Um... hello... uh...
April 8, 2010 9:10 AM   Subscribe

How can I better learn the art of conversation and other social skills?

I've been struggling with major depression/bipolar depression over the past three years. Combined with my slight asperger's tendencies, I spent the better part of my college time as a recluse who did poorly in class. I finally recovered from the depression recently thanks to a change in meds.

However, that reclusion has caused my social skills to diminish. I now feel like a stranger to my friends, and have trouble thinking of things in conversation. I find myself having trouble speaking to others, and I think I come off as brusque and antisocial, even though I really would like to talk and be social. At a recent party, I was unable to mingle at all. I felt miserable and ashamed at the end because I should have been in my element, as it was my former college and some of them were friends of mine. How can I fix this, preferably without too much expense?

Also, will a university accept just my high school transcript and SAT scores, which are great, without my GPA, which has suffered because of my depression? I'm 21 now, so it's about 3 year old data.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Leil Lowndes

Succeed Socially

Include your GPA and attach an explanatory statement. That way, you at least have a shot at getting credit for candor and triumph over adversity.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:20 AM on April 8, 2010

I'm in the same boat.

What I do to get by is to ask questions about the other person, then ask followup questions about their answers. It works pretty well, especially with the really chatty types.

An unfortunate side-effect is that it sometimes prompt the other person to ask me something, in which case I am forced to formulate a response and my head explodes.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:22 AM on April 8, 2010

No thread on "how to socialize" would be complete without a link to "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 9:40 AM on April 8, 2010

I should emphasize that if you give your GPA and attach a statement, you should assure them that you have solved the problem (which you said you have) and it's a thing of the past.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:41 AM on April 8, 2010

To add to TimeTravelSpeed's comment, there have been many threads about this, and someone always recommends that book. The reason I point this out is that a Google search you might not have thought of will turn up lots of potentially useful AskMe threads.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:44 AM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Congrats on your convalescence. Some tips I've found helpful:

1. Keep informed on current events so you will know what people are talking about, even if it means reading the section of the newspaper that doesn't interest you. You might politely join a conversation saying, "I saw that The Times had an article about that just yesterday." Even if you didn't read more than the first paragraph you at least have something minimal to contribute. After that you ask questions.

2. Make a point to remember people's names and use them: say "thanks, Marty" or "see you later, Marty" instead of just "thanks," or "see you later." Use a mnemonic device if necessary. If you really want to impress, jots down details of conversations in your journal or in a notebook so that when when you see the person again you can ask specific questions instead of being vague. "How's your spouse doing with that unspecified illness they've had for some time now?" is less impressive than "How's Cyril been doing with his slipped disk these past six weeks? If someone ever mentions their birthday or anniversary, write it down asap!

3. Look people in the eye when they are speaking and give reassurance that you are paying attention by an occasional nod or mutter of agreement. Ask questions to show that you are interested. Encourage people to talk about themselves--people love to talk about themselves and it takes the spotlight off you.

4. Most of all, relax. Smile. If you walk around with a scowl and hunched shoulders, most people will interpret your body language to mean you're in a bad mood and want to be left alone, even if it really means you're just anxious.
posted by levijk at 10:17 AM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Depending on your college goals (and location -- this is US advice), a couple of classes at a local community college where you get As would help at showing that you are in a better place, have solved the problem, and can succeed academically.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:19 AM on April 8, 2010

honestly i don't know how much a book would help you. social skills are built by social time. just talk to people. i'm naturally curious so i pay attention and ask a lot of questions, but not in an overly nosy way because that'd be rude. (bad: someone tells me what they do for a living and i ask how much they make. too nosy and weird and rude!! good: someone tells me what they do for a living and i ask how they got into it and if they like what they do; if not what they would like to do, etc. you can learn so much about someone this way!) there are so many people out there in the world, aren't you curious about them??? go on out there and find out! :) developing good social skills while you're out there is just icing on the cake. if it's hard at first and you find yourself stumbling or shy or awkward just keep trying. it gets better.

also, having a lot of hobbies and adventures and just being out and about means you'll have stories to tell whenever they swing questions back your way. celebrate your emergence from depression by getting out there and doing some cool things!
posted by raw sugar at 10:33 AM on April 8, 2010

This is a quick one because I have to get to my gate... but... I feel your pain.

My dad can talk to anyone -- growing up, I thought that was genetic... I've since learned that it's a set of skills...

What helped me was to take some classes in NLP. When I googled it on Amazon, I saw a bunch of "how to pick up women" books and also "how to sell anyone anything" -- so it might seem a bit... umm... off-putting...

But, what I found was that it broke down the social skills that other people learn however they learn them into little bite-size chunks that I could learn. That has made all the difference in the world.

One book I would recommend is NLP, the new technology of achievement by Steve Andreas, specifically the chapter on creating rapport and building relationships.
posted by elmay at 10:37 AM on April 8, 2010

As with any other skill (knitting, playing guitar, whatever) you can get some tips from books or videos, but practice is by far the most important thing. If it's really important to you, get a job that forces you to socialize, e.g. bartender, barrista, salesperson, wait-person, etc. Also, try to befriend and spend time with people whose social skills you admire. Watch what they do and try to emulate them. Most of all, don't beat yourself up for whatever "failures" you have along the way. (You wouldn't expect to be able to play Mozart your first time at a piano. Or your third. Or you fiftieth. This is no different.) There are going to be a lot of bumps in the road, so try to treat social mistakes as opportunities for learning and improvement rather than personal failings.
posted by LordSludge at 1:38 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. The key to "social skills" is "skills", something that is learned through continual practice.

2. Join Toastmasters - disclosure I've been a member for almost a decade. It is the cheapest way to develop public speaking skills and public speaking is extreme social speaking. An exercise they do every week is called "Table Topics". Given a topic, you immediately get up and talk about it for a minute and a half. When I joined Toastmasters, I thought this was impossibly difficult and I would stand there dumbstruck. Now I have no problem with it. The transformation is somewhat striking to me even now. If I was to sum up Toastmasters, it's a place where you can stand up in front of people and be dumbstruck and it's still okay.

3. Dale Carnegie books are fine for showing you the techniques but people who follow them slavishly come off as superficial or lame (e.g. the stereotypical cringe-inducing patter of the car salesman). I recommend Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He makes the critical distinction between "personality techniques" (e.g. "have a firm handshake", "make good eye contact", "talk about the other person") and "having character". The former is a checklist of admittedly useful gimmicks. The latter is about integrity, virtue and respect. As you can guess, social interactions built on strength of character are the only ones that bring meaningful reward.

4. Get out and practice. If Toastmasters is a training gym, then you also need some real-life tryouts. Attend as many social gatherings as you can. This would include hobby groups, church, sports activities, group travel excursions, courses involving team work, and so on.

5. Embrace awkwardness. There's always going to be awkwardness. Fear of awkwardness works against you by raising an imaginary stake in a game that doesn't matter. Awkwardness is useful. It encourages growth of character. In an awkward situation, the gimmicks run out. You draw on your character to try to make other people more comfortable rather than trying to "win friends".

6. In the end despite #3, it's quality that counts. When interacting, what is it about the other person that's special? What is it that you have in common? Being able to connect deeply to a dozen people is much better than having a Facebook list of 500 friends. It's easy to mistake superficial ease with true connection. This is why many social networking gurus have terrible social skills (and often don't know it).

7. Take the time and improvement is inevitable. Not many people learned to play the piano with a single lesson, fewer learned it by reading a book. If you feel like you're getting nowhere, that's ok, the changes you're working on requires the metamorphic power of accumulated hours. I'd wish you good luck but luck doesn't have anything to do with it. I wish you good work instead!
posted by storybored at 11:18 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Grumblebee wrote: If it helps, awesome. Then you can ignore the following: "'The Journal of Counseling Psychology' and ... the National Research Council (1988; NRC) committee ... found little or no empirical basis for the claims ... or assumptions of NLP. Since then, NLP has been regarded with suspicion or outright hostility by the academic, psychiatric and medical professions."

Perhaps I wasn't clear in my original message (I was in the airport and had to catch my plane) -- I'm not talking about the therapeutic claims of NLP (e.g. the "swish pattern") but rather the simple rapport building skills such as matching, pacing and leading, and so on. Perhaps that is also suspect -- and perhaps it was all "placebo" -- but it did help me.

It would be interesting to know, Grumblebee, what the academic, psychiactric, and medical professions would recommend to help the OP with his/her issue.

Storybored wrote: As you can guess, social interactions built on strength of character are the only ones that bring meaningful reward.

I completely agree. I have met people that are extremely persuasive and can convince me that "A is true" even if I initially thought "A is false". However, after I think about it for a while, I realize that I don't agree with them, I still think "A is false", and now I don't trust them either. Whether you are clumsy or extremely skilled with people, I think that integrity trumps everything else in social interactions & relationships.
posted by elmay at 1:29 PM on April 10, 2010

It would be interesting to know, Grumblebee, what the academic, psychiactric, and medical professions would recommend to help the OP with his/her issue.

I am not sure. And I meant no disrespect to you or to something that helped you. But I think it's important for the OP to hear all sides of things like this. If I posted a question about how to stop having heart burn, and someone suggested X, I would want to know if some experts thought X was bunk. Maybe I'd disagree with them and use X anyway, but I'd be able to disagree from an informed perspective.

Again: if NLP helped you, that's great. I mean that sincerely.
posted by grumblebee at 10:55 PM on April 11, 2010

« Older Best way to handle disagreeing with a friend on a...   |   Technically writing Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.