Thursday, July 8, 2010

More on social skills.

I've been frustrated with my social skills--or complete lack thereof--lately. People keep dropping me hints that I don't get until they spell it out in very loud small words, and I keep unintentionally insulting or annoying people. It sucks speaking fluent English but only beginner Human.

But here are two things I've noticed when berating myself for being denser than osmium on Pluto:

1) Most other people's social skills aren't so great.
The other day at work, I was uncertain whether I should do a particular test or if it had already been done. A coworker was checking records while I set up to do the test just in case, and then she looked across the room at me, smiled and nodded. So I did the test.

Then I got yelled at for doing the test twice when she'd just clearly signaled me not to. (It wasn't anything painful or expensive, just a waste of time.) And I was kicking myself, going "stupid stupid Holly, you can't read basic body language," when I realized--my coworker had given me a really lousy signal. I wasn't unskilled for misinterpreting it; she was unskilled for thinking that a smile and a nod would mean "no."

Sometimes I go around thinking that I'm in a world of tremendously subtle people who can all communicate volumes with a single look and I'm the only one who doesn't get it. It's important to remember that most other people actually aren't so suave themselves. Most communications in my life aren't suave person to galoot, but galoot to galoot. We'd do better just saying "NO DON'T DO THE TEST IT HAS BEEN DONE" than pretending that we're all suave here and galoots are an unexpected exception.

2) The best social skills in the world won't make people do what I want.
So there's a couple people in my life right now that I would like to date and fuck. But my relations with these people are, while very friendly and enjoyable, not really on a date/fuck level. And there's some horrible PUA part of my brain that wants me to think this is purely a failure of my social skills. Like if I could communicate in just the right way, drop just the right hints, it would change everything and "I like you, but I'm not sure if I feel that way about you" would instantly become "after our long romantic walk down the beach at sunset, you wanna do it doggy or cowgirl?"

(It's also horrible and PUA of me to even speak of a friendship as a "failure" because there is no penis-in-vagina. It's a very successful friendship! Sheesh.)

Now, there's no question that social skills do influence how people think of me. They have nothing to judge me by except how I present myself, so a good presentation definitely matters. But there's a lot of other things that matter too--factors in their own life situations and sexualities and thought processes that I can't even know about, much less change. Blaming everything on my own social skills makes me berate myself unnecessarily and it makes me disrespect the autonomy of my sexy friends.

I can--and should--be likeable, but I can't make people like me. They're social skills, not Social Fucking Magic.


  1. One of my favorite moments in the film "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is the scene where Hedwig makes a gesture indicating that Yitzhak can have the wig, and he misunderstands. Because I get so sick of scenes in movies/t.v. where someone makes some (to me) totally ambiguous gesture or sound, which is absolutely clear to the other person involved.

  2. I'm used to dealing with people who seem to think everyone should be psychic - that you should always be able make a reasonable assumption as to the things that they didn't say based on all the other things they didn't say.

  3. Yes and yes.

    The first sometimes still comes as a surprise to me ("he is an even bigger idiot than me?!!?").

    The second I struggle with, in part because when I'm nervous I'm less perceptive -- I miss social clues, opportunities for humor, and so on -- and of course I'm nervous around my crushes. So acting better around them is generally well within the realm of possibility, and I can't know what might have happened if I'd kept my shit together.

  4. I hope you will forgive me for this, but the thought of you being all PUA made me lolz.

  5. With regard to point 1, the following makes for pretty entertaining, if depressing, reading.

    "How all human communication fails, except by accident"

  6. well, the problem with the second one is, that if you already are in a good frendship with them, then you already are _succesful_ socially/prooving skills/etc. I have screwed up stuff because of a lack of such skills (ok, maybe other craps in my head too), and while I can newer know if those people would have liked me otherwise, I refuse to believe in the depressing theory, that whatever I'd do, they wouldn't have liked me anyway.

    so ok, these skills don't function as a love potion, but they are necessary like water in any kind of drink - and you can't guarantee that by adding water it will become, i don't know, an interesting coctail, but if you keep it dry, you can be assured that you won't end up with anything to drink.

    can I get a "stupidest metaphore of the month" award?

  7. Ooh, there was episode of Buffy on today with 'poop head' Parker in it. He displays totally PUA, douche behaviour towards Buffy *and* Willow.

  8. Huh, I can't type today.

  9. Well..... sorry to crash the party, but.... sometimes it *is* magic. I cant jump on the sympathizer bandwagon though because usually I'm the one with the signals. It's like a code language, being able to read people by tone and body language, to tell all of the subtext beneath what they're saying by how and when they say it. People who DONT get it kind of confuse me, because to me it's just kind of like a vibe. It takes me longer to identify the reason behind the vibe than it does to get the vibe, but when you finally understand, it's like growing up with one word for everything, and then someone hands you a thesaurus. All of a sudden the world is full of *extra meaning* and people go from strange and mysterious to I understand what makes them tick in seconds. Of course, I'm still learning, in fact, my ass got handed to me on a silver platter today by a fellow who knows the game far better than I. I could only admire how much better he knew how to work the subtext than I, but the fact is, there is subtext and you can learn it, and you can learn how to make it work in your favor. It's an unspoken game, in a way.

    You're right though, you can never make people do what you want, but you can weight things in your favor without the intended target knowing a thing.

  10. Holly wrote: " The best social skills in the world won't make people do what I want. So there's a couple people in my life right now that I would like to date and fuck. But my relations with these people are, while very friendly and enjoyable, not really on a date/fuck level. And there's some horrible PUA part of my brain that wants me to think this is purely a failure of my social skills. Like if I could communicate in just the right way, drop just the right hints, it would change everything and "I like you, but I'm not sure if I feel that way about you" would instantly become "after our long romantic walk down the beach at sunset, you wanna do it doggy or cowgirl?"

    ... referring back to the recent 'In So Many Words' post -- for those folks you're interested in, have you tried, rather than "communicat(ing) in just the right way, drop(ping) just the right hints", just being fairly straightforward about it?

    I know there's a difference between relating play preferences (to a possibly established-as-willing and therefore 'safe' partner) and expressing for the first time emotional or sexual desire, but I'd think the same line of approach might help. Or is it a case where you're worried about fucking up the friendships if you outright say "Hey, let's boogaloo like we're rabid stoats on crack-laced Rice Crispies?"

    Or is it a case where you've been pretty open in expressing your desires, he or she (or they, etc.) have said no, and you're wondering if just the right word combo might sway them?

    I'm curious how far along things are -- have you tried and failed, did it just not go there on its own (yet?), have you not even broached the possibility, etc.?

  11. This post could not have been timed better for me, as I had a whole horribly awkward night of mis-reading signals and doing the wrong thing last night.

    It's weird, because I seem to do this most often at work--when I'm at work, and I have to do something, I'm terrible at picking up on cues and end up asking for exact instruction in awkwardly direct ways.

    However, when I'm with groups of friends, I can pick up on all sorts of weird, subtle cues. I think maybe it's because I get more time to relax and observe than I do at work. Also, at work I get so afraid of doing the wrong thing that I trip over everything.

  12. Holly - Just because people expect you to be telepathic doesn't mean you are or should be. Failure of the communication in the "test" example you gave should be a pointer that both you and the other person failed to establish an appropriate signal (does nodding mean "yes, we need to do the test" or "yes, we already did the test"?). This isn't necessarily a good or bad thing in itself (the test was a minor issue), just an indicator that you need to practice clearer communication at your work (and so do they!).

    One of the things I studied to become a technical trainer was the methods of communication and how they are fundamentally the same for people and computers. There must be a message, a predefined method of encoding the message, a means of getting the message to the intended recipient, an appropriate means of accurately decoding the message, and an acknowledgement of receipt of the message. In the case you outlined, the encoding method didn't match the decoding method, so the communication failed. This isn't inherently YOUR fault, merely the failure of the encoding scheme selected by the sender without your knowledge of the selected method.

    The only cure is to practice precise communications (take a look at the communications between a surgeon & assisting nurse during the procedure some time - it's a method intended to ensure communication has been successful).

    As for your second item, without grilling you over what has or has not been said or done, try taking a little chance - stand a little closer, touch them on the inside of their arm instead of the outside, etc. These are the sort of little signals that are often used to communicate deeper interest without risking too much. If these are accepted, risk a little more -- a caress, an extra squeeze in greeting or parting hug, or a little lingering touch.

    If there is no response to these, you can try a more direct approach (hey, let's go see a movie/get a drink/go for a walk in the park!) or even bluntly ask (hey, would you like to go out on a date some time?). I know that this last is really putting yourself out there, but you aren't propositioning them (yet), only indicating a stronger interest. You are likely to be surprised at the reception (most likely positive, if you are right about the friendship), and even if they decline, they are more likely to be gentle with your feelings than a stranger would be (since they are your friend).

    gwillen - excellent piece, but I think it highlights the need for more effort to ensure that communication was successful rather than being a depressing topic. Communication in the casual situation (like on the Web) is often neglected and handled as if it were an after-thought where in the professional situation it often times MUST occur. Confirmation of the message with a restatement to ensure clarity is the preferred method, although it can often be quite perfunctory (e.g. - Surgeon to nurse: scapel. Nurse handing scalpel to surgeon: scalpel) but neglecting it causes difficulties further on down the road that must then be addressed, which can delay the project or work by days or weeks, or even worse, derail it with hurt feelings and displays of temper.

  13. That second component, damn if that isn't the way we're told things should work out. When it doesn't, and no amount of "correct" communication can make someone like/love/shag us, that sucks. Don't know how many folks have read "Yes Means Yes," but one of the best parts of Thomas's essay in that book is the idea that there are certain people in the world that just aren't EVER going to be interested in me romantically, no matter how I operate, what I say, or how I act. It's just not their bag.

    It still SUCKS that this is the case, but I've been trying to learn it better...

  14. I highly recommend the book 'Nonviolent Communication' by Marshall Rosenberg -- I loved your "fluent english but beginner human" because it perfectly describes what I was like before taking a long hard look at my life in the wake of some serious relationship trauma and realised that I needed to 'do something' -- randomly found that book on a friends shelf and damn, did it correct some major misconceptions on my part.