How do I build social self confidence, and (among other things) talk to women?
January 1, 2009 1:54 PM   Subscribe

How can I become more confident interacting with women specifically as well as in social situations generally. NOT looking for gimmicks, PUA or "get laid" systems, but genuine self improvement techniques.

I am a reasonably attractive mid 20-something guy who is very smart and has a lot going for me. But I have no self confidence and often problems talking to women (or in most social situations for that matter).

Sometimes I feel I get in a good grove, even around women or mixed company, but then I feel like I "over extend" and become just too arrogant, elitist, intellectual or--on the other extreme-- goofy. I think these are defense mechanisms for lack of confidence. Other times, I just cannot think of anything interesting to say or ask the other party, so I just say these dull go nowhere stories... I can't help it, the anecdote sounds funny in my head.

Repartee I sometimes do well, but I feel I have no "social sense" or confidence and so I either commit (or feel like I commit) social faux pas or become timid and say nothing.

I admit I'd like to "pick up a girl" and have the confidence to overcome some of my unflattering physical features, but I don't want to be a "player" or PUA... just, you know, have a girlfriend for the first time since High School. It would also be nice to know how to act "suave" or charming, or at least not aggravating to others.

Books, Seminars, Systems, Meditations, Movies, Techniques... any advice welcome. Particularly interested in practical psychological / sociological works since I often feel I am intuitively oblivious to the whole social hierarchy even though I know it's there.
posted by DetonatedManiac to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
The simplest advice I ever received on this subject was this: Shut up and listen.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:21 PM on January 1, 2009 [9 favorites]

i've heard before that a person's name is the most soothing thing they can hear. in my experience most of the time people reallllly want to talk about themselves, but they are not sure how or it would be weird/awkward/etc. i'd suggest these options:

1. if stranded in a pregnant pause, ask them something about something in the room, they're wearing, what they are doing with their lives, etc etc. just keep asking.

2. don't give a crap about how you come off. that's exactly the key, i've found, to being confident and attracting members of the opposite sex. those who seem effortless in their communications are often that way simply because they either know themselves well enough or don't care enough to overanalyze. seriously, stressing about how you come off is not a turn on.

3. may sound cliched, but what about consulting a female friend on your appearance, etc, etc? i can only offer but so much advice because, well, i'm in my house, and i've never met you. if a male friend of mine asked me these questions i'd certainly be willing to talk about it and talk about my preferences and give advice.

i'm a 21 year old girl so perhaps this advice is helpful in that i am possibly your intended audience.
posted by big open mouth at 2:37 PM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

You are overthinking this. How about just being friends with women? You are seeing women too much as the "other".

Recently I was dating a man I couldn't quite "get". Then I realized he had no women in his life that were friends or equals or just someone to have a normal conversation with. All his friends are men and women are exes or potentials. It's kind of icky.I have had men and women as friends my whole life so questions like these are much less frought.

Stop seeing every situation as a potential romantic or sexual thing. Get out there and do things with PEOPLE, some of whom may be the opposite sex. Build confidence and a sense of yourself as being a human doing his best in the world, not as a dude trying to score with chicks. You will probably meet someone you hit it off with and have real things in common with, then take it from there.
posted by readery at 2:46 PM on January 1, 2009 [8 favorites]

There is no rule that the PUA/player stuff has to be used for PUs and being a player, there is actually a lot of that sort of thing by and for people like you - not interested in playing, just want to learn to present themselves properly instead of undermining themselves. My observation is that this stuff has the skeevy rep for three reasons:
1. It's most visibly associated with people with skeevy motives. Skeevy motives doesn't apply in your case.
2. When someone sucks at it, they suck loud (and probably skeevily). When someone has become good at it, it's invisible and no-one realises. So it's also associated with socially inept people. This may be an issue in your case, but isn't any worse than what you're already doing, so no loss.
3. Everyone thinks it's easy to spot and doesn't work on them, so it's stupid and pointless, but this is the same way that almost everyone thinks advertising doesn't affect what they buy, and the same way that almost everyone thinks they're an above average driver and everyone else is the problem - in all three cases, these beliefs are incompatible with demonstrable reality.

I think it would be useful for you to ignore any creepiness and read some of that stuff just for some of the insight into the human condition that it contains, it's a "practical psychological / sociological work" in the truest sense.

I haven't had the attention span to read much of it, but my impression is that the feeling of misogyny you will get is mostly (mostly) a perceptual error resulting from the fixed gender assignment (the stuff is for men who are interested in interacting with women). eg, if a woman has ten bad relationships, she may be tempted to say "most men are assholes!", but she only comes to that conclusion because she's not dating women; the correct conclusion is "most people are assholes!", as she would know if her gender roles weren't fixed. It's the same thing in reverse with the dating guide stuff - it seems to portray female psychology as a lot less "unique snowflake" than people are comfortable admitting, to the point where it seems derogatory, which in turn seems misogynistic, but what's really going on is that the psychology of human beings is demonstrably a lot less unique than we are comfortable admitting, we are all demonstrably hardwired to a much greater extent than we think we are, but it comes across as a slur on women because women and only women are addressed.

So just ignore those aspects and simply take from it the things that resonate with you and how to best present who you are.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:59 PM on January 1, 2009 [6 favorites]

Focus your attention on your lungs, as if only your lungs existed. Feel the pleasure when your lungs expand to fulfill your need to breathe. Take a deeper breath and feel the air as it fills your lungs. Feel how that air is made of confidence. Notice the connection between the air and the lungs, a connection of self-awareness. Expand your lungs until your body has the need to expel that air. Then exhale, and feel the pleasure again.

When we fulfill any need of the human body, it gives us pleasure. To breathe gives us pleasure. Just to breathe is enough for us to always be happy, to enjoy life. When you find yourself in that "go moment," that "here we go" situation, think of this simple exercise. Breathe deeply, clear your mind of fear and trepidation, exhale and feel the pleasure.
posted by netbros at 3:06 PM on January 1, 2009 [32 favorites]

What -harlequin- said.

Plus, the only way you're gonna get better is by trying (and inevitably "failing" at first--although "learning" is probably a better word)
posted by mpls2 at 3:10 PM on January 1, 2009

1. Read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
2. Apply what you learn.
posted by COD at 3:28 PM on January 1, 2009

1) Make eye contact, smile knowingly. It feels like you are sharing a secret commentary on what happening around you.

2) Tell her something you have in common. Notice something about her. It feels like approval.

3) Make her smile. Goofy is just fine.

The point is to make her feel special, even if you are just passing in a doorway. If you do this, they will think about you long after.

Also, there is something about a freshly showered man and the smell of clean clothes that will make a woman want to position herself closer to you.
posted by kgn2507 at 3:28 PM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Netbros... I am liking it. Guys, you should listen to him.
posted by kgn2507 at 3:35 PM on January 1, 2009

I want to second what readery says about seeing women too much as "the other." Without exception, the men I have had the best relationships with are men who do not view women as wildly different species, but rather fellow human beings who happen to be of a different gender. Every single one of these men have shared the following characteristics:

1. They are able to have women as platonic friends (often including at least some of their exes)
2. They do not immediately categorize women as potential romantic/sexual partners or not
3. They do not automatically badmouth their exes or hold negative views about women in general (e.g., "women are just after guys with money," "all my ex-girlfriends were crazy").

As to the question of confidence: the kind of confidence I find attractive (and that I think most women are talking about when they say they like confident guys) is really the kind that can't be faked, and can't be obtained through any shortcuts: being comfortable in your own skin. It means knowing who you are (in terms of your personal qualities rather than merely your interests, possessions, job title, etc.), liking who you are, and being comfortable with who you are that so you don't need to explicitly advertise it.

For example, someone who's genuinely at ease with his sense of humor doesn't need to announce that he's the life of the party, or to crack jokes endlessly, or to otherwise be "on" all the time. Someone who's genuinely at ease with having a fine intellect will not announce how smart he is or put down someone else who hasn't had the same education or read the same books. A generous person won't mention the donations he made to charity this year, and he won't call attention to the fact that he's tipping the bartender well.

As for conversation tips: there is an art to learning how to ask good, open-ended questions that's worth trying to learn. For example, say you strike up a conversation with a woman who mentions she just got back from a city you've never visited. How do you respond?

- "I've never been there." This is a potential conversation stopper, because you've responded (in a negative-sounding way) about yourself rather than her experience. She might say something to try to engage the conversation further, but she might not.

- "I've never been there. Was it cool?" Better, though "was it cool?" can potentially be answered with a simple "yes" or "no" that can bring the conversation very quickly to a stop.

- "That sounds exciting -- were you there for business or on vacation?" Much better -- she can't answer with a simple "yes" or "no", and the content of her answer can take the conversation into several different directions. (Note that you don't even make reference to yourself in your reply. If she's a good conversationalist, she'll probably ask you at some point if you've been there before.)

On preview: yes, smiling and good eye contact are also important (caveat: holding eye-contact for too long will feel artificial at best, and creepy/unnatural/stalker-y at worst).
posted by scody at 3:38 PM on January 1, 2009 [5 favorites]

Focus your attention on your lungs
And whatever you do, do not focus your attention on her lungs.
posted by Flunkie at 3:42 PM on January 1, 2009 [7 favorites]

Listen more than you talk. If you find yourself talking too much, don't talk. If you can't think of anything to say, don't talk. It seems like your problem mostly lies in talking (being arrogant/telling bad stories) when you should be listening.

Furthermore, everyone likes someone who listens to what they are saying.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:48 PM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

when i catch myself babbling on about myself, i stop and ask the person a question.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:15 PM on January 1, 2009

How can I become more confident interacting with women specifically as well as in social situations generally.

What is it that makes you confident about interacting with men?

Whatever it is, just do the same thing with women. It really is that simple.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:17 PM on January 1, 2009

Amen to all this. It's no different from how you'd strike up a conversation with another fellow.

Women are people. They have interests in music, movies, current affairs, and even (*gasp*) sports. Just have a chat. If she's drinking a beer you've never tried, ask how it is. If there's something interesting happening around you, remark on it and see what she thinks. If she saw you almost wipe out when you hit that uneven seam in the carpet, laugh and acknowledge it - because you're just a dude, and it happens to everyone.

Don't be afraid. Breathe. Relax. Be yourself.

Good luck.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 7:20 PM on January 1, 2009


No, really. If you don't care about what she has to say, why should a woman care about what you have to say? I think many people try too hard to be interesting when they should try being interestED. If you're meeting someone new, be interested in what they have to say.
posted by 2oh1 at 10:54 PM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm seconding what harlequin said, leave the goofy hypnotism and ignorant misogyny but take from PUA and other sources (business books etc) the fact that self-confidence and social skills are just that, SKILLS. Some people are good at them, all people can be better. So you do have to practice which will include doing stuff that seems utterly ridiculous, including rote opening lines and funny hats if that's what it takes to make you less awkward.

Women will tell you to be yourself and to be nice and friendly and listen. This is not enough, though, you also have to be attractive, which is why taking advice from women about how to talk to women is not always a good idea. People often do not realize what it is that they are actually doing when they have a conversation.

Anyway, to me self-confidence is about finding out the contexts and attributes that are most attractive about you and focusing on them. The only way to figure this out is by trial and error, and getting used to rejection and failure. The bonus is that after this struggle you're not just better at talking to women, or men, or anyone, but you're also better at being happy.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:35 PM on January 1, 2009

I don't mean to be rude, but I really think you need to meet a few women who bring you down a peg or two. The most intelligent and erudite people I know barely seem conscious of the fact and there's nothing worse than listening to someone with an over-inflated opinion of himself.

"I am a reasonably attractive mid 20-something guy who is very smart and has a lot going for me*."


posted by Zé Pequeno at 2:45 AM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Following up wtih scody's advice for good questions to ask people. Focussing on open-ended questions will yeild more information. Open-ended questions are ones that cannot be answered with a yes or no. Examples: What did you think about that? What was that like? Why did you decided to do that?

Of course, getting someone else to talk about themselves won't work unless you are actually interested in what they have to say.
posted by Gor-ella at 6:18 AM on January 2, 2009

The best piece of advice I ever heard about approaching a stranger or talking to a stranger is to think about how you approach a good friend who you haven't seen in a while. You're happy to see them, you're smiling, and you know they are happy to see you too. You're relaxed, warm, and interested to talk to them. You know you're welcome with them.

That's how you approach new people or start new conversations - most people will be much more welcoming if, subconsciously, they see you treating them like an old friend.

And regarding lulls in the conversation, there is one technique that I found online that is pretty cool but takes work. Just go through every letter in the alphabet and find a talking point or story for that letter. When you are in a lull in the conversation and dont know what to say, look around and find an object in the area. Take the first letter of that object and use your talking point or story for that letter and move on. ie "chair" = "c", and you might associate C with your cat. So break into a story about the latest cute/crazy/funny thing your cat did and relate that to the other person, their pets, etc. It takes some work to get good talking points for every letter but it really helps you to relax knowing that you always have something to say if you need to, and then you can engage the other person on that topic and get them talking.
posted by PFL at 7:03 AM on January 2, 2009 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I just feel I need to clarify. I don't feel particularly comfortable interacting with most men either (thus why I asked for information about GENERAL social interaction as well).

The kind of person I do feel comfortable around usually "playfully insult" me or are sarcastic and make jokes, which is good because then I can lower my guard and we can rip on each other and I can make witty/self effacing comebacks. That and/or people I can talk about esoteric stuff (philosophy, science-y stuff, random geek stuff).

But I know enough to know that the above is not a good idea with polite company and most people (including most women) who you just meet. My attempts at "initiating sarcasm" usually come off as just insulting. That's why I stay quite and ask questions until silence occurs... at which point I panic (lack of confidence).
posted by DetonatedManiac at 8:05 AM on January 2, 2009

The playfully insult thing is what's going to trip you up. I mean, there are probably girls who relate well to that, but in the whole PUA thing (another straight woman who has read the PUA stuff because I'm just fascinated at how people think) about using negative comments to bring women "down" or whatever is the most misogynistic, sexist, manipulative thing I can think of.

But, you've already figured that out, clearly.

Stop thinking of yourself as a good catch - not that you might not actually be one, but don't go into a situation thinking, "I'm hot shit. SHe's gonna love me." Go into the situation thinking that you are you and you're going to be the best YOU you know how to be, not that you're going to play any kind of game or run any kind of routine.

Someone recommended "How To Win Friends And Influence People" and I'm going to recommend it as it will give you approaches on how to talk to people. Also, Toastmasters - just in terms of giving you confidence in YOURSELF instead of strutting, pea-cocky "i have a lot going for me" kind of confidence.

That, and you need to meet women in settings where dating is not the primary agenda. Clubs, lectures, volunteer opportunities. Approach women as human beings and not as potential prey (another problem I have with the PUA attitude). Once you do that long enough the rest will fall into place.
posted by micawber at 9:07 AM on January 2, 2009

I'm going to focus on the problem you mention last: you panic when silence sets in and it deflates your confidence.

When conversation lags, that's a good point to ask the woman if she'd like to order appetizers or dessert if you're in a restaurant or bar, or suggest going somewhere else for ice cream, another drink or a coffee.

A change of venue, or ordering food or drink, gives both of you a chance to relax and focus on something neutral. This little technique works in just about any setting you find yourself in: obviously a bar or a coffee shop. But it even works in a bookstore, library or any public venue (except a woman's restroom, where you have no business in first place).

I suggest this because it works on me when I go on dates with guys, for the reason I mentioned above-- it gives me a chance to relax.

And then, it gives you an entire new set of topics to discuss, all of which are less intensely focused on the person, and more on menus, likes, dislikes, flavors and places.
posted by vincele at 9:30 AM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Search the threads here on AskMe about being a good conversationalist. Part of it is practicing false-feeling anecdotes and discussion questions. Try them out on strangers until they feel natural, then try ad libbing. This takes a long time, but just making this post is a long way towards success. Most people either think it's everyone else's fault that they are awkward or that they can never change. You got this, High Five!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:51 AM on January 2, 2009

One aspect of "be confident" that I think is important is that you shouldn't apologize for yourself. Don't hedge your bets and second-guess your actions, and be very careful with self-deprecation. Be yourself and don't be sorry for it. If things don't work out, it just wasn't a good fit. It doesn't necessarily mean there's something wrong with you or that you did something wrong. This applies to all interactions, I think. This isn't to say you should be an obnoxious slob and act like it's everyone else's problem, but that if you let your mind dwell on your chances of failure and don't seem to be committing to your actions you will come across poorly.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:50 AM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

The most interesting research about attraction and dating is being done by psychologists studying the interactions at Speed Dating events. Here is a link to a relevant paper: (pdf)

The gist is that both men and women find potential partners who are picky more attractive than potential partners who are more indiscriminate (read: desperate). What is interesting is that people are able to tell who is more selective and who isn't within 4 minutes of meeting them (and its not like anyone sat down and said "Hey I'm really selective" or "Hey I'm really desperate")

Apparently, people give off subtle signs about their own choosiness. Maybe you can learn to be aware of the signals you give off and control them so that you seem less desperate.
posted by AceRock at 11:36 AM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another relevant paper: (pdf)
posted by AceRock at 11:40 AM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

First poster had a good point. Using someone's name (not like every sentence but often when discussing) fosters rapport between two individuals. I've never been super shy but high school to college I was a little woman-shy. I made a point to speak to women every day, even strangers. Say something situational about the weather, the class you're in, the book she's holding etc. Most people are genuinely good and if they're nasty that's their problem. Women are 'drops in your ocean' in that there are a ridiculous number of them in the world and they outnumber men. You have nothing to lose in talking to someone, so a big part of it is the mental hill you have to overcome.

It's always a good idea to talk about half as much as a woman...and REALLY listen. Listen to what she's saying. Ask questions that are relevant. You can often do the statement, question statement routine where she says something and you ask her about it. Then you ask her something else about it. Don't go nuts and make it an interrogation but it helps to push a convo along.

If you're on a date remember this person wouldn't have agreed and taken time out of her life to spend WITH YOU if she didn't think you were WORTH THE TIME! That's an encouraging thought. And practice DOES make it easier in the long run. We all start at the bottom.
posted by PetiePal at 12:44 PM on January 2, 2009

Oh gosh also one last thing...if you have a lot of female friends make a point to hang out more often with them as it will get you more comfortable around the opposite sex.
posted by PetiePal at 12:44 PM on January 2, 2009

Response by poster:

This is more along the lines of the right answer.

I'm too damn smart!!!!
posted by DetonatedManiac at 8:29 PM on March 3, 2009

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