Help with lack of ability to talk to people
May 29, 2013 5:29 PM   Subscribe

I am unsure of how to handle social interactions. For a few years now (I am 22) I have had trouble with social interactions of almost any kind. I can do a decent job of forcing myself to make conversation whether it is small talk or a more in depth discussion. I tend to do pretty well in social situations and am capable of maintaining a conversation. The problem is that I do not have a natural inclination to talk to others.

Most conversation seems predictable but without considering that I still feel as if I am missing some sort of skill set innate to most. It mostly feels as if I have just been practicing a skill set that although I’m sure requires active development should be at least somewhat innate and impulsive. It seems that most conversations I am involved with follow a loose schematic:

1. Small talk which is very predictable and forced.
2. Or a more in depth discussion where it seems that several things can happen.
a. I admit that I am not knowledgeable enough to continue a discussion on this topic
b. I don’t care about the topic
c. I do care about the topic, am knowledgeable on the topic, but a flaw in my own beliefs in the topic, general confusion despite some interest, or more commonly that the discussion will get to a point where either bias on my or the others part cannot be surpassed or the topic itself has become inscrutable for a number of reasons.

I feel like I have slowly been figuring out the “manual” to social behavior and have gotten to a point where I can joke around with others and am seen as the “funny guy” at work or in a group setting. I have and continue to have friendships which seem exhausting to maintain. For this reason I have let most friendships slip to the wayside and naturally my romantic life is not so hot. The problem is that I still feel the urge to feel the results of social exchanges without the ability to naturally enter them (example a romantic relationship, the enjoyment that most seem to get out of social interaction). I see friends and romantic partners interacting and I have a visceral response of desire but can’t connect my desires with what I seem to be naturally capable of. Unfortunately my longing to engage socially without robot like coaxing devolves into a feeling of hopelessness. I certainly don’t enjoy having to scrutinize my every action and force social behavior while effectively lying to those who consider me their friend. When I try to “be myself” and behave as I would without any mental coaxing it results largely in awkward silence, conversations that seem abnormal, or a complete inability to talk. It is a very real possibility that my interpretation of this is in no way connected to my seeming inability and is just an inaccurate intellectualization. I do hope that I am overreacting.I really would appreciate any advice. Thanks

To be clear I have the desire to have relationships for the enjoyment that others seem to get from them. I also have normal human urges for intimacy, laughter, enjoyment, etc. I tend to think that most conversations seem predictable but I do not think that is connected to my lack of what others seem to have and is instead me trying to intellectualize. Ultimately I guess that I am confused at my lack of ability to naturally converse and also when I do force the conversation it seems like I am not getting the same things from conversation and human connection that most people seem to.
posted by mrdrummed to Human Relations (8 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
When you're not knowledgeable about a topic, wouldn't that be a great opportunity to find out more about it by asking questions of your conversation partners? And when you think you might not be interested in a topic, are you still interested in the other person such that you can ask them questions about what they find interesting about it?

I think that what's missing from your descriptions of your conversations is a genuine interest in other people. You seem to be viewing conversations purely as an intellectual exercise in which you impart knowledge to others. For most people, that's not what conversations are about. They're about getting to know someone else, finding out how they think and feel and see the world. That's what's interesting about talking with people. If you just wanted information, you could read a magazine or something. And even conversations that are about some informational topic don't have to become a debate or a disagreement. Why not simply learn more about what they think and why they feel that way, without judging whether or not you agree?

Don't think about conversation as something you do "to people," as you say in your title. Think of it primarily as a way of finding out more about them and about what they're like. Of course, you sometimes want to reveal things about you, but it should feel as though you're learning more and listening more than you are talking (because if it feels that way from your perspective, it's probably, in reality, about equal). That also makes it less stressful because you don't have to be using the time while they're speaking to figure out what you're going to say next; instead, you can actually listen to them and pay attention to how the things they're saying make you feel. The way to get something out of human connection is to look at conversation as a way to learn more about others. That's how you get closer to people.
posted by decathecting at 6:24 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

First, let me say that like you I hate hate hate small talk. For me it falls into the category of "polite things that I need to do but don't really enjoy." Furthermore, I would say that many people feel this way. You're not alone.

Second, after reading points 1 and 2 in your list, it strikes me that you seem to be getting into conversations with people who may not share the same interests as you. In other words, if you were talking about your Favourite Thing In The World with the members of the Favourite Thing In The World club, you might enjoy conversing much more.


I do care about the topic, am knowledgeable on the topic, but a flaw in my own beliefs in the topic, general confusion despite some interest, or more commonly that the discussion will get to a point where either bias on my or the others part cannot be surpassed or the topic itself has become inscrutable for a number of reasons.

It's okay to have flawed beliefs and/or a different bias, and that doesn't have to make a conversation inscrutable. You don't have to agree with people to enjoy speaking with them, all you need is:

1) To assume that they're speaking in good faith (also assuming that you know them well enough trust that they operate in good faith to begin with).

2) To accept that they have their beliefs for a reason. In other words, that they have come to their decisions based on their own belief structure and the information that they have access to, not because they're just idiots with irrational opinions.

3) Respect for their opinions as well as them as individuals.

4) The realization that other people's opinions aren't something that you need to fix, and that you don't have to agree with someone in order to hold a discussion or enjoy their company. Conversations don’t have to be about winning, convincing, or converting. If you feel the need to convince someone of something, even subconsciously, your conversations are going to be that much more loaded and stressful. If you like that kind of discussion, there are groups for that too, but in that case you might want to seek out people who specifically like that type of communication. Like a debate club, for instance. On the other hand, if you want to avoid conversations where people continuously try to argue or convince you, just don't hang out with them and keep looking until you find a group that doesn't.
posted by Shouraku at 6:34 PM on May 29, 2013

Whew. Lot of verbiage here. I'm going to zero in on one thing:
b. I don’t care about the topic

My advice: Act as if you care. Better yet: Do care.
Seriously: This is the key to what you're talking about. Just listen, have some empathy for the person who's telling you something they DO care about, and ask a few questions about it.
Try it. What's to lose?
People who can't do that in life are risking a pretty grim future.
posted by LonnieK at 6:47 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

On preview, both the above answers. And forget the crack about 'verbiage' -- it's all verbiage, including mine.
posted by LonnieK at 6:50 PM on May 29, 2013

Man you described the same feelings I have, except I feel people avoid me after awhile. I also feel like if I dont come up with a good answer or topic that they think I am stupid.
posted by irish01 at 7:01 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Even if you don't care about the topics, I would suggest that you find a way to care about the people involved or about the general vibe of the party or event. I tell myself that I can be a life-enhancer by listening, doing a good deed, and so on. I'm not really concerned with racking up karmic brownie points but most of the time, I figure that I can think less about myself and more about others.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:10 PM on May 29, 2013

Just learn how to stay silent and look like you care.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:44 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

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