before has now got to be treated like an intimate member of the group. (And they don’t usually do the big reveal until it’s an established relationship that’s for the long haul.) I never quite understand how it got from one to the other.

TBH, I don't really understand how the transition happens either, it just sometimes seems to Wink  Since I never really dated around, even though I'm in a long-term relationship, although I can often see where other people are missing a piece of the puzzle, I'm pretty sure I'd struggle to fill it in myself, too. That whole 'reading but not writing' thing again. The thing that I've found trickiest, that a lot of other people seem to have a hard time with too, is just having the courage to be honest about your feelings and to let them show instead of trying to play it cool and safe. You can't really have emotional intimacy without being willing to risk vulnerability.
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Post by KMR on Mon Nov 18, 2019 9:02 pm

This is a great, thought-provoking thread, and I've been meaning to reply to it for some time, but had been pretty busy and didn't really get a chance to fully gather my thoughts until now. Anyway...

A) I'm pretty good at figuring out how to be tactful and diplomatic about how I phrase things when I interact with people. I think it's something I've always done unconsciously, but I became more aware of it as an actual skill when I started noticing other people who would needlessly offend or anger someone just because of the way they said something, where I realized that there were far gentler and more respectful ways to get the same idea across. It's pretty rare for me to ruffle someone's feathers, and I'm generally regarded by others in either a neutral or positive way.

B) I've always been very shy and reserved, and while I still have difficulty interacting with strangers, I feel like I've gotten better at opening up and getting relatively comfortable around others more quickly. It kind of depends on the person and situation, though. I'm not great in groups, but if I'm interacting with someone one-on-one, it usually doesn't take more than a few minutes of good back-and-forth conversation for me to start feeling at ease. I'm not great at initiating conversations, but if someone else takes that first step and tries to engage me, I can respond pretty well. And the best results are with people who I either click with or people who are just generally friendly and charismatic and easy to talk to. Like Enail, I have a much harder time interacting with people I don't have much in common with.

But I'm glad that I've come to recognize that I can ease into certain social situations, because it makes me less anxious about them if I know that it's only going to be awkward for a little while. I used to think I would struggle a lot with something like online dating, for instance, because it involved meeting up with strangers and having to carry on long and substantive conversations, and I thought my shyness would make it difficult to connect with people. But because it was a one-on-one interaction and I already knew based on the profile that we had things in common, I found the process a lot easier than I had anticipated.

C) Initiating conversation with strangers has always been really hard for me. Just thinking of things to say out of nowhere in general is really difficult. I know you're supposed to ask questions, but I can never think of good questions to ask, and I don't really know how other people do it so well. Sometimes, my mom will ask me about an interaction I had with some friends or acquaintances recently, and she'll ask me all these questions about them and I'll realize that I don't know the answer because it never occurred to me to ask about these things, even though, in hindsight, they're pretty obvious questions.

I also really struggle with changing up an existing dynamic that I have with someone. Like if a friend/acquaintance and I have only really interacted in person at certain events, I feel like it would be really awkward to text or call them, even if I suspect that they would welcome the opportunity for us to interact more outside of that context. So if they don't take that first step themselves, I just kind of maintain the status quo. I never know how to navigate that kind of escalation of friendship on my own without feeling like it would be super awkward and/or potentially unwelcome.

D) I've learned a lot just from observing others in social situations and paying attention to how they make other people (including myself) feel, in order to gauge what things are good to do and what not to do. One of the things I've picked up on in recent years, and have tried to get better at myself, is using more positive, supportive language and expressing gratitude more. Because I've noticed, particularly in my academic/professional life, how some of my mentors have made an effort to praise and be supportive of me and others they work with, how they thank me and others for the hard work they've done or how they encourage me to keep at it, and that kind of language has really been helpful to me in countering my own self-doubt and lack of confidence. I've also noticed how people on these forums and the main site are so supportive and empathetic to others who are struggling and use a lot of really encouraging, kind language to express that. So I'm trying to be more conscious of the value of that and to emulate that with the way I engage with others.
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Post by inbloomer on Sun Dec 01, 2019 4:44 pm

Thanks KMR, it very much comes across that situations with pre-existing common ground are relatively easy, while those where you know there’s a chasm between you to be bridged are hard.

For starting conversations with strangers, I think there are some environments that are relatively conducive, for example on public transport whose destination is a tourist attraction. In rare instances the environment is poor but there’s a really strong reason to go for it anyway, for example I once approached someone on the street because I recognised her as the identical twin of someone I knew, and she was pleased.

I agree that the optics of how you put a point across are very important – some of the worst misunderstandings I’ve had in the past were because I was trying to say something sensible but wasn’t explaining enough of the context for the other person to take it as intended.

I do think that going double or quits on an existing connection is especially difficult, and that’s something that male friendships can particularly suffer from: you’ve known this person for years, but only in a certain context and only talking about a handful of topics. I can think of one very long-standing connection like that, and a few years ago there was a period where he was pushing for more. I wasn’t averse but it just never quite happened, and while we still get on really well he went on to have that more intimate friendship with someone else in the group.

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