How to be more fake like everyone else.
February 24, 2006 2:43 AM   Subscribe

How can i become more easy going and fake in a business environment. Im a very loyal person to my friends but find in business you need to develop a kind of fake persona to get on with others.

I dont like small talk and find chatting to people i barely know insincere and fake. In business though you have to do this a lot and the people who do well seem to be masters at talking sh*t to people they barely know. Also then seeing someone they barey know and faking all this 'how are you doing? Hows you weekend type rubbish'
posted by indio1919 to Work & Money (51 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Um... Just do it?

Act sincerely interested, and if you make a decent wage, tick off the amount in your head. (My partner and I were working on a project that was absolute torture, until we started saying aloud "penny penny" every second and a half. That calmed us down.

In business, you should be building up contacts and looking for ways to further yourself. Some of the pandering should be fake, but talk about things that interest you and put some of the ball in their court. Get them to chat about things that interest you as well. You don't need to be fake, really, but you might need to tone yourself down a bit if you find you're a tad caustic.

Try to be funny, occasionally, and do it at no one (in earshot's) expense. You'll be characterized quickly as someone they don't need to feel tense around and it'll be much better that way.

And don't really bother faking it, so much. Get to know people, develop relationships and if all else fails, make it a game. Internal monologues can be great fun.

Quit assuming this is oh so difficult, stop thinking about it so much and put on a happy face. :-)
posted by disillusioned at 2:58 AM on February 24, 2006

You don't.

If the best you're going to do at smalltalk is to be fake with people, then you might as well not even try. Get some job where you don't have to interact with anyone in this way.

Alternatively, you might try actually looking beyond your own nose and taking a freaking interest in your fellow human beings rather than keeping up this "I can only be sincere with my good friends; I'm so loyal" superiority pose.

I'm serious. The people who do this stuff well are genuinely interested to know what Sally did on the weekend or how James's sickly son Jimmy has been doing of late. If you don't give a crap, then don't fake it. If you actually want your career to go anywhere, though, you might learn to give a crap.
posted by mikel at 3:14 AM on February 24, 2006

Response by poster:
Mikel, im really & truly not frickin interested about James sickly son or what Sally did on the weekend. Sounds to me your the kind of brown nosing grease monkey i despise and is universally regarded as hollow and insincere.

Of course im not just loyal to my friends, im not a hermit who hates social interaction, in my question i was just enquiring how you can become more 'fake' like yourself pal.
posted by indio1919 at 3:38 AM on February 24, 2006

It's not so much being fake, as it is learning the language. Small-talk in the workplace generally stays confined to the banal in order to avoid contention. It is the subtext that is important. When you ask about someone's weekend or family, you are giving them a bit of affirmation, and expressing that you care about their feelings. This is genuine as they are people, and their feelings directly impact you. Remembering names is a big plus, and mnemonics will help you there. Once you break the ice let others do the talking and they will enjoy it. "Minimal Encouragers" (nodding, "uh-huh", "really?", etc.) and eye-contact will help to set them at ease.

It is a skill and you will get more comfortable with practice. Observe the best and emulate their techniques. Realize that most people have some level of discomfort talking to strangers, and are relieved when somebody else breaks the ice.
posted by Manjusri at 3:50 AM on February 24, 2006

im really & truly not frickin interested about James sickly son or what Sally did on the weekend. Sounds to me your the kind of brown nosing grease monkey i despise and is universally regarded as hollow and insincere.

Wow, that's pretty uncalled for. You won't win many friends with this attitude.
posted by grouse at 3:55 AM on February 24, 2006

Listen to others and learn a few stock phrases.

On Monday "How was your weekend?" is an easy one.

A smile and a loud "Morning!" (not mumbled under your breath) to everyone helps raise your profile too.

When you meet somebody new and conversation dies after the initial introduction, try "So what do you do here?" or "What's it like being a..?" or "How long have been doing this for?".

The next level is showing a real interest in people's opinions and ambitions. "What did you think of that game last night?" or "What do you think of our new product?" or "What are you going to do when you've finished this project?" or "Are you going to settle in this town?".

Small talk and schmoozing is a skill, treat it as such and watch those 'fake' people and learn because if you don't, you'll still be here when they've been promoted over you. Your hard work and technical skills come 2nd to your personality and people skills, that's life.
posted by alancollier at 3:59 AM on February 24, 2006

indio1919 - you could maybe practice being fake and easy going in sure as hell would be an improvement on what you are now.
posted by oh pollo! at 4:01 AM on February 24, 2006

Indio1919, you really do need to find work that requires no human interaction.

I'm not trying to slam you, but if you don't like people in general it is probably possible for you to fake an interest. People aren't stupid and they can spot a phony.

My husband is in the real estate business and talks to people all day long. He genuinely cares about these details of folks' lives. Now myself, I am not exactly a people person-I have mood swings and half the time people are to be avoided-but I too have learned to be interested in others' lives.

Point is, that from what you have posted, you really don't care about others at all unless they are your friends. That is pretty negative, dude. And you cannot fake your way past that in the business world.
posted by konolia at 4:05 AM on February 24, 2006


Looks like I won't be grabbing "best answer" for this thread.
posted by disillusioned at 4:07 AM on February 24, 2006

I was going to comment in this thread a couple of hours ago (though I decided to hang fire and see what others made of your question), because I used to be someone who had a lot of trouble making small talk - I didn't intend to avoid it, but it was a skill I'd never developed for various reasons.
Anyhow, after a lot of employment-related problems (mostly struggling to find work and getting only short-term contracts) I got a job in my local pub, and I found it really helped, because I started to chat with the regulars - initially just "Hi, how are you?" and developing to more personal topics over time (family, interests, work etc.). Previously, I'd been dropped into office environments with very little idea of how to be sociable with co-workers, and it caused a few problems.

Sure, the people you work with may not end up being your best friends, but it doesn't hurt to be sociable and take an interest in them. It makes the working day pass more smoothly, it helps with things like being invited out for drinks on a colleague's birthday, working in groups, or that all-important concept of networking, and believe me, being the office "cold fish" will make you stand out and go against you in performance reviews.
You don't have to take their problems to heart, or lose sleep over someone being too busy to talk to you, but you'd be surprised how much people like having an interest taken in them - how the family is, what they did on the weekend, how their favourite team is performing, what they're working on, if they've resolved a problem, or even if they want a coffee bringing back when you go to the break room. And it might even relax you a bit to try it!

Big hint: don't think of it as a fake persona. There's nothing fake about it - just be the real you, the one that your friends see, and remember that as it's a part of the work environment, you can leave it all at the office at five o'clock. (Except for work social events, but that's part of the job too.)

Try it - you have nothing to lose (except the attitude; for your own sake, leave your high horse at home!) and everything to gain.
posted by Incharitable Dog at 4:18 AM on February 24, 2006

From the sounds of it, you will have a difficult time fakinbg that which you are not. Important to know (and look this up from an article in Atlatic magazine) that there is a big difference between someone who is SHY and someone who is an INTROVERT. And though we believe we are fair to both the extrovert (most people) and the introvert, we are not and tend to be suspicious of the he hiding something? Why isn't he interested in what I have to sayh about my family? Is he aloof? Does he thinbk he is better than we are? etc.
posted by Postroad at 4:32 AM on February 24, 2006

People are friendly at work because they spend more time together than they do with their families and friends, in many cases. I honestly care about human beings, and work is a pretty dehumanising place. If my child were sick I would certainly hope my coworkers would care about it.

I think seeing a therapist might be helpful, as they are specialists in interpersonal behaviour and could help workshop your problems. Honest friendliness will do a great deal for your career.
posted by By The Grace of God at 4:38 AM on February 24, 2006

Those people aren't being fake, they just have social skills superior to yours. The world does not actually revolve around you.
posted by caddis at 4:40 AM on February 24, 2006

Just agree with everything anyone says. After a while you'll feel so sick with yourself that, despite your new popularity, you won't feel so bad about ignoring the smalltalk and declining the social stuff.
posted by krisjohn at 4:44 AM on February 24, 2006

in business you need to develop a kind of fake persona to get on with others

Sometimes it's fake, sometimes it isn't. Yes there is people who think Paris Hilton is the most interesting EVAR , others think particle accelerators.

Yes there's also people who may think you are snotty or weirdo because you don't treat them in the way they are used to be treated. It is not that they are right and you are wrong or the opposite , it's just difficulties in extablishing communications. Sometime is just impossible, most of the time it requires some patience, sometimes it's very easy and comes almost natural.

Get to know yourself first..write down what you like, dislike what you would do and what you wouldn't do ever , which kind of people you like and dislike and expecially, why you like or dislike something or somebody. Get to know your feelings..if a person did you something, what would you feel ? Do you remember how you felt when somebody treated you badly or in a good way ?

The more you know about yourself, the most accurate you are in understanding what you feel about something, the easier it will become to communicate with everybody. It's harder then popping a pill, but it's far more rewarding.
posted by elpapacito at 4:51 AM on February 24, 2006

I think you should just be yourself. Eventually, you'll end up with a whole bunch of people that no one likes, all clustered around you. You can be called the "dick clique". Because you're not showing yourself to be a very likeable person here.
posted by disclaimer at 4:54 AM on February 24, 2006

indio1919, you might want to read or re-read J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. You sound like you could be channeling the novel's protagonist, Holden Caufield.

Frankly, I didn't think much of the book as a novel when I read it as a high school junior back in the '60's, but I "got" it as a cautionary tale of adolescent disenchantment, which, I think, is why it was assigned reading back then, and still is today in many high schools. It's the only work I know that discusses "fakeness" in an authentic American adolescent voice, and I do think you'd get a lot out of it. But maybe not what my high school teachers intended.

In fact, as a cautionary tale, it has its limits, not the least of which is that it has a fairly unsatisfactory ending, in Hollywood terms. No neatly tied bows, so to speak, but then again it is "Holden" telling his story in the first person, and actually wrapping anything up in a formal conclusion isn't his style, as that would be "fake." I didn't think much about the work after I read it, and did the obligatory book report and class discussion so many years ago, until I saw the film Six Degrees of Separation in 1995. In the middle of the film, Will Smith's character does a 5 minute critical monologue which was mildly revelatory, and provides the best short analysis of the book I've come across. I recommend you follow up your reading of the book with seeing this film.

I wouldn't presume to tell you what to think about all this, but I do think that people projecting the level of angst you have shown in this thread for co-workers and casual acquaintances are wound way too tight, for their own good, and for those around them. If you're this agitated about "fakes," you're letting the world get to you, way too much. See a professional. Soon.
posted by paulsc at 5:10 AM on February 24, 2006

Why so misanthropic? I'm guessing that your lack of social skills has caused people to treat you like shit in the past, and you're projecting your anger at them out at the rest of the human race. But there are plenty of other people that life has done wrong by, and there are also plenty of people that are pretty decent. If Anne Frank could say "I believe people are basically good" before being taken to the concentration camp, why are you unable to cut your coworkers a little slack?

Another thing - if you think you're more intelligent than most people - well, that's basically down to luck and genetics. Stupid people can't help being stupid. They don't deserve to be blamed for it.

You don't have to fake caring about peoples' lives. Look, there are different levels of caring about people. Some you'd lay down your life for. Some are annoying complainers and you just want to avoid them. Others you'd feel an amount of empathy for their most severe problems equal to that you'd feel towards strangers on the evening news. If you don't feel any empathy at all towards strangers, though, that's basically the definition of a sociopath and askme can't help you.

Yes, there are a lot of fake people out there in the business world, and they're annoying as hell, but I definitely don't think they're in the majority. If they are in the majority in your field, though, maybe it's time to make a switch. You're in advertising, you say? OK, maybe that explains part of it.
posted by hazyjane at 5:24 AM on February 24, 2006

While you might look at this as a fake persona, it really is about being yourself. As a technical person, social skills haven't always been terribly easy for me. A few years back I ran across a book called The Golden Rule of Schmoozing. Although some of the suggestions in the book sound jive, some suggestions in the book should help you become more comfortable in these types of situations. I notice that the audiobook version is now available, read by Penn Jillette.
posted by SteveInMaine at 5:48 AM on February 24, 2006

How about not being fake at all?
If you have the ability to maintain a friendship, then you have the ability to make and maintain a business relationship.

You can seem to be sincere all you want but that won't make you genuinely sincere and it will come through in your interactions.

You can fake it for a while and it might work but eventually you won't like who you turn into around business situations/people.

I would say to treat your business contacts as you might your friends (but with more distinct boundaries), look, listen, learn and contribute. Who's to say you won't walk away from a business situation having made a new friend, a friend you can genuinely be loyal to and like, a friend who will steer business your way?

"How can i become ...", "Im a very loyal person ...", "I dont like small talk ..." -- it's not about you, it's about the other person. You're asking them about their weekend not because you're really want to know but because you want them to feel that you're interested in their well being etc...
posted by eatcake at 5:52 AM on February 24, 2006

Watch Office Space a couple dozen times until you can pull off the office schmooze in a convincingly ironic manner. You'll be sure to attract the hip disaffected coworkers that get the joke.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:56 AM on February 24, 2006

As usual, lots of good stuff here. Don't dismiss it out of hand.

This is something I had thought about a while ago, and in a similar manner as yourself. But I've learned that small talk, and other social niceties cannot and should not be discounted as "being fake". It is part of civilized society. Like good manners.

I think the difficulty is that you don't care about people (other than your friends). Personally, I don't think you can change this. Maybe time can help get you to see things differently - as mikel says, beyond your own nose. I don't mean to snark, but he's right on. It's a fairly immature world view you seem to have. Or maybe it's just a lack of patience.

Something that might help... As part of an MBA program, I took a course on leadership. One great tip the instructor gave was "active listening". Don't judge, critique or try to fix anything - just listen. Look him in the eye, and listen. But I think you still have to care about the other person.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 6:22 AM on February 24, 2006

indio1919 - you could maybe practice being fake and easy going in sure as hell would be an improvement on what you are now.

Seconded, and I'm not saying that to be a dick.

You seem a tad feisty, especially for somebody who came looking for personal criticism.
posted by I Love Tacos at 6:33 AM on February 24, 2006

Unfortunately, most work environments require us to be people of breadth, they don't care about depth. My suggestion-Make small talk, but immerse yourself in it. That passionate and intense feeling you get when discussing things with your close circle of friends, do it with coworkers. It will wipe you out and drain you, but becomes easier with time. Care about Jame's son or Sally's weekend as if they were you closest friends, but don't let them monopolize your time. How do you know you are not faking it? Next time you see James or Sally you will follow up with without even thinking about it. Some people will have interesting things to say, I agree, most don't, even if you did get to know them.

You'll be known as the quiet guy who is passionate about everything, which I think is better than that weird guy who does not talk to anybody. But hey if you really don't care, fuck 'em, but then you wouldn't be posting, right?
posted by MrMulan at 6:33 AM on February 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

And for what it's worth, it's not usually fake. It might not be deep, but it's usually real.
posted by I Love Tacos at 6:34 AM on February 24, 2006

Response by poster:
ok ive been busted my metafilters 'police' for saying a few unkind words in response to some poor advice but heh life goes on.....

Anyhow i keep forgetting this is mainly an American forum hence my bad attitude to inane replies.
posted by indio1919 at 6:35 AM on February 24, 2006

I'd suggest that rather than learning to be fake, you might learn to be sincere. Actually give a shit about the people around you - they are people you know, and they do deserve a certain amount of respect and attention.

At the point where you've learned to join the human race and care about the people who surround you everyday, you'll find you can inquire about their weekend quite easily, because you'll actually want to know how it went, or at least, want to be making conversation with them.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:49 AM on February 24, 2006

Okay, indio1919 you're absolutely right. Everyone around you is a phony. You are the precious snowflake at the center of the world.

Sir, the problem is you. Just you. Those "phony" people making "small talk"? They're just being social, which for a lot of people is an end in itself. There's nothing wrong with that.

Get over yourself.
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 7:06 AM on February 24, 2006

Conversationally speaking is a good, practical book about talking with people. Lifeskills for Adult Children by the same author is similar but complementary to that book as in addition to the mechanics of conversation with others, it goes over effective ways to express yourself.
posted by blueyellow at 7:06 AM on February 24, 2006

Maybe instead of learning to be fake, you could learn to stop being a dick. Seems like all your other problems would then sort themselves out.
posted by Gamblor at 7:32 AM on February 24, 2006

It's pretty clear that you're not this much of a dick at work or else you'd be unemployed. Therefore, either:

1) You're actually quite pleasant and are pretending to be a dick here, or
2) You're actually a dick and are pretending to be pleasant at work.

Either way, I'd say you've got the whole "faking" thing worked out already.
posted by blag at 7:39 AM on February 24, 2006

Indio, I'mm going on the assumption that you don't understand why small talk is necessary.

If you had the choice of what to do with the day, would you choose to go to work, would you choose to surround yourslef with these people? Probably not. These sort of social skills are how people interact between the things they need to do during the day. It makes work habitable in that respect.

One of my favorite Robert Heinlein quotes explains this:
Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear. Honorifics and formal politeness provide lubrication where people rub together. Often the very young, the untraveled, the naïve, the unsophisticated deplore these formalities as "empty," "meaningless," or "dishonest," and scorn to use them. No matter how "pure" their motives, they thereby throw sand into machinery that does not work too well at best.

Understanding what the purpose of these interactions are will help you see that they are not "fake" but important.
posted by filmgeek at 7:50 AM on February 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Damn, filmgeek, that was worth five bucks (pounds, whatever) right there. Remind me to buy you a beverage at the next Philly meetup.
posted by fixedgear at 7:54 AM on February 24, 2006

I was a lot like indio1919 for a long time; in school, I was the sullen outsider, with just a few friends who were like me. Now, you'd never know. I'm known for being friendly, amiable and easy to work with. It's helped me hugely in my professional life, and frankly, I wasn't even trying to change, back then.

One thing that helped was working as a waitress for a couple of years. I learned to associate positive behavior with monetary reward. Smiling = tips. Yes, I faked it a lot, but it did something else - before too long, I wasn't faking it; I started to develop empathy for other people that I'd never had before. I hadn't really realized that most people are, essentially, all the same. They're all doing what they feel is best at the moment, trying to get through life with a minimum of pain and sadness. I learned that no matter how rude or abrasive someone is, you can nearly always find something about them to sympathize with, or something to admire. Pretty soon, you're not faking it anymore.

Also, socializing outside of work with people you wouldn't normally hang with can make a huge difference in how you see them. People can be immensely different when they're not under the stresses of a job.

An example, not based on a real person I know: that jerk you work with may really be fond of his puppy; you'd never know, to see him rolling around on the floor with the little furball, that he's the dick who tries to take credit for your ideas at work. He probably just feels insecure about his own ideas. Forming even a tiny bond with him, say, over your shared love of puppies, may bring him to your side, and at the same time, your not-so-secret internal hatred of him will show through much less.

Basically, people don't suck as much as you think they do - make it a game to find something you can like about everyone, and lots of bonus points for those few office buttheads when you get that first Monday morning "hello" from them. It really does get easier, and it's better than being fake, because people can tell fake from honest friendliness.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 7:58 AM on February 24, 2006

Developing Empathy in Children and Youth

Developing Empathy in Families [PDF]

Developing Empathy for the Opposite Sex

Indio, you have received some of the best advice of your life here. This could be a turning point for you. Or not.
posted by LarryC at 7:59 AM on February 24, 2006

"ok ive been busted my metafilters 'police' for saying a few unkind words in response to some poor advice but heh life goes on.....

Anyhow i keep forgetting this is mainly an American forum hence my bad attitude to inane replies.
posted by indio1919 at 9:35 AM EST on February 24 [!]"

indio1919, I, for one, didn't mean to "bust" you, and although I did use American works to illustrate my points above, I think they are broad enough for an English person who is genuinely looking for constructive advice to appreciate. I hope you will take my suggestions in the spirit of sincerity in which I assure you they were offered.

Because I am concerned for you, as genuinely as an older stranger, an ocean away, can be concerned for a near random contact on the Internet, on the basis of a very limited number of data points. In the short few months you've been a MeFi member, you've posted several times with topics and comments that are pretty negative in tone.

Now, I'm only a middle aged man, who has helped to raise a couple of boys as a divorced father, and who was once a fairly disaffected young man, himself. I've got no formal psychological training or professional credentials to put before you, as reasons for you to give weight to any advice I might give. All I've really got is this:

I read your words, and the hairs on the back of my neck go up. And, I wish, for your sake, they didn't.

Not everybody has to be a sunshine and daisies Pollyanna about life, and this planet would be a far less interesting place if civility was inviolate. But what I get from what you post here is that you need something we may not, as Internet folks only, be able to supply.

I'm serious about my suggestion you get some professional counsel, and I hope you will take the suggestion seriously. Walking around, feeling as you clearly do, must feel awful a lot of the time, but I think, with time and help, you can do better.
posted by paulsc at 7:59 AM on February 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Don't think of it as "fake." Think of it as "polite."

Miss Manners writes some excellent columns and books on how (and why) to be polite to others.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:27 AM on February 24, 2006

ok ive been busted my metafilters 'police' for saying a few unkind words in response to some poor advice but heh life goes on.....

Anyhow i keep forgetting this is mainly an American forum hence my bad attitude to inane replies.

I think I've found the problem. It's not that you can't be a phony, it's that you're a genuine fucking asshole.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:29 AM on February 24, 2006

The first thing you need to realize is that most things in life take effort.

I bring this up because I looked through your posting history on AskMe and, well, I'd guess you're one of those white twentysomething males who expect things to be handed to them on a silver platter. In other words, your questions are those of a lazy person who's not willing to put forth even minimal effort.

To that I say, grow up. Accept that success in life takes hard work.

Either that, or just continue to sulk in your little corner and acting like the world owes you SO MUCH MORE than you're getting, when that couldn't be further from the truth.

[on preview: I Love Tacos has it right.]
posted by elisabeth r at 8:34 AM on February 24, 2006

Being someone who used to absolutely abhor small talk, I can relate to this question, except that you seem very bitter about having to fake being pleasant, whereas I actually am rather pleasant, but can never remember details about the lives of others, which makes me feel and seem uncaring and inconsiderate, which I am not.

People like feeling cared about. They like it when you ask about their kids, follow up on that appointment they had for their cat at the vet, or inquire about the vacation they took. When I'm talking to someone about things like this, I am engaged in the conversation and interested, but the minute the conversation is over, I forget all of the details. Then I forget to ask after your Aunt's operation or your brother's swim meet, and I seem uncaring. And then someone else brings it up and I feel like a jerk.

What really helps me is writing things down on paper. It seems so silly, but it's the only thing that helps me sometimes. You should try it. Just write down things like 'Jill's daughter's driving test' or 'Matt-vacation' to jolt your memory. This must seem pathetic or calculating to someone for whom breezy small talk and a good memory for things of this nature come easily, but for me it doesn't, and I have to do something to help myself. It's helped me enormously.
posted by iconomy at 8:57 AM on February 24, 2006

Can we vote for a best answer? I like filmgeek's a lot.

And indio, you just sound selfish. If you think your job is all about you and what you can get out of it,, wait, you just sound dumb. Even IF you think your job is all about you and what you can get out of it, you'd know that you NEED people, and people require connection. Maybe you'd be better off in a lab or working with robots. I'm not trying to be mean-- I'm not big on smalltalk either-- but there comes a time where you have to face the fact that people are more than their production-capabilities. They have lives, sick little Jimmys at home, who knows what else, and they will work harder for you and with you if they think you care.

My suggestion? Go volunteer at a children's hospital reading books to kids. After a while you'll learn some compassion and care for others, and you'll find connecting with others a whole lot easier.
posted by orangemiles at 8:59 AM on February 24, 2006

Anyhow i keep forgetting this is mainly an American forum hence my bad attitude to inane replies.

Hi there! I'm English. Pleased to meet you. Let me say repeat what others have said in my best cynical, non-happy-clappy, gosh-aren't-those-Americans-stupid voice: most of these people are faking nothing. They are genuinely interested. At the very least, they don't go out of their way to actively and aggressively despise others, which I think may be where you're going wrong.

And hell, if you don't like small talk, make big talk. Instead of "how was your weekend", talk to them about the class struggle, or restoring vintage cars, or the modern re-emergence of magical realist fiction, or third world debt relief, or whatever the hell you find interesting. Read a newspaper in the morning to look for subjects; topicality greatly increases the shared interest factor. No, you might not find something you can both talk about straight away, but it shows that you're keen to talk about something; a bit of back and forth, and you'll find something you can both talk about without having to fake anything at all. Still can't think of anything to say? Congratulations, you've just proven to yourself that you're an unpleasant, self-centered twat.

Also, you have misunderstood the meaning of the term "grease monkey".
posted by flashboy at 9:01 AM on February 24, 2006

Well, if you read past all that criticism, here's my two cents.

I know this one guy, sort of a friend. He's the picture of fakeness. He always asks the "right" questions, seems to be interested, you know. First couple times you meet him, you think he's a really friendly guy, maybe a little politician-seeming, but nice enough. Until you realize that's as close as you get. He only takes an "interest" in you if he thinks it benefits him, and though he asks questions, it seems like he only listens so he knows when you shut up and he can talk some more. You can't be friends with the guy because he's a complete tool. Don't be that guy.

I know another guy, a pretty close friend. He can be damn misanthropic at times. Actually, no offense indio, but you remind me of him a little bit. He's really fun to be around as his friend, normally, but there are times when he pisses in people's Kool-Aid, so to speak, or just acts aloof. But he's learned that sometimes, you have to take an interest in others. Now I still think he's sort of a dick because he usually only does that when he gets something out of it, but still. He knows how to schmooze.

He looks people in the eye, he softens his voice, he tailors his replies to what the other person says, and if he sees them again, he tries to remember who the hell they are and what they do. He seems to care. He might or might not, I don't know, but the point is, I think you want to be this guy. (I won't judge whether I think that's good or not, but I'm sure it's an improvement, or you wouldn't've asked. So work at it.)

Best of luck. It's not easy, but it's doable.
posted by SuperNova at 9:12 AM on February 24, 2006

If you don't talk to people you don't know, how did you come to have the friends that you're currently being loyal to?
posted by willpie at 9:37 AM on February 24, 2006

I totally understand the anger directed at indio1919. He comes across as snobbish, insulting and uncaring. But his dilemma is real -- and it's shared by a large minority of people, me included.

I really like people, I have empathy, yet I'm shy, have trouble with smalltalk, and can easily become misanthropic. So I'm going to make some observations and explain how I've improved my social skills.

indio1919, as with you, it often seems to me like everyone around me is being fake. Many people in this thread are poo-pooing that idea, claiming that in reality pretty much everyone is genuine. I think the truth is more nuanced than they or we perceive. The world contains a mix of fakers and non-fakers. Some of the non-fakers sound fake (maybe because they are nervous); some of the fakers are really good actors -- so they seem real. Most people are genuine part of the time and fake part of the time.

When we communicate, some of us do so very literally. I'm very literal, so if I say, "How was your weekend?" I really mean, "How was your weekend?" And I'm asking because I'm really interested (I'm literal, so if I wasn't interested, I wouldn't ask.)

Other people talk on the level of (what linguist Deborah Tannon calls) meta-messages. When they say, "How was your weekend?", they may not LITERALLY care about your weekend, but they DO care about you. "How was your weekend?" is just their way of showing you that they care.

Socializing gets really complicated, because the literals and non-literals don't understand each other. To non-literals, the meta-message is SO obvious that they don't even think about it. They can't imagine that someone might NOT get it.

The literals want to scream, "If you're not interested in my weekend, don't ask me about it. If you want let me know that you care about me, why don't you just say, 'I care about you' instead of talking in a strange, round-about way?!?"

Being a literal, non-literal communication threw me for a long time. Someone would say, "How was your weekend?" and I would assume they were really interested. So I would launch into a long description of what I did. They WEREN'T really interested -- though they really care about me -- and I picked up on their disinterest. I would notice their attention wane. And I would think, "FAKE!" But they weren't being fake. We were just speaking two different languages.

Understanding this really helped.

But once I understood this, I was faced -- and I still face -- another problem. It's fine for a non-literal to say "How's your weekend?" and mean "I care about you," but that's REALLY hard for ME to do. If I say something other than EXACTLY what I mean, I FEEL fake. And I fear that I come across as fake.

On the other hand, I can't really go around saying, "I care about you." It's a little too direct and raw for acquaintances. (Which gives you a clue as to why people develop indirect ways of communicating.)

Truth is, EVERYONE is indirect -- even the most literal amongst us. If I say, "I'm buried under a mound of paperwork," I don't expect to be called a fake because I'm not literally buried under a mound of paperwork. What I DO expect is that we all share this idiomatic-indirect expression and can easily translate it into what it really means. You -- and I -- just haven't learned to do this naturally with "How are you, today?"

Recognizing that can help. You can turn yourself into an anthropologist. Pretend you're exploring the Congo. If you were, you wouldn't EXPECT people to speak your language.

Even though you and your co-workers are all in England, you and they don't speak the same language. You are an Anthropologist on Mars. Act like one. Study and learn. See if you can pass for a native.

Okay, now the hard part: due mostly to your tone, indio1919, some people hear are acting like if you don't really care about everyone you work with, you're a horrible person. Maybe I'm trying to protect my ego, but I can't accept that. The naked truth is -- although I have empathy -- it's not boundless. I really DON'T care about every stranger and every co-worker. At least not all the time.

I mean, I care about them in a general -- you're part of humanity -- way. But I don't care deeply, and I'm NOT interested in getting into conversations with them, and I don't care about what they did last weekend. And yet they seem to expect me to care. And if I FAKE caring, I sound phony and fear I will give myself away.

One way to deal with this is to just let yourself be phony. Truth is, most people DON'T pick up on it. Or if they do, they don't care all that much. They don't care about YOU all that deeply, either. They're just looking for that token, "How are you?" Just bite the bullet, give it to them, and move on. Yes, you'll feel phony, but that's better than running from the problem all the time. It solves the problem, and then you can get on with your work. And the more you do it, the easier it gets.

You can also behave like an actor. I'm a director, and I work with actors all the time. Professional actors don't try to be real or fake. They don't try to FEEL anything. Instead, they carry out actions. You can't force your feeling, but you CAN carry out actions. Actors are taught to express actions as infinitive verbs: my action is to steal, to seduce, to charm, to sell... They do this, because it makes their job on stage easier. They don't try to "be sexy," they just try to seduce; they don't try "to cry," they just try to hold back tears (even if you don't have any tears, you can still try to hold them back.)

So make an acting game out of it. Set an active goal for yourself: to charm, to seduce, to promote yourself, to schmooze, etc. You get 10 points each time you get a fellow player to smile.
posted by grumblebee at 9:54 AM on February 24, 2006 [4 favorites]

grumblebee, I have (notice the present tense) a friend that I love dearly that would always answer my question "How was your weekend" with a ridiculously detailed answer. She would not only tell me that she stopped at a shoe store, she would describe in detail every shoe that she tried on, and in what color, what size, and what heel height. Then she would tell me how much each shoe cost and in what color it came, and which shoes she had seen at other stores, and at what price difference. She would tell me which shoes she had bought, why she bought them, and what outfits she had at home to go with them. The she would tell me that after the shoe store she had gone to a clothing store, and the blow-by-blow description would start all over again. If she had gone to a party she would name every single person there, what they were wearing, how she knew them, what they discussed, etc. Needless to say, I wanted to kill her.

I endured a few months of these wrap-ups of hers every week, until one Monday I asked " How was your weekend, in 100 words or less?" and she laughed, because she talked everyone into the ground, not just me, and had obviously been told a few times that she just liked to hear the sound of her own voice. After that, she did cut down (a bit) on the details. Now when she launches into an excrutiatingly painful detailed account of what kinds of cheeses were in the last 10 tacos that she ate, I give her "the look" and she laughs and cools it.

"When they say, "How was your weekend?", they may not LITERALLY care about your weekend, but they DO care about you. "

That sums it up nicely.
posted by iconomy at 10:11 AM on February 24, 2006

It's pretty clear that you're not this much of a dick at work or else you'd be unemployed.

Oh, he's an ad exec. It's eminently possible, if not probable (I worked until very recently at an ad firm).

I was going to write an actual response, but grumblebee put it so unbelievably well. Show someone you care about them a little more than just the work they do, and it changes your relationship dramatically.
posted by mkultra at 10:53 AM on February 24, 2006

I dont like small talk and find chatting to people i barely know insincere and fake.

I think this pretty much sums it up. You "barely know" them because you apparently haven't put in any effort to get to know them. Small talk and chatting is part of that effort. Maybe after getting to know them, you'll decide you dislike them. To continue engaging in small talk with them then would be fake, but until you actually know them I don't think you can go ahead and make that call.
posted by juv3nal at 10:58 AM on February 24, 2006

Can we vote for a best answer? I like filmgeek's a lot.

grumblebee's was also a best -- lots of great stuff in this thread. Probably way over indio's head, though -- the kid doesn't even know about the apostrophe yet. Give him time.
posted by Rash at 2:13 PM on February 24, 2006

Grumblebee - That was excellent! Flagged - fantastic comment.
posted by horsemuth at 2:25 PM on February 24, 2006

I find it amusing to pretend that superficial social interactions are 'performance art'. It puts me in a wonderful frame of mind, and even boring situations become more interesting when I see them as fiction. The main thing I've learned over time is that people love to speak about themselves, so it actually requires very little effort to be fascinating...because you're listening.
posted by Julia Gill at 1:07 PM on February 25, 2006

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