Problem Solving: Social Skills
This has been a problem for me since middle school. I was the shortest and scrawniest kid in my entire grade and to make matters worse my Grandma dressed me like a dorky kid from the 50’s. I was too scared to talk to anyone, and as a result, I was friendless.
This subject has been quite emotional and compelling. I’ve done problem solving sessions on this subject, in which my students would tell me about problems that were all too similar. I did my best to help, but I always ended the session feeling I could’ve done better. This was frustrating because I think I made a lot of progress in this area myself. I Recently had what I felt like was a breakthrough session and I thought I should share it.
He started out by mentioning his discomfort in speaking to people and I asked him if he also felt uncomfortable talking to others about poker. He said, "no because I feel like I know what I’m talking about.” Then I told him these stories I’m about to share with you:
I was sitting at a bar with a friend of mine talking about pick up game. He then tells me 'They all say they have fake boyfriends. Watch I’ll show you.' He then turns around and asks out the first girl we see passing by, and she says 'I have a boyfriend' and he casually turns back to me and says 'You see.’"
My friend had none of the issues we would have approaching girls, no what ifs, fear of rejection and no loss of confidence when he got "rejected." I think he can do this because he has a ton of skill in this area (like you do with poker). However, whenever I encouraged him to pursue a career, something he had no experience in he had the same neuroses we have. He’d only discuss the negatives aspect of it: what other people might think, what would happen if he failed, how hard it was going to be etc..
I then told my student this: “If you want to have confidence in something you have to earn it. For most of my life, I never considered the possibility you can improve at social skills but you absolutely can. I then told the story of how I developed my skills.
It all started from an unlikely mentor - my wife. She was the complete opposite of me. She was open, confident, outgoing, energetic and overall accepting of who I was. Trying to get me to open up and be comfortable expressing myself was a long, arduous battle between us. She tried to force change, and I resisted. She didn’t so much want to change who I was but she was the only person who got to see the real me, and she wanted me to be comfortable expressing that to others.
She’d make me do things like go to clubs (which I went from hating to loving), try new foods (all I ate was chicken, steak, and corn when I married her) and meet new people. We’d have a lot of arguments, but as I started to understand her point of view they turned into debates and then into conversations. Initially, whenever there was something outside my comfort zone I’d argue about all the negatives and then she’d argue about all the positives.
She also showed me by example; she was the type who would go out in public and purposely make a fool of herself and me. Recently, just to embarrass me we were walking in the busy streets of Boston holding hands, and all of a sudden she gets the random idea to start pinching my ass and saying to me “I pinch it!” in a voice meant to sound like Borat. She saw my embarrassment so of course she just stepped it up. If someone walked by, she'd look them dead in the eye and say “Excuse me, sir... I pinch it” and pinch my ass. I’ve gotten used to it so it wasn’t that bad and it was mostly hilarious. This is just one story out of 100s over a decade. What I learned from these experiences is that not one time did anything bad happen. We never saw any of these people again, and often they’d just crack up, happy to have this complete unexpected break in the monotony. Over the years I’d slowly start to put myself out there more and more until I became comfortable (perhaps too comfortable if you ask my wife) with my weirdness.
The next stage of my development was coaching poker. I spent thousands of hours talking to 100s of different people. I also combined this with various methods and mediums for improving social skills, so I always had new bits of knowledge to use in my sessions (I wasn’t intentionally trying to get better socially, I just wanted to get better as a teacher). When I read about behavioral and evolutionary psychology, I improved my understanding of people on a fundamental level. When I practiced and studied meditation, I learned about others by understanding myself. When I watched Elliot Hulse videos, I learned how to express my emotions better. I use this holistic approach to learning (which I found unintentionally) for anything big I’m trying to learn. I find it's way more fun and I think it leads to a deeper understanding than the direct straight line approach to learning. It also gave me more topics to bring up in conversation.
I ended the session by providing a ton of different resources to improve, and he seemed excited and confident to put in the work. Earlier, he told me he either spends a few minutes on something then quits or goes all in. I asked him at the end how likely was he to put in the work on this, and he said, “I think I’m gonna jam."
When I reflect on this experience, my conclusion is that a vital method to solving confidence issues is learning. I don't think setting up good ways for people to get outside their comfort zone is as effective. I believe they're unlikely to do it, likely to fail if they do and more likely to be demoralized from failure. If you help increase their skills first, it should hypothetically improve their confidence, success rate and interest in pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. If you cultivate a dynamic mindset first (the belief they can get better) I’d assume they’d be more likely to see failures as learning experiences rather than huge setbacks.
An issue that comes to mind is that it's possible they could be unconfident even though they have the necessary skill. For example, even though every podcast I've done has gone well I still feel unconfident in my ability to do them. In those situations, perhaps more skill isn't the answer. What is the answer then? Perhaps it's more of an emotional issue, maybe encouragement and inspiration are better methods?
I apologize for oddly ending this post by switching to an internal monolog with an unanswered question. I originally started to write because it helps me think, and I left it in this post because I think uncertainty and always digging deeper is vital to deepening understanding and thus improving.
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