15 November 2017

Advice for Social Moths


If you're not a "social butterfly", then chances are you're like me, a social moth.

Social moths are not recluses or hermits, and they're not antisocial. They're just people who, for whatever reason, aren't typically at their best in the company of a crowd. They may try too hard to get others to like them, or maybe they don't try at all. Or, as in my case, social gatherings make them feel like they're in a play where everyone else knows the lines and the choreographed moves, but they're clueless and ad-libbing and dancing badly while desperately hoping nobody notices.

If this is you, here are two things you can do to have an easier time:

Listen. Listen much more than you speak. When in conversation, ask the other person questions about what they do and what they're interested in. Not so many questions that you come off as creepy or prying, and obviously nothing super personal, either. There's a balance here that you'll have to get a feel for.

Try to draw them out with a series of questions that tie in to each other. This shows you've been listening, and you're drawing on what they've said previously in order to formulate your next question. For example, follow up a question about their new job or school with "How do you like it?" or "What would you change if you could?" (If that's relevant, of course.)

Do not fire out questions like a machine gun on full auto: "How's your new job? How's your family? What do you do for fun these days? What are your plans for the future? Are you seeing anybody?", etc. We all know people like this, and they sound more like talking wind-up toys than human beings. It's exhausting to be around them. Remember: you are having a conversation, not taking a survey or performing a cross-examination.

Always act interested in what the other person is saying, even if you're not. This isn't dishonest or disingenuous, by the way. It follows the principle of "acting the way you want to feel" (to use Gretchen Rubin's term for it), and you will feel much more present in the conversation if you show interest. You might even learn something new that does genuinely interest you.

I do this all the time -- not because I'm selfless or because I'm such a great listening ear, but because it takes the pressure off me to be entertaining and winsome. Meanwhile the other person is engaged in an activity they very much enjoy (talking about themselves), which makes them happy, and all the while they're unconsciously associating those good feelings with me. They leave the conversation thinking I'm a wonderful person, but I've done nothing at all except listen to them talk.

It's stupidly easy.

Next is...

Don't gossip. Not because it hurts others (it does) and not because you might pass along some bit of information that's exaggerated or flat-out untrue (you might). Not even because your listeners will suspect that since you're a gossip, you're probably also talking behind their backs (they will). You should, at all costs, refrain from gossip because...

It makes you boring.

There's a saying: "Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people." This is so very true. No matter how riveting the news itself might be, the price you pay for participating in gossip, as a gossiper or even just as an absorbed listener, is that you label yourself as small-minded and petty. Gossip does not show intelligence or intellectual curiosity. It also tells everyone that your own life has nothing interesting going on, so you have to live vicariously through someone else's. If you're a true social moth, then you have enough working against you as it is without adding this complication to the mix. It also leaves people out of the conversation who might not know personally the individual or situation being discussed, which is kind of a downer for them.

Expounding on ideas and theories is a far better bet and will make you sound highly educated, even if you're not. If that doesn't appeal or isn't appropos of your audience, then talk events -- whatever comes to mind. The world is a big place, and there's no lack of subject matter at hand: travel, entertainment, technology, favorite recipes, cars, the price of fuel oil, how to sell a house fast and make money on it (if anyone figures this one out, please let me know)... Even the weather works particularly well if you're in an area prone to hurricanes...

So there you have it. These two things are enough to make you interesting. Or at least, to make everyone think you are, which if you ask me, is good enough.

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