How I stopped being socially awkward

It’s been a while since my last newsletter, huh? Life’s been absolutely hectic these last few months. I’ve just moved from Milwaukee, WI to Chicago, IL to be closer to my family. It took several weeks of packing, cleaning, loading, unpacking, and cleaning again, but it’s finally done…mostly. There’s still several boxes of stuff sitting by the front door and I’ll get to it eventually.

Well, that’s still not a good excuse for missing so many weeks of newsletters. As per Quietly Romantic tradition, if I go too long without releasing a new blog post or newsletter then my next one needs to include an embarrassing story.

Here we go.

MFW I get to share something embarrassing about myself on the internet.

A few years ago, I was at a conference and I had the opportunity to meet one of my heroes in person. He was a huge source of writing inspiration for me and was someone that I really looked up to. Think along the lines of…meeting Stan Lee, if you’re a fan of the Marvel superhero movies…or meeting George R.R. Martin, if you’re a fan of the Game of Thrones series. Yeah, that huge.

He’s an intelligent person, and there are so many things I want to learn from him.

  • How does he write so well?
  • How did he attract so many fans?
  • How does he come up with such amazing topics to write about?

He arrives at the conference, gives a presentation, and afterwards starts interacting with some of the guests. I wait in line, fidgeting all the while. Finally, it’s my turn to talk to him. I stagger up to him and shake his hand.

“Hey, I’m Steven. I’m a huge fan of your work! It’s good to meet you”, I exclaim.

“It’s good to meet you too,” he replied. “What do you like to do?”

“Umm…I like…video games?” I mumble. He replies with a deafening silence. “…And I also like reading?” I continue.

His feet start to shuffle away from me. “Well, it’s good to meet you Steven. Best of luck.”

“Yeah…good to meet you too,” I reply, hiding behind a smile of feigned pleasure.

Welp. Something went wrong, but I didn’t understand why at the time. I paid a lot of money to attend this conference just so I could meet him in person. And this is what I get? For weeks after this encounter, I just told myself that I never should have met my hero in person because he was a jerk.

But now I’m older and wiser, and I realize that I was the awkward one in that conversation.

Oh Steve, you were so young and dumb back then

If I could go back in time, there are three ways I’d change the past:

  1. Kill baby Hitler. This is a given for time travel, right?
  2. I’d stop myself from watching the Chicago episode from Stranger Things season 2. I mean…I love Stranger Things, but what even was the point of that episode??
  3. I’d tell myself what I’m going to share with you in this newsletter today:

Here’s what I know now that I wish I knew before.

Questions are often asked for certain reasons

This is something I was socially unaware of for years. When someone asks you a question, it’s often important to consider the context behind that question to understand what they’re really trying to say.

For example, if you’re in a job interview and you get asked “What do you want this job?”, what they really want to know if “Do you actually care about this job, or are you applying because you just want any job?” So, a bad answer to that question is “Because I want to get paid”, while a good answer to that question might involve explaining why your skills/experience/personality are a good fit for that position.

In the same way, many of the questions that people ask us during normal conversation have other questions behind them.

What “What do you like to do?” means

I’d always get asked this question all the time whenever I met new people. You’d think that after hearing it for the 100th or so time I’d understand what this question means and how to properly answer it, right? Well, it wasn’t until I met my personal writing hero and flubbed this question that I understood how socially awkward I used to be.

Okay, so what does it mean when someone asks “What do you like to do?” It means that they’re trying to find some common ground to connect with you. For example, if it turns out you’re both a fan of camping, then the two of you can now discuss the places that you’ve explored in the past and talk about the locations that you’d like to visit in the future. You get to enjoy a positive conversation and bond over your shared interests.

In the past, I’d always give one-word answers to this question. When asked what I liked to do or what my hobbies were, I’d say “reading” or “video games” and not expand on that. Yeah, I was a boring dud back then.

Today, I try to answer in a way that offers some common ground. So, if my hobbies are…

  • Reading the Harry Potter series
  • Watching Game of Thrones
  • Removing the heads of stuffed animals and sewing them onto different stuffed animals

…and I have reason to believe that she’s a bookworm as well, then I’ll go with that first choice. Even if all three are technically true answers to “What are your hobbies?”, you want to find common ground as much as you can.

Finally, what if you’re having trouble finding any shared interests with her? The next best option is to ask her what she enjoys doing and then show a genuine interest in everything she shares with you. As Dale Carnegie emphasizes in his timeless book How to Win Friends and Influence People, a genuine interest in others is one of the greatest compliments you can pay them.

Deciding to be socially fluent

It’s easy to look at people who are socially fluent and believe that they’re just naturals. The truth is that pretty much every charismatic person wasn’t always that way. If you need proof of this…take a second look at that story I shared with you earlier! God, I was such a weirdo back then.

There’s a few things you can do which will make you more socially fluent. One of them is to think of the common conversational topics and come up with answers beforehand that you can just pull out of your pocket as need. For example, some common questions that you may want to have answers for are:

  • “What do you like to do for fun?”
  • “What’s your favorite movie?”
  • “What are you going to do this weekend?”

For more tips on how to become socially fluent, enter your email below for my 14-page guide on Talking to Women.

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