My social strategy was changed some years back when I read a study about people’s perceptions of themselves in terms of being introverts/ socially awkward or extroverts/ socially skilled. It turns out that almost everybody thinks they lack adequate social skills — even those that others think are exceptionally lucid in this area.
That changed my life because it made me realize that everybody feels at least as awkward as I do, that I am no more of an misanthrope than anyone else, and that this wasn’t something that made me me or something that was my pet limitation, but was something overtly mundane that everybody felt. In other words, it’s normal.
This knowledge changed the terms of social engagement on my end. Imagining that the person I was communicating with may very well feel awkward and insecure oddly makes me feel poised and confident. While it may not always be true, of course, the device works.
In the arenas of travel or, in many cases, work, the spoils go to the people who show no social hesitation or fear. If you want to get what you want you need to engage people you don’t know. Sometimes you get shut down — the girl shakes her head and waves you off, the exec looks down at you, says “Right, right” and walks away — but most of the time you’re going to get at least somewhere.
It’s interesting that many people seem to be hesitant to make the first move in a social situation. If you are the social aggressor you have the advantage — the other person doesn’t know what’s coming, you have the ball, so to speak. Starting a conversation is the easy part.
There are times when we enter into potentially social places and find everyone sitting around on their mobile devices, not talking to anyone, in their own little cerebral sectors. They seem unsocial. You look around and say, “Wow, what a bunch of dicks.”
Really, many are just waiting for some one to talk to them but are too awkward to make the first move — perhaps thinking that everyone would rather spend their days on Facebook. They came into that same room, looked around, arrived at the same analysis as you, and joined the crowd.
Or at least this is the best thing to convince yourself of if you want to interact (it may not really be true but in the end doesn’t really matter much).
In this situation you also have to act immediately. If you come into the room, sit down, get all cozy on your mobile device as you pick up the vibe, then you’ve established your precedent — which is something that’s incredibly difficult to break later on. You need to enter the room with your social guns blazing.
I recently walked into an extremely small cafe in Kyiv. I took my cappuccino, squeezed by the barista, and found a chair in a room that was seriously hardly a few square meters big.
There was a 20-something guy on his computer to my left, and the young barista was to my right. They seemed to be friends.
While I can’t say that they seemed awkward I definitely disrupted their scene. I could have sat there, drank my cappuccino, then departed into the night like is the standard operating procedure for this engagement, but that didn’t seem right to me.
Instead, I began talking. They were shy at first, but I kept at it. They opened up. The guy was named Sasha, the girl Anna. They were from the same bumfuck town somewhere in Ukraine. They met when they were fifteen and moved to the big city together. He makes websites; she makes cappuccinos. They giggled in unison. They’re now engaged to be married. They told me some stories of their hometown and Kyiv.
I finished my coffee and they recommended that I go to a bar down the street. When out in the street I decided to take their advice.
When halfway through my drink in the bar they came walking in. They did this for no other reason than to say goodbye and to take a photo of them with me.