You know bud, if you’re interested, let’s be hackers and hack this social skill test. Can you give me a specific situation (or several) where you feel your social skills are lacking??
Let’s start off by testing your theory. I’m old enough to have known a lot of really wonderful people who think their social skills suck when they actually don’t - they’re just interested in completely different, non typical things.
From there, let’s go into strategies. Let’s start off with a social gathering hack. You’re at an event and don’t know many people. What do you do??
If you said “copious amounts of cocaine”, that’s a way but likely not the best way to cope. Instead, try approaching people who are speaking in groups of two. It can be a really simple approach (“Great bag!”/“I’m Greg!”/“Cheers!”/“There’s a dude with bad social skills chipping away at Mount Yay2 in the bathroom.”)
Smile, pause for a full count and walk away. If you were unwelcome, nobody worth knowing fucking cares. However, when you’re at an event and see two people talking, there’s a very very very high chance that one party wants out of the conversation. Be that out!!!
In fact, a really massive part of what people call social skills is really just about giving people ins and outs.
For example, don’t try to pick up romantic partners when they’re at work - they’re contractually obligated to listen to your shitty pick up lines. If you try to pick them up when they’re at work, they might not have an out - they likely can’t just quit their jobs on the spot.
Or when you’re in a meeting, make sure everyone else has three times the chances to speak that you do. Give their anxiety, perceived lack of social skills or whatever an in - make it easy for them. Things like this work:
“Hey btheshoe, we were talking about $x a couple of days ago and you had some excellent points.”
If it’s stuff like eye contact, focus on the person and the conversation. Smile, laugh and express interest with your eyes.
But now it’s your turn. What gets you every single time?? You’re in a safe place and I’m on your team. If this is a scary environment use hypotheticals or reach out directly, I’m Greg and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
> Instead, try approaching people who are speaking in groups of two.
I would advise to check body language first. If the duo are facing each other head-on, don't interject. If they're turned slightly outwards, like they're observing the crowd whilst talking, go for it.
I've had a couple of intense conversations broken up like this by someone standing there awkwardly, but then you also don't want to make them feel bad by telling your conversation partner "I'll finish the story later <turn> Hi!", etc.
This is helpful as it has three very useful examples for people who want to learn social skills.
1.) The tactic is action, action, count and action. Greet the couple, smile, count (“and one and”) and move on. That’s enough time to give someone an out. The tactic is not “stand there silently and stare.”
2.) Part of having social skills is knowing when and where to have intense conversations. If you choose to have an intense conversation at a place where people mingle, that’s really not very helpful.
3.) Again, most social skills are about giving people an out. If someone is standing there awkwardly, have some compassion. Ask yourself if you’re having the conversation in the right place and be kind. It sucks to be that awkward person standing on the fringes. Our job as nice adults is to make them feel incredibly welcome, even if it means having our intense conversations in private.
Greg, thanks for posting this, this is all very good insight especially about how to approach people with an opening. For many, that ability to know what to say does not come easily and your pointers are helpful.
I stuttered well into my high school years, didn’t have many friends and genuinely had to learn. Some amazing people helped me and it’s amazing getting to pay it forward. Thanks for the kind words friend - it’s amazing knowing some of my crap is helpful. :)
> Or when you’re in a meeting, make sure everyone else has three times the chances to speak that you do.
That rhymes with something I "deducted" lately: somebody at work just talks with no end. One of those persons that keep on talking even though you left the room, requiring you to do double turns because it is not socially acceptable to just leave a conversation.
One observation (shared by co-workers) is that talking to him alone (two person dialog), is actually quite bearable. He is definitely a smart guy and has a lot of interesting (if opinionated) things to say about basically every topic.
Where this becomes unbearable is in conversations with three or more participants. Once more than two people are in conversation the "alotted conversation time" per person immediately drops by a significant percentage (two persons -> 1:1, three -> 1:2, n persons -> 1:(n-1)).
tl;dr: A person that talks non-stop only uses double his "alotted speaking time" in a two person conversation, but that same person uses thrice his share once three persons converse.
First off, this is incredibly interesting and you seem like an unbelievably cool person. I’m serious - this is one heck of a great addition, I’m glad you shared and I really dig knowing that other people add numbers to social things too. :)
I’m going to figure out how to express my advice differently. Three times works well in a three person conversation but you’re right - it will start to fail when groups get bigger.
One consequence of that 1:(n-1) "rule" above is that at some point it basically does not make a difference anymore. The step from 1:1 to 1:2 is "huge" (2x vs 3x more than the alotted speaking time), but once more people are in the room every other person joining just changes the denominator by a tiny amount.
Isn't this called Autism (spectrum disorder)? I've heard stories about people coming of age suddenly realizing that people less intelligent then them are better at the social game, how can it be?? And then they realize it is something others are born with, others don't need to analyze and learn all the time.
A friend of mine on the spectrum recommended "The Tao of Badass" to me once, he tried to have some conversations on the bus after reading it, he said it worked for him, but still tired him out, he just didn't care. Makes smile, I'm sorry. I have no idea how it is, I was born with the skills, apparently.
FYI, I find this friend to be a fascinating person and a good friend. He hates change, he still lives with his parents pushing 40, but he is so real, so genuine, it's all I want in a friend. He'll never ask about my weekend, and when he does I feel it's fake (applying tricks from Tao of badass), he'll ask what my favorite thing was yesterday or how something makes me feel :D. But we can have passionate discussions about sci-fi or philosophy. He said he was called a high functioning autistic person, I joke that this means he is almost human. I got to know him at work, he could be exhausting, standing at my desk for literal hours asking questions. But I felt that I was a poor scientist if I couldn't answer them or explain why I couldn't answer them. He deeply appreciated that.
He works somewhere else now, I send him a message every now and them. I invited him to meet each other some time back. It was fun, he'll never contact me, but I don't mind.
>Isn't this called Autism (spectrum disorder)? I've heard stories about people coming of age suddenly realizing that people less intelligent then them are better at the social game, how can it be?? And then they realize it is something others are born with, others don't need to analyze and learn all the time.
I suspect aspergers is wide but not necessarily the definition of bad social skills. Social skills are easy to learn. They are skills and do require training like any other skill. If you've never had the opportunity to learn them, you will end up later in life realizing you need to learn them.
Saying "someone is just born with it" is called a fixed mindset approach. It sets you up for failure. I used to be hideous with talking to people, but I worked at it and, most importantly, _believed that I could improve_.
I agree with the importance of avoiding a fixed mindset, but, recognizing that some people are born with a skill and you are not does not mean that you can't become adapt at said skill (I went through something similar with math, although I still feel like I lost my fear of math rather than becoming really good at it)... Or find your own "way of the ninja" (sorry too much Naruto, thinking of Rock Lee ;) )
To take this a step further, we cannot control the regulation of our neurotransmitters to the degree of giving a person with autism social skills. That's just not how things work, so in a way it IS a bit fixed. We are fixed to the range of what we are born with, unless we use some sort of pharmacological intervention.
When it comes to autism and social skills, some interesting treatments may come from mu-opioid receptor agonists and antagonists
To answer this you need to look to genetics and epigenetics. Those are the hard limits, and I would advise against making assumptions before you do consult experts on gene and receptor protein regulation. Those are the mechanisms that underlie the adaptive features of an organism (humans are organisms)
We have no way of knowing someone’s full potential and how close one is to making full use of it. But I think we can agree that it will be the people that try hard that will win more, relative to peers with the same potential that don’t.
Acknowledging that some people picked up a skill with little effort and others will need to put in a lot of effort is important.
Often, the people who picked up a skill as if born with it are good at the skill, but unprepared to teach it. You may need to seek out people who learned it intentionally and became experts with awareness.
You don't necessarily get better at <thing> by just routinely doing the <thing>. If you drive mostly the same route every day for ten years, you'll hardly become any better driver. If you keep adding similar boilerplate bulk code by routine in your work, you'll hardly become any better programmer. You don't become more socially skilled through social interaction if you just do the routine things to get by.
To learn things well, you need feedback loops. To learn from your social interactions you need to
a) get the feedback. Not smelling bad is a basic social skill. Yet many people smell bad because nobody tells them that they smell bad. What are the ways you could get more feedback? Is there somebody you could ask to tell you what to do better?
b) interpret the feedback and care about the feedback. Some people are better than others in interpreting subtle social cues (nuances of words and expressions, etc); they will naturally get better in social skills faster. Some people are more open to feedback and willing to improve than others (e.g. Not going "she doesn't like the way I smell, huh? Oh well, I'll forget about it"). Fortunately, these meta-skills can be improved; just accepting that they are important is a good first step.
Totally agree on the importance of feedback - another idea (a little expensive, but I'm assuming the OP has resources) is a coach/therapist/etc. Doesn't even need to be social-skills-focused. Anyone in that work obviously has above average social skills, and they want to help you. If you make it clear that it's a priority, and ask some specific questions like literally "Could I do anything to smell better?" to "Is my haircut/resting face/T-shirt off-putting?" they will do their best to gently guide you.
Even a trainer at the gym could probably do it, which might feel more comfortable and probably easier to schedule. A little exercise never hurts, and the gym is a great way to just be around people and practice all sorts of brief interactions. You probably won't find your best friend there, but that's exactly what makes it low-stakes and a great place to start.
Another "first step" place to practice social skills is in the Open Source Software community. It sounds like you (OP) are familiar with the technical part of coding broadly defined, so it's an opportunity to be 80% in your comfort zone while experimenting with a bunch of human interaction. I'm reminded of this because HN's front page currently has a nice guide to interacting in the OSS community: https://polite.technology/preview
You'll want to eventually graduate to things like body language, but if you get a little lucky you might be able to build some comfort with people through e.g. Github and then take another step into video chats and, if you're really lucky, in person someday. Even if the 'in person' people end up being different OSS people than you worked with digitally.
In my experience the key to social interaction is the ability and willingness to focus on how the other person might feel about what is happening right now. Or to put it another way, putting yourself in the other person's shoes.
To be an expert is to even listen to your own words as you say them and make a judgement about what others are hearing. It helps to have an encyclopedia like memory of the circumstances and events in the lives of those you interact with. And, to understand what it must be like to be, say, a frail old lady.
Sounds impossible? You are probably right. Most of us struggle with those things. Some have it naturally. For some reason women tend to be better than men.
Can you learn it? Yes, but like learning chess, you won't be a grand master. Just get out amongst people and practice.
As a start, people love to feel better about themselves. Look for opportunities to build them up. If people say something stupid, say nothing if you can't say something kind. If you leave a conversation having made someone else feel better, count that as a win.
Hope that helps.
As for me, I have had chronic fatigue for about 5 years. Before that I communicated pretty well. Since then I find the mental exercise required exhausts me, which is how I have become so conscious of it.
The book is a bit dated, but it really has some good nuggets in there. My biggest take-away is that people really only want to talk about themselves (and being genuinely interested is a great way to get them to talk).
There was a story in the book about a guy who went to a dinner party and sat next to some other lady and let her talk. When asked about the guy the next day, she said he was the most interesting person she ever met - and he never told her anything about himself, just let her talk about herself.
I had a similar experience. I spent a few years in a more social setting with normies (not tech folks). It wasn't this, but think of a gym trainer who works with people in small groups. That is, it isn't 1:1, but it's small and personal, and you see mostly the same folks regularly. It was super challenging for me, a tech nerd introvert who has a hard time carrying on a conversation. But I really am genuinely interested in people, and that really helped.
When I met someone, I'd always ask what they do or something like that. And no matter what someone says, I always have a question about some detail of their job that 1) I'm genuinely interested in and 2) no one ever would think to ask about. People just light up when you ask a question like that. There was a truck driver who came in, and I asked how the shifting works in a big rig (yes, there are you tube videos that will show you that, but talking to someone about it is more interesting). There was a nurse and I asked how she managed visiting a ton of patients over a shift. If a tech nerd came in, I had enough back ground to ask a technical question, not the typical boring stuff that other people ask. The key is to find something that I was interested in (easy for me) that related to a detail of their life. People love to talk about themselves. Don't pepper them with questions like it's an interrogation, just try to learn about them.
I once heard someone talking about me outside of the group about how "smart" I was because I could talk to anyone about anything. That's not true, I let them talk and I just learned about their life. It just gave the impression that I knew a lot (like the guy at the dinner party who was "interesting"). I'm no longer in that job anymore, but I still hang out with many of the clients as real friends now because of the connections we made.
I think the other part of this is to consciously not talk about yourself. Since you're a human, you will really want to talk about yourself (just like everyone you meet!) and if you don't curtail it you will talk too much and not let them talk. But if you think about not talking about yourself, you'll just let enough slip that it won't feel one-sided. That is, if it feels two-way to you, it's probably more one-way you talking to them too much. But if it feels like you're not contributing much, then it will feel like a real two-way conversation to someone else. This doesn't mean be awkwardly silent or avoid talking or answering any of their questions, that would come off as weird. Just try to feel like you're not saying much, it will feel like the right amount to the other person.
Sorry for the long post, I just identified with how you're feeling and I had a situation that turned it around for me, and I figured comment.
1) be genuinely interested in people
2) let them talk about about themselves
It's not. I think you just need to go out more. Social skills are not improved by spending all your time indoor in front of your computer playing with the latest cool new framework, or learning about ML from youtube or grinding leetcode for that next fancy job or playing videogames or watching Netflix.
IMHO social skills are easy to pick up, and that's coming from an introvert, you just need to put yourself out there as much as possible in as many new situations as possible, even though that means you'll miss out on the latest tech developments/opportunities or that latest Netflix show.
Basically you need to constantly keep venturing out of your usual routines and comfort zones and you need to be OK with failing at a lot of those new endeavors since there's no one size fits all formula for success here. You need to find your own way and pe prepared to feel exhausted a lot.
I think tech workers are most affected by this because of the SW dev culture both in workers and in employers that have normalized this FOMO driven, "carrot dangling on a stick", need to keep up with the latest tech developments or grind leetcode or you'll face the risk of becoming outdated and be overtaken by more ambitious new-grads, or be offshored, or just miss out on the more lucrative career opportunities, which is not helped by ageism and old-tech-stack-ism discrimination when hiring, plus crazy long multi stage interview sessions, take-homes assignments and what have you, that massively eat into your free time whenever you switch jobs, so these people are most likely the ones who have spend their prime years mostly indoor in front of a screen working away on code and algos, chasing that top dream job, instead of "out-there" working with people.
> so these people are most likely the ones who have spend their prime years mostly indoor in front of a screen working away on code and algos, chasing that top dream job, instead of "out-there" working with people
Who is to say one is strictly better than the other? Sitting indoors in front of a screen for a few years can set you up for life.
>That's a big "just". It takes a lot of time and effort that you might want to spend elsewhere
That's true for everything in life as the amount of hours in a day and the amount of days in your life is finite, so it depends on your priorities where you choose to allocate your time and effort.
Do you want to chase a top dev career and money? Fine, but don't complain you lock social skills. Do you want to chase social interactions, traveling and partying? Also fine, but don't complain you can't land a top career.
>Who is to say one is strictly better than the other?
Where did I say that one is better? My point was to exemplify that prioritizing one thing (SW career for example) for multiple years has a consequences of leaving you behind in other areas (social contacts and experiences).
>Sitting indoors in front of a screen for a few years can set you up for life.
True, and maybe it does, but what if it doesn't due to other factors out of your control and it was survivorship bias at play so you spent your prime years chasing wheelchair wealth instead of enjoying the years and experiences that are never coming back? You can't go back to the high-school or college parties you missed out on, if you're set up for life in your 30's. Time waits for no man and there are no guarantees in life. Even the whole "set up for life" allegory can be a wild goose chase, as unless you have full health and fuck you money, you're never really set-up for life.
Again, neither approach is bad or wrong, but it's important to constantly evaluate the consequences and drawbacks of your choices and make corrections when necessary to make sure you stay on track of doing what makes you happy and not get stuck mindlessly running on a hamster wheel chasing a carrot on a stick till you drop dead because of FOMO or pressure from society.
E: your edited in last paragraph is basically what I'm trying to say.
> That's true for everything in life as the amount of hours in a day and the amount of days in our life is finite so it depends on your priorities where you want to allocate your time
This is exactly my point. I think having decent/passable social skills is very beneficial, but I also know that having an active social life is very time consuming. Maybe OP only needs to do this for a short time to build up some skills he can use in future.
I don't think we disagree, I'm trying to point out the same thing you are. That you can't have it all.
> Where did I say that one is better? My point was that prioritizing one thing (SW career) for multiple years has a consequences of leaving you behind in other things (social contacts and experiences)
I felt it was implied that this was a poor choice compared to being more social. I also agree there are no guarantees. Personally, I'm naturally less social and more interested in my personal growth, so I'm not particularly bothered by not socializing a lot. I think it's very dependent on your personality.
> so these people are most likely the ones who have spend their prime years mostly indoor in front of a screen working away on code and algos, chasing that top dream job, instead of "out-there" working with people.
God damn, this is the cherry on top for an entire post that was a pile of borderline condescending platitudes.
This hand wavy advice of just going “out there” and interacting with people is unhelpful. Out where? Be specific. Changing where you are isn’t going to fix your problem. You’ll just end up going out to do things you don’t really care about or like just so you can get some interaction with people you may not have much in common with. And when you get tired you’ll just go back home and do the solitary anti-social things you actually enjoy and be your real self again. Pretending to be an extrovert will do you no favors in discovering how you actually want to socialize.
To really learn social skills, you first have to start with what do you hope to gain from having them? Then you can work backwards and figure out how to get there. Many times it doesn’t even have to involve going “out there”. Some of the most intense socializing I’ve done was during the COVID lockdowns of 2020.
>[...]an entire post that was a pile of borderline condescending platitudes.
This hand wavy advice of just going “out there” and interacting with people is unhelpful[...]
I can't speak for you and there's no way for me to know what hobbies you have in order to give you precise advice for what you should do with your life. Nor do I know exactly where you live, what your culture is like in terms of socializing, and what social opportunities you have in your area. Nor is it my responsibility to do that for you.
So my post was intentional like that as it's up to you to figure out where exactly "out there" you need to go to fulfill your goal of improving your social skills as I can't do it for you.
I can try to help out with my haphazard guide to social skills that I’ve picked up from my experiences. This is tailored to the biases most nerds have towards social interactions.
1. Stop trying to make sense of everything people do in social situations using logic. There is a deeper logic to most things people do however you are much better off imitating what others do at first. And then observing and taking feedback. Social situations unfold too quickly to use logic and thought. Practice the rest consciously till they become habit. Start with a few at a time.
2. Pay attention to how you dress, how you speak. Observe other popular people around you and try to imitate their mannerisms and sense of style.
3. Break the above rule sometimes so you stand out and people remember you for something. Steve Jobs understood this very well. Cultivate a sense of style and keep putting it out.
4. Whenever you are interacting with another person stop thinking about yourself too much. You should be absorbing everything you can about the other person. Their goals, their hopes, their dreams, their fears. Obviously you do it step by step and don’t escalate to these directly.
5. Invite people you want to get closer to for meals, dinners or just to hang out. Find common interests and hobbies to establish rapport. Have a social calendar going to regularly have interactions with the key people in your life.
6. Understand how status and power run most of our world. Understand the pressures that managers and people in power face so you can anticipate what they will do. You will survive even if you are not very effective if you don’t create headaches for those in charge
7. Learn to stand your ground without being confrontational and cleverly diffusing conflict using poise and language.
8. Stay calm and collected. Never be too desperate.
9. Visibility is the name of the game. Nobody can care about you if they don’t know you exist.
10. Never underestimate the power of an emotional appeal.
11. Never under estimate peoples deep felt need to feel validated by and connected to other people. The more genuine it feels the better.
12. Try not to be too in your face or public about your ambitions. Try to avoid open competition or making enemies wherever possible.
13. Everything in the world is one irrational monkey deciding to enter into an exchange with another irrational monkey.
14. The irrationality comes from the lower brain. It’s well understood that people have very poor defenses against this generally. Putting a pretty woman on a bill board is dumb but it works. I know that Axe Body spray will not result in women swarming all over me but it’s the only mens spray brand that I can even remember. The lower brain cares about tasty food, beautiful scenery, safety and warmth, status and validation, sex, power etc.
15. Meditate to get your lower brain under control. Understand how others lower brains can lead them astray and short circuit most rational calculations. Politicians understand this very well.
16. Remember things and topics of conversation about the people you meet and ask about those things about them next time you meet. Even if you know how things are going, or it's boring, It's polite and it shows you care enough to remember and ask.
At that point, I may as well give up. I can continue where we left off once the other person brings up the subject, but being the one to correctly remember which conversation went with which person is not a game I expect to win.
I recently started to write down a couple of notes after talking to people. It sure feels a little weird, like a sketchy salesman, but it might come in handy to read these before engaging in conversation with a person in the future. Especially when you have multiple circles where you meet many people occasionally.
"Whenever you are interacting with another person stop thinking about yourself too much. You should be absorbing everything you can about the other person. Their goals, their hopes, their dreams, their fears. Obviously you do it step by step and don’t escalate to these directly."
With the absolute phrasing of "Whenever you are interacting with another person" I strongly have to disagree.
It is very important to learn how to protect yourself from other peoples "goals, hopes, dreams, fears" unless you really want to connect to that person.
True human connection comes, when both sides are interested in a connection and not if one or both sides are faking interest.
True human connection is an special event. Most of your life, you need to be able to go about your day, while everybody else is also going about their days. Most people are not interested in a two sided connection with you specifically - they have other people that they are already spending energy and effort in connecting.
Superficial connections are the bread and butter of socialization.
I don't entirely agree with this one. IMO it's better to learn to make your point(s) correctly and concisely, and if possible with authority, but also periodically check yourself to see if the matter is worth arguing about and that you're not just repeating yourself. Sometimes it's better to just disengage, especially when the stakes are low (at social events rather than work).
> But 18 years of human interaction and I'm still missing out on social skills apparently. It's like everyone else has a degree in all these unwritten rules that I'm just supposed to know.
It's very hard to answer your question due to a lack of context. Maybe, you just need more practice. I also wasn't very good at social interactions but got a lot better once I was a cab driver for a few years during my studies. But maybe your brain is relatively better at other things than social interactions. For example, it is known that people who score high on the autism spectrum have trouble reading emotions. You are probably the best person to judge which of these suggestions is more likely or whether something else causes you missing out on social skills. If you find that missing out on social interactions have a negative impact on your life and you don't think that you can fix it yourself, then consider talking to a therapist.
Why is ML easier than social skills? I think because social skills hit your emotions.
With that said—some advice.
2 types of social skills:
1 - Approach
2 - Long term / friendship / partnership
Both are very different. I'm good at the first, but not great at the second.
For the first:
1 - Make sure you are healthy and getting healthier. Fitness first. (I recommend Partner Acrobatics—and once strong enough BJJ. These are also social. Best path to strength is through gymnastics). Get a personal trainer if you can.
2 - Learn to get over rejection. It will happen a bunch—by both males and females. A lot of people—especially older, already have friends. They don't need more.
3 - Join hobby-based groups. What do you really like? Do it with a group. Find a group. And make sure you really like what you do. The energy you give off will bring people to you.
For the long term:
1 - Time management is crucial.
2 - Invite people over for dinners
3 - Make sure you plan lots of activites
4 - Make sure you can view social events on your calendar app so you fill every day
5 - Learn to listen.
6 - Learn to follow up with people about really meaningful events / people / projects in their lives and call/see them every 3 months or less. Ideally you can find someone you talk to every day :) And then an ever growing number of people in the other buckets.
Normally, I don't comment on Hacker News, but this one hits a bit close to home.
Growing up, I had terrible social skills. It wasn't until 18 that I decided I wanted to change that, the source of my motivation being a good friend of mine who was incredibly social and charismatic; everyone seemed to love him, especially women, while I was mostly unsatisfied with life.
Today, I feel like an entirely different person. I think the key to that was the focus I placed on improving. It's tempting to read about how to improve socially, and it does help at first, but there's only so much you can read before you actually have to go out and test things for yourself.
The first step is that you must honestly believe that this is something that you can get better at. After that, it's all about running through the cycle of getting ideas (either from others or thinking up new ideas for yourself), testing them out, and seeing how well they worked.
There are different ways to be social or charismatic. Don't think you have to copy someone else's style exactly. Although it may be helpful to try out something they do that you think is effective. If it feels good, keep doing it. If it doesn't feel good, ask yourself why.
Being mindful of how you're feeling and how the people you're interacting with are feeling is a part of the puzzle that's worth mentioning, as well.
This topic is such a complex one that it's hard to write a response that I feel good about right here. I'm going to have to write a blog post about this.
I'll leave you with one final message: as daunting as the task of improving your social skills seems, it's worth the effort. It's one of the best decisions that I've ever made. Life, after all, is almost entirely dealing with other people.
There is some good advice here, so take this as an "in addition to", not an "instead of".
It may be worth checking if you are neurodivergent in some way. A number of people close to me have had mid-life realisations that they are on the ASD and/or ADHD spectrums.
Naturally not everyone that struggles with social skills will be neurodivergent, and vice-versa. But there is some degree of correlation so it may be worth considering.
Oddly, TikTok has been a pretty accurate diagnosis tool. If TikTok shows you a number of very relatable neurodivergent-related videos then that may be a useful starting point. If it just shows you a bunch of dancing people, then ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
None of the answers I see writes about the main currency of social people: looks. Go to the gym and get to the top 50 percentile of people there (be able to do 15 pull ups, 40 push ups). When you get older this will get much harder, so use your youth to maximize your genetic potential. It will be boring, but most people do boring stuff all their lives.
There are of course other aspects of looks as well, try to get into the top 50% in all of them, and then try socalizing.
As a long time nerd, programmer since 13, no habitual interest in sports/gym... I started going to gym for over a year now.
There is another benefit than the looks. Your default energy level is higher, you become more resistant to cold and heat changes. Your heart/lungs can handle stress better. Overall contributing to better outlook of confidence.
I'm doing about 15 diamond pushups at an age of 39, and I feel more my wrists than my shoulders. I'm doing it slowly and carefully, but to tell you the truth I'm too lazy for warmups, I'll have to do that more.
Most of people don't have problems with it at all. If you have it's possible you have some undiagnosed problems related to autism spectrum (like Asperger's Syndrome). Many of them are completely undiagnosed in childhood and results in severe difficulties when interacting with other people in adulthood. The best way would be to consult with a psychologist. Or at least read up on this and try to self-diagnose.
> But 18 years of human interaction and I'm still missing out on social skills apparently.
Also consider who told you this.
I'm well liked but I have had my doubts because some people constantly make a big fuzz of nothing. When I look back at it after 7 years I realize I was significantly more well behaved than the person picking on me.
Furthermore, something I made note of from minor celebrity around here. He said something like: once I earned my first million people started taking me seriously. Maybe the same is true for social skills?
This would also rhyme with the old Jewish/Yiddish(I think?) saying that "With money in your pocket, you are wise and you are handsome and you sing well too."
Finally: make note of who your friends are now, who helps you or at least is a reliable friend.
Another consideration is whether the OP should change their context, even radically. For example, I found it way easier to make friends in the suburbs until I had a kid. If I didn't plan on having a kid, I shouldn't have moved to the suburbs. I'm not sure any amount of charm would have helped my integrate into the kid-centric culture.
I'm generalizing about 'the suburbs' of course - there are many axes on which to evaluate the social scenes of many different areas, so it's just about finding the right fit. maybe move across the country to live in the same town as your best friend, and build from there.
Personal hygiene, make sure to look at people's face and eyes when interacting. Show genuine interest in other people, make the effort, remember their name, pay attention to what they share. Don't assume what other people think or know, or put them in buckets based on previous interactions with other people (or based on their appearance). Be aware of subtle social cues and emotional states, including ones you're giving out. Being aware of common behavior patterns, including maladjusted personality traits also helps (https://outofthefog.website/traits).
> Show genuine interest in other people, make the effort, remember their name, pay attention to what they share.
When I do all of the things you mention, they are very intentional. For example, during conversations I actively think to myself, "I need to remember this so I can bring it up next time I talk to them because that is a nice thing to do and will make you friends, which are nice to have." It gets easier over time, as I "train" myself in good social behaviors like that, and I think I'm decent at it now. But it definitely felt like a skill I was actively putting effort into developing around my early 20s and it still feels like a very intentional and high-effort activity to this day.
One thing I often wonder is if other people so intentionally think about their social interactions this way, or if it's just something that "most" people do by nature, and my behavior reflects some deviation from average in myself.
- for some reason after teenagehood, nobody wants to talk about things explicitely. Whatever you really feel, gets under the rug and you fake your way through the day
- ironically, it seems that we are very much exactly the same (need for recognition, acceptance, fear, desire for a space to express your self, low judgement, need to feel valueable.. which is probably a mirror of a fear to be lonely.. having a role secures your position in the social tissue)
- people aren't books or things, you cannot run experiment on them until you understand.. everything is variable and coupled (quite the opposite of scientific experiments :)
somehow my social skill theory is: people are kids, they don't know what to do and will overreact under emotional stress.. If you read the situation like this and realize that most only wanted a cool day and no problems in the first place you may be able to interface with them in better ways.
I would guess you have a lot more social skills than machine learning skills in an absolute sense, it's just that in a relative sense you're a lot better than the average person at machine learning and a lot worse at socialising, this is because for many humans, socialising is one of the few skills they spend any significant effort in mastering.
The amount of brain mass you have dedicated to socialising is still significantly more than the amount dedicated to ML. The rest of the advice in the thread can help you improve your skill in socialising, but just know that in a world where than skill is very popular and many have been working almost exclusively on it since a young age, you're unlikely to achieve relatively high skill levels compared to others. You should figure out which social goals you even want to achieve first.
My theory is that everyone starts off with the assumption that other people work like they do and, in the vast majority of cases, this is true so learning is easy. e.g. if you care about these annoying unwritten rules yourself, then it's easy to follow them. If you're one of the people who finds this annoying, you probably also don't care when other people break them, and then you have to learn by observation alone, which is much more difficult. In machine learning terms, their models are pre-trained, to a degree, out of the box, and yours isn't. What I don't understand is why this seems to so often coexist with a mind that can learn machine learning off of Youtube.
> What I don't understand is why this seems to so often coexist with a mind that can learn machine learning off of Youtube.
I'm curious as well if there is a correlation between practicing meta-cognition and these issues. My experience being on the spectrum and having communication difficulties with neurotypical folks has had me at times trying to diagram where we are getting stuck then realizing the other person is flabbergasted by the fact that I am trying to form a map of a conversation or conflict... How naive to think that communication issues must be a me thing, or even a translation issue, when many times people aren't willing to unpack their own positions/mental models/biases
On the other hand, being able to doodle complex process diagrams, and reflect on cognitive structure and bias is arguably more useful for machine learning than navigating my own emotional world (though I do wish i were 100% bot)
The best world is one in which everyone had is willing to unpack their positions, the second best is one where those of us who can are able to build a bridge, at least in polite conversation, to those who can't/won't
Serious suggestion: have you tried watching YouTube videos and reading books on acquiring social skills? You did, after all, make some effort, however haphazard, to pick up ML. You might start with Charisma on Command's free videos  or How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. 
Not exactly offering advice to acquire social skills, but I'd like to offer some perspective: I believe that social skills are only the means to an end, not an end in itself. Thinking of it in the same vein as "getting a degree" is probably wrong! Unless you are looking to be some kind of "social coach", you are much more likely to be wanting these skills to get along better with other people. And I think what this entails differs in different social settings! There are plenty of self-absorbed people that get along splendidly.
Again, not offering practical tips, just warning against thinking of social skills as some kind of game to master.
Keep trying. If you’re like me, the first 18 years will be the hardest. It will feel like trying to learn a game where the rules are continually changing. The gap between how a 12 year old communicates and how a 15 year old communicates is massive. Once you reach adulthood, the rules stabilize. This gives you a chance to catch up.
A huge factor in what we think are your "social skills" is actually our subconscious programming.
A lot of the time, when we "try to improve our social skills", we are consciously trying and change/control the things we say and do, whereas the things that people are responding to are things we have no conscious control over or even awareness of, such as our eye movements, facial/hand/body tics, posture, breathing, and other very subtle signals in the way we speak and engage with others.
Years ago I spent quite some time trying to consciously improve my social skills - including the kinds of techniques taught in the "pickup" community back in the mid 00s when The Game came out. It got me nowhere, and I hated how manipulative it felt.
Later I discovered some subconscious emotional healing techniques. I've been undertaking them consistently for nearly 10 years, and things just keep getting better steadily. I haven't worried about consciously trying to be better socially, other than just generally being polite and attentive to people, but my relationships have all improved.
(That said, I've also become a better programmer, and better at working in teams, as I've become less anxious and better able to work through challenges and obstacles without getting flustered).
Not Op, but had a similar realization (i.e. there are days where I'm awkward & don't connect ever though I spend conscious effort; and days where I'm a social butterfly without trying at all; therefore, conscious effort is at best uncorrelated). I do is what I'd describe as "taking care of myself", which means in part adapting good habits such as doing sports, sleeping enough, eating good, but also to be kind to myself: let me be lazy sometimes, do what I set out to do, and treat myself with positive experiences that have no deeper meaning (paradoxically, they do make a difference long term). You become more relaxed and happy with yourself, and you're more content, allowing you to "give" more in relationships without the other person having to do anything, which is greatly appreciated generally, and readily returned. The most important factor of all though is mindfulness meditation, everything else follows from it in my experience.
It's not hard, it's just not what you're talented towards and what you absorbed as a child.
You can absolutely learn it, just like a people person can learn machine learning: Slower, methodically and with lots of repetition. And IMHO it's generally worth it even if you won't ever be a master. Nerds with social skills do have a superpower there.
I'm 39 now and I'd say by now I'm reasonably competent even though I'm a bit on the spectrum like most of us.
Here are the resources that taught me 80% of the basics taken together:
- How to win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie)
People give instructions for machine learning, but they don't do this for social skills in general. Instead, they expect you to just pick it up assuming you had normal socialisation in your teens.
I personally learned more about social skills in my 30's than I did before. But this was honestly because I moved countries, and folks just told me some of the rules and folks tell me if I'm acting too... "off". Luckily, folks now also expect me to be a bit strange, which helps too.
Now, some folks have suggested simply going out more. This does help to a point - just make it something you are interested in doing so it is easier to talk about it. But also consider things like anxiety (it'll make you feel like you aren't doing it right) or that you are missing social cues: I have an niece that went to a therapist to learn this and if you think it might be something like this, I fully endorse this.
One aspect of learning anything is that you have to risk making mistakes.
Possibly, in your mind you view the cost of making mistakes in social situations to be much greater than the cost of making mistakes in machine learning.
Mess up in machine learning, and you just kill the process, fix the code and run it again. No one needs to know. Mess up in a social situation and every one will find out, you will be judged harshly and they will think of you as a failure and will never let you forget it.
The key to getting over this is to teach yourself that actually making mistakes in a social situation is no big deal and people are actually pretty forgiving. The only way to teach yourself this is to take that risk and find out for yourself.
We don't have enough information to help you. But, you should know that for most people social skills come somewhat intuitively. Some folks (and probably a lot of Hacker News users) have to actively cultivate and manually think through social interactions a bit more than the general public. If you think you're bad at social interactions, there may be a few things going on:
- You're not actually that bad at them, but they do make very anxious. Because you see that social interaction does not make other people quite so anxious, you assume you're doing something wrong.
- You're actually not very good at social interaction.
- Some combination of the two.
Anyhow, the best thing to do is try to assess what category you fit into. Find some friends you trust who can actually give you objective advice, and most importantly, be calm and confident enough that people will actually tell you the truth. For many people, a difficult question such as "Am I really awkward socially?" can be just as difficult to answer as "am I fat?" ie, most people will not really answer that question honestly, because the average person would only ask that question for the purposes of being reassured. The point here is to try to foster a conversation with someone who knows you well, who might be brave enough to give you honest advice.
I mention anxiety specifically, since anxiety can short-circuit most social interactions. If you're worrying about how you're coming off, then you're not focusing on the other person. And if you're not focusing on the other person, then anyone would be liable to misread and misunderstand. Take cues, ask questions, and make the conversation more about them than about you. That will get you a long way. Most people are will to forgive minor social faux pas if you're kind, if you're genuinely interested in talking to them.
If you're only 18, then I have good news for you: you're not finished learning about yourself, or about people, and you're almost certainly going to be much more socially capable in your future. Just maybe not your immediate future. :)
In one sense, social skills are incredibly complex, it has been argued that the actual reason we grew such large brains was to make complex societies possible, not to solve practical problems.
On the other hand, social skills come naturally to most people, like learning to walk or talk, so normally it takes no effort at all. But because it's natural and innate, if you're not wired for it, you can imagine how hard it would be to learn to walk - I mean it took until very recently until we managed to build walking machines.
As to advice, the only way to learn is exposure. Spend a lot of time with people and try to mimic their behaviour.
> It's like everyone else has a degree in all these unwritten rules that I'm just supposed to know.
They do. While you were learning whatever you spent the last 18 years learning, they were learning the social hierarchy game. Most people, even here, don’t like breaking the taboo of acknowledging that we’re an hierarchical species, which is why there are so many seemingly unwritten rules. Robert Cialdini and Robert Greene are a couple good authors to look at. The latter basically makes his living writing down unwritten rules.
My guess is you don’t have much of a problem getting along with other young men who share your interests. I’m probably wrong, but I’m hearing “how do I get a girlfriend?” That’s a complex subject and many books have been written on the subject going back millennia. As with most everything, one good way to learn is to make friends with someone who is successful at it and watch and learn. Essentially it boils down to practicing the art of persuasion, which assuredly can be learned. Practice, practice, practice. Learn to thrive on rejection and take it with a grin.
Oh, and don’t be annoying. Learn the social cues people give for annoyance and the moment you see them stop whatever annoying thing you were doing. If your mere presence is annoying then as others have suggested, work on your hygiene and appearance first.
I think the key, from someone like me a bit latin, living in Asia where everyone is a bit muted and shy, is to think of others a bit more. What do they want, what can lighten their burden, what can make them feel a bit better even if it's not in the greater interest, rational or even moral ?
Sometimes it's telling a joke, sometimes it's making a sacrifice, sometimes it's a white lie, often it's just a smile to show them they're not alone. When you understand that to get others to work for you, the fastest is to work for them, things get much easier.
The worst people in this are usually too intelligent (difficulties to understand weakness), too correct (difficulties to embrace mistakes and roll with them), too strict (difficulties to think outside paved roads), too afraid (difficulties to take a stand when they should) or too moral (difficulties to ignore little infrigments). Be less of those and maybe you'll improve ? You also can make the best friends by making the right ennemies, I've noticed (usually by going against people like I quoted - maybe people like you, you can get others to be attracted to yourself)
Comfort yourself in the knowledge that for most of the population, it's the other way around. We're all gifted in our own ways, and we need every "type" for a functioning society.
Plus, if things get too wild, and we're facing societal collapse, are at the brink of a robot uprising - at leas you are able to program a backdoor for the robots to ignore you. No amount of social skills will persuade a robot ;-)
It's a matter of upbringing and whether you are dominantly a logical/thinking type or an intuitive/feeling type.. if that makes sense. Don't worry about being inferior, there's no better or worse in life, there's just better or worse adapted to a certain situation or task.
You are just 18, still a teenager, don't worry, you'll pick up social interaction soon enough. Also there's no social interaction that is generally _the_ one way to behave. A part of mastering it for you may also be finding _your_ people, with whom you can vibe, so to speak.
Spend some time alone, without Internet and feel inside/observe yourself. Find out what _you_ really want, not what Youtube or society tells you, you should want. This is very, very, very important. Otherwise you may waste a serious amount of time and happiness on trying to force yourself to be something you are not. It's crazy how much energy is spent on that alone on this planet. I bet you if we could capture that energy, we would have colonies on 3 planets in our solar system and warp drive to explore beyond.
ML learning has rapid and explicit feedback. Fast feedback lets you iterate and build upon what you have learned.
Social skill learning fewer opportunities to 'practice' and the signals are often littered with high false positives (due to social niceness) or false negatives (external factors like the person was just having a bad day), so therefore its very difficult to build an accurate mental model.
Loving how neuro-neutral this response is. Objectively pointing out the information-theoretic reasons learning one is more straightforward than the other!!
Perhaps in a culture that isn't drowning in discord, irony, and falsehood OP would find reading social interactions easier and be less lost in internal spirals of "why can't I decode and replicate all these layers of bs?"
The whole premise of this question is wrong, because it's not. Pretty sure a machine learning person would have an easier time learning social skills than it would be for a non-technical business person to learn the ins and outs of how a neural network works (and by that I dont mean learn how to use a pytorch api, but actually learning the theory and mathematics behind it).
People can be broadly divided into people who are interested in PEOPLE or THINGS.
This is largely derived from parts of the Big Five personality traits.
Many techy people, or broadly nerds, are more interested in things than people. Not exactly a surprise I'm sure you will agree.
This lack of interest in people means that you don't focus on the subject matter in question, other people, and in a social interaction you will be mainly thinking about yourself and how you are acting.
Most people who are relatively social will indeed become subject matter experts on the business of interacting with others. There is a lifetimes worth of subtle information in body language, and a delicate interplay of social signalling and expression that make up our interactions with others. Most geeks just try to cram learning it all into pitifully shallow disparate interactions.
It is so powerful, that it trumps almost any competence in other fields and (with the assistance of decaying moral integrity in society at large ) leads us to the world of nepotism and cronyism we have today.
Because there is no right answer when it comes to social skills. It isn’t something that you can study and formulate in the same way you can an engineering problem. Even calling them skills casts them in the wrong context. On top of that, each person has to find their own solution that fits their personality, life, and friends.
We do not know you, so any concrete advice is probably misguided. But no matter your hang ups, social behavior can only be practiced with others. No amount of roleplay in your head will help, and it may hurt. You sound to still be young, go out and make a fool of yourself. Not everyone will like you, respect you, enjoy your humor, or want to even talk to you, but that doesn’t mean you cannot find someone who will. Just remember everyone else is also a person too, with their own fears, prides, interests, and concerns. They are not just dolls there to entertain you or make you feel better about yourself.
Please dont (over)analyze the situation. Humans are not machines. Each are unique. Treat them as such. This has made me perceived as being very extroverted and social when in fact I am quite introverted (I came to Germany to study). And this perspective works with all cultures. Engineers, exaggerating, have a black and white mindset and are overly rational and want to always have the right argument (and win).Hang out more with people with different interests and background. Life is not about your own interests and topics (or winning arguments) - adopt this perspective. You will soon find others consider you extremely social. Do not try to be a hacker with people.
Look if your are feeling "social skills" matters (I study CS and I know a lot of humans who are in the same boat as you), it helps to change your view of humans as not being a game, a machine, or something you can analyze and be better after learning the rules.
In my experience, it all comes down to putting yourself in the other person's shoes. What do they think when you approach them? What would they like to happen? What outcomes do they want?
Smile - it is welcoming to other people. Make eye contact (and learn when to drop it) - it connects with the other person.
Be careful with your language - saying "It is X" comes across very differently to "I think it is X".
Open your body language - hunched, closed posture looks defensive. Standing so the other person can see across the room gives them an out - even if they don't want to use it, having it makes a big different.
And, most importantly of all, listen more than you talk. People love to feel like they're important, that their interactions with the rest of the world mean something. If you truly listen to them and take on board what they're saying they will notice it - because so often we just get talked at and what we're saying is ignored.
I think the thing about social skills is that a lot of it is about unlearning, rather than learning.
Let's say you're chatting with someone you don't know, one to one. You feel like you don't know what to say, so you try and think of something and move the conversation in a new direction; maybe you read a little bit online about social interactions and try to use that in your conversation, but it feels like it falls flat.
My experience is that this is because each social interaction you're having is a call for you to become more aware of yourself. At the point when you felt like you didn't know what to say, maybe you were filled with anxiety or shame, maybe you felt humiliated that everyone else seems to know these rules for social interactions that you don't. Maybe you felt uncomfortable about the other person's body language.
So, rather than trying to learn basic social skills, you need to learn more self awareness, which will eventually lead to unlearning the anxiety or shame or whatever else came up during the interaction. This will give more space for you to be present with the other person, and you can look for a sort of flow to the conversation. Next time maybe you just leave space for a couple of seconds and they continue the conversation, or something fun pops it your head spontaneously. It's not about trying to find the rules that exist that everyone else knows, it's about trying to find the you that exists underneath your anxieties and pain and other difficult feelings that you haven't yet delved into or fully experienced.
I think generally being blocked up in social interactions is due to unresolved experiences earlier in your life, and I found that psychotherapy helped me a lot with this, and also meditation and yoga. Also, some social interactions are a lot more complex than others, for example more people may mean more complex (although some people may find group situations easier).
There's different types of social rules. Most of the responses talk about the baseline rules (listening, empathy, etc.). There are also, for lack of a better, class rules which are designed to be opaque and inherently meaningless. They only matter as a way to check if you came from the right background and connections. If you did then they'd have taught them to you and if you didn't then the point of them is to get you excluded. The class rules exist both in the broader social class division but also in subgroups of people who have their own in-language or expected behavior. For example, silicon valley tech bros have their own set of class rules designed to also exclude people without the right background or connections to know them. Keep in mind that many people think these are just the "proper" way to behave rather than meaningless rules implicitly aimed at excluding others.
I don't know why it is and whether it is true or not. But I felt the same. And after several years of individual gestalt therapy and group therapy I have developed some social skills which I have been missing. Before that I tried reading books about developing social skills and they didn't help me almost at all.
There is no trick to it—just like any trait, social skills just come with experience. If you started with maxed out introvert skills but didn’t put anything into charisma it is going to take more work to raise those people skills to a high level than the ones you are already good at.
Basically, just keep at it. Try and make a point to do something social every week, or even day. Eventually you will incorporate those hidden rules based on your experience learning what is good and bad, just like you learned the rules of writing machine learning software, and social interactions will become second nature.
I used to be a tremendous introvert, but in college I was lucky enough to have great friends who introduced me to more social situations than I normally would have experienced, and it helped a ton. These days I would almost say I lean extrovert. It really just takes practice and experience!
Both resources present algorithms, if you will, for getting people to like you— and for learning to like them as well. IMO that is the most important thing: you have to like people, at least in the moment, in order to get along with them. It’s okay to still be an introvert; I’ve learned one of they keys to this is to figure out when you just can’t socialize anymore and need to retreat. You can’t force it, but you can learn it and practice it.
At least for me, most of the answers here lack understanding of what is the core of the issue (if you call it "issue" at all). We skip learning many things we are not interested in. Or when we have subtle negative feelings about situations we encounter in there. If you have these, maybe it's worth finding the exact reason why. The reason may be very simple and very revelaling at the same time. If you don't, you're probably just not interested in humans, which is okay. It may close some doors though, but if you have a goal behind them, it will be a motivating factor. Methods are just that - methods. Nothing happens without motivation, and mostly nothing happens in the light of demotivation. Identify the former, then identify the latter.
I totally recommend taking some lessons in social dance. Be that Salsa / Bachata or some other kind of pairwise dance that is popular in your local Scene. The interesting thing is that it is a bridge between the wild west of unpredictable social interaction and the regimented software geek mentality.
There are rules to the interactions that almost all can agree on and these are based on learning musical rhythms and patterns which most people can do with practise.
However you utilise this mechanistic learning in combination with crossing into another person's inimite personal space. The behaviour you are allowed is well defined and safe within the rules of the dance. This gives you the opportunity to practice social interaction in an inimite but limited manner where the rules are fairly clear.
For example it is possible to dance close to a woman who you have never met and then at the end of 5 minutes say thank you and move to another partner. You get to test your mechanical learning of the patterns and at the same time learn that people are nice and friendly and things that may have seemed terrifying are not.
#1 dress smart tidy
#2 make sure you smell neutral
#3 always respect personal space. You will know when too close is too close.
#4 always say hello and say thankyou
#5 practise what you have learned at home in front of the mirror so you are not worried about tripping over your feet. Muscle memory is your friend.
Social skills have a large component of body language/reading the room <-- these can definitely be learned.
The social problem with your hobby of watching AI videos and programming is that it will not result in anecdotes or stories to relate to others. Telling people about what you've been up to and/or what you are excited about is the bread and butter of social interaction -- but if all your time is spent in super deep quiet hobbies like AI, chess, go... these won't result in good anecdotes. The two hobbies you should take up are cooking and fitness, since you're going to need them anyway and they are highly relatable to others, and it will get you out of the house to the farmer's market, the gym, a new restaurant, etc.
You don't learn these things in books or on youtube, you have to be out there and out of your comfort zone.
Don't buy these "how to make friends" "how to be the most interesting person in the room", &c. bs books. Find local meetups or groups about your hobbies (or new hobbies you want to try) and go there, talk to people, make connections, don't try to game the system, people can easily tell when they're being played
I used to hate meeting new people and chatting but now I see it as an opportunity to learn about new things, learn new hobbies, get a glimpse of their lives, &c. Most people want to talk about these things, start by being a good listener, unless you have some kind of serious psychological problem the rest should flow
The idea of there being unwritten rules or, how I usually phrase it, "I didn't get the memo" is one of the symptoms of being on the autism spectrum, as is more of an affinity with tech than people.
And that's absolutely fine. Don't try and play their game, just be in the moment and let things wash over you. Accept you don't understand people, they aren't a thing to figure out and pick apart.
Trying to min/max human interaction is more for sales, marketing and management people, and those come across as absolute psychopaths. And I'm confident you see right through their schtick, because you are more observant than a lot of people - whether you realize it or not.
But yeah. Read up on things like introversion and autism to help you with personal acceptance, this will reduce the anxiety you may feel when interacting with other people because you understand yourself - and by extension, others - better.
As for basic communication skills, there's plenty of guides out there but it'll be things like "Listen instead of waiting for your turn to speak" (and realize there may be others who are waiting for their turn to speak without being as aware of it).
There's no panacea or This One Trick though. Social skills are a much broader, more complicated, and informal area of expertise than ML or other 'hard' skills are.
> But 18 years of human interaction and I'm still missing out on social skills apparently.
It could be that you didn't have enough proper socialization yet, either by the education you received, your predisposition towards it, or just from what your environment offers.
There's also lots of people that after +10 years doing math at school they suck at it, because they never did it in a meaningful way and were never interested.
There's also the option that, just like some people are not intelligent and can't do well in maths, some people do not do well in social interaction because of how their brain works (neuredivergent people for example). However, if you care about it and want to improve, that's already a huge step.
Social skills are harder to learn than machine learning because you can learn them on your own.
To learn social skills you need to do practical work involving other people. But everyone your age is lvl 99 and you're at lvl 5. It's not even about catching up anymore. You basically speak a different language than these people.
There aren't really that many good explanations of basic social skill stuff because it's mostly unconscious to people. They have never explicitly thought about it. It comes so naturally that they can't teach it.
Also most people would rather make fun of you than help - look at people on twitter and so on screenshotting this thread and insulting the OP. Not sure why that is a thing.
Able to contribute to ML is already better than many of us, so congrats and don't downplay it.
As a general rule of thumb, I would say just be yourself, be good to others in general and there's no rush for it (some people would choose to like or not like you, and it's totally fine). It takes time (~10+ year) to be mature.
When I was your age, I have no clue too other than just finishing my first public exam. I happened to work for a community center to promote the usage of Internet as a summer job. That job transforms me to be more confident in front of people as I need to face people in different walk of lives. It's a good starting point as I can use my computer skill as a stepping stone.
> A year of haphazardly watching YouTube videos and reading papers and I learned enough to start contributing to real research. But 18 years of human interaction and I'm still missing out on social skills apparently. It's like everyone else has a degree in all these unwritten rules that I'm just supposed to know
Did you watched youtube videos about manners and interpersonal communication? Or read books or advice columns or reddit subs about the same thing? You did not learned machine learning through pure osmosis and watching the machine calculate. You read papers and theory.
Some social skills are easy to pick up by observing, if you have talent. But others have to be actively learned.
How easy is it for you to make "Machine learning" into smaller subproblems? What are basic social skills. Do your methodic differs?
For me it's that I'm more likely to see my error with a topic like CS. While basic human interaction is not that manageable. It's interaction with Human A and Human B. These are distinct as Computer Science and biology.
Finding the common denominator between them takes time for me.
And don't forget that you interact with a lot of entropy. Communication is not easy.
I do think about that about every day, i'm 31 now and have lots os friends, really lots of friends and i go to outside/social events all the time, but i still suck at it, i never know when is my time to talk, what to talk, never know how to approach someone, i have a really bad time to maintain my attention to people, sometimes i feel that social interactions hurt me so much that i fell pain, it's really hard to know how to deal with that
Also, social skills are an oppositional race to some degree: you want to get better at getting people to trust you at the same time people are learning how to not trust anyone in this environment of being grifted by ads/shitty jobs/pundits 24/7.
My advice: Be kind but ruthlessly performative. Think of yourself as putting on a show for other people. But tap into your innate compassion and love for humankind and ask yourself how they could benefit from the show.
Because we all are different. Your brain is wired in ways which makes some things easier and some things harder. Look at those who feel bored working with things you feel exited about. Find yourself (in another words whats suits your brain more) and don't try to be who you can't become.
> any advice on acquiring these basic social skills?
Find peoples with similar given and ask what worked for them. Advises from "natural" extroverts won't work for you.
Without more context it's difficult to give you specific advice since "social skills" can mean very different things in various personal situations and cultures, including what you think may be expected.
Compare the number of models you've trained and the number of times you've made a negotiation, introduced yourself to someone new, reached out to an old connection. Practice makes perfect.
When you mess up a training you get a little error message. When you mess up a social interaction you get awkward laughs. People who never become good Programmers give up after the first error message. Don't give up after the first awkward laugh.
You propably need to spend a year haphazardly watching YouTube videos and Reading papers on social interactions while applying your learnings in practice before being able to actually compare the two.
It sounds like you think just living will somehow imprint social skills unto you, but this is as silly as thinking that you’d learn machine learning from working 18 years as a cleaning assistant at an ML company.
I have found that the vast majority of people are very warm, considerate and forgiving.
As long as you're honest and transparent with everyone around you (including yourself), you don't necessarily need to worry too much about the 'skills' bit of "social skills". Just concentrate on the 'social' bit.
A little different from the rest of the comments here, but have you considered going to therapy? It’s a deep dive into your own interior life, which I’ve found is useful in connecting with others. Another way to put it: how can you understand others if you don’t understand yourself?
Not saying it’s a silver bullet, but it helped me!
Think about other people, their possible motivations and needs instead of about yourself.
They are not in your situation and so have different priorities and views but they are still human. The more you anticipate their needs and avoid overburdening them with yours the more skilled you'll become.
For almost 40 years, I felt as a person with poor social skills.
A few months ago, one of my son was diagnosed with adhd and a high IQ.
the adhd symptoms explanation resonated with my own life, so I went to consult. It resulted that I'm also gifted with an high IQ.
As I searched about this team, I learned that I don't really lack social skills, it's that my interests and my way to express them is not in the norm, so that only 1 or 2 percent of the persons I meet are aligned with me.
In addition, as many gifted persons, I'm really hard with myself, and I feel terrible at many domains where in fact, I'm quite good at.
In conclusion, I do not lack social skills, I'm just wired differently, and I have to accept that.
So maybe are you in the same situation: not lacking skills, just wired differently?
because writing programs that automate the detection of statistical regularities in syntax absolutely pales in comparison to the complexity of being an agent actively participating in the complex interactions of semantics, embedded in some syntactic scaffold.
I mean this without a shred of sarcasm or irony: be thankful that this is so.
The book/audiobook “How to win friends and influence people” while it has a title I don’t like is actually a guide for solving your exact issue and is especially useful for people that tend to gravitate to tech.
I’m self taught and spent many years agoraphobic as a teen so it was really helpful to get the basics and understand the mechanics.
A few startups in and just putting myself in social situations it started to feel a lot more natural and understandable.
I think a lot of social things really clicked around 4 years ago went I went into management and got to see both sides of lots of things and just really dig in with people and have them open up about the challenges they’re facing.
Also just getting to late twenties and now mid thirties and having always been open about the social things I don’t understand in the movement I can feel normal in most social situations.
With that said though, while happily married for 6 years, I still only hang out with friends a handfull of times a year and most of my social life the last 10 has been whatever social things the startup made possible from taco tuesdays to lunch time chat and off sites and slack and video games and coffee runs at the office.
- some things can be understood but not directly related to
- some things take time (years) to internalize but will come with time and practice
- other things are just part of who you are and just embrace it and be open about it. You’d be surprised how many other people relate to different facets of social quirkiness even if they appear normal on the surface.
Also pro tip: Find a partner who’s an extrovert and has natural social abilities. It’s made things a lot easier and pushed me out of my comfort zone socially in ways that made my life a lot better and more interesting.
Reading through the other replies it looks like a lot of people diagnosing neurodivergence. Maybe that’s true, I guess I might be on the spectrum somewhere if I think about it, but I’m not sure knowing that really helps in any practical for solving for just social misunderstanding.
Lean into situations, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, make light of it and be open and people will gravitate to it and help get by.
But also remember the goal is to find what you like and live like that, while being able to get by in a world designed for social butterflies and extroverts.
TL/DR: look up some group courses on psychology of interaction, taught by theater teachers or actors. Actors are great at this game, and can give great insights.
There are some managerial trainings as well, where they tell you how to ask people to do something. In many families you learn to do this by putting some kind of guilt on the other one, which people just swallow and tolerate. But it's a red flag if they have to cooperate but aren't attached to you.
They teach all other kinds of things:
* how to do a compliment. Most people do it so that it makes you feel unease. I hated when people do their "you're so great" thing (your local culture may vary, but flattery isn't doing you any service in any place). Most of advice on the internet is absolutely horrible.
* how to ask for a favor. Lots of people start this with false signs of care ("hey, how are things going?"), or flattery. This is absolutely visible on the recepient side, and irritating. It was appalling to learn I was doing this mistake. But a great learning experience.
* how to ask not to do something;
* how to solve conflicts;
* how to talk and not to talk at an interview for an employee position (like programmer);
* how to talk at an interview for a managerial position;
I can't overstate how helpful both of these were (the managerial course, and the theatrical psychology group training).
Well here's my unconventional take on it. It won't give you many tips but it might comfort a bit.
We were already apex predators before our minds apparently went into overdrive. We were already using tools and hunting in groups better than anything else. The only thing likely to eat us was a lion, and only if desperate. So what were we competing against that applied an evolutionary pressure that selected so strongly for intelligence, theory of mind, etc. in a feedback loop?
The best hypothesis I've encountered is -- other humans. Competing for social status. Competing for mates. Predicting the behaviour and allegiances of your political opponents. Keeping track of kin. Keeping track of networks of "I owe yous". Gossip.
We've evolved to be as inscrutable and perplexing to other humans as possible, while also evolving a toolset to decode other people's intentions and thoughts. An evolutionary arms race, maybe.
tl;dr: Humans are the most complex system other humans encounter and have to understand, by a mile. We all fail at it to varying degrees.
It is not, for most people. If you are autistic, have Asperger's syndrome like Elon Musk, or have other mental issues, then no matter how much you work, you will be always subpar compared to others on this area, but probably are much better on other areas like research.
I don't like talking about "social skills" because it looks like having friends is an academic matter or something. It is not, it is about letting yourself go around people you trust not about writing down what to say or do.
Most people in the US don't have friends by the way. When you are used to places like Spain, Italy or Africa it shocks you how isolated and individualistic they are living alone without public places so they don't really need to interact with anyone. They take their cars and drive from home to work.
They have an average of 0.5 friends per person or something like that so if you want to learn having more friends you could change your environment for something that forces you to interact with lots of people for a while.
Which, to be perfectly honest is pretty hard these days. Used to be easier - you could pick some hobby or two you're somewhat interested in (could be anything, yoga, board games, hacklabs...) and go socialize with others
People are different and what is easy for some, might be difficult for others.
One thing which is special about social skills is, that most people who are "naturally" good in it just do this unconsciously.
E.g. people who don't know how to read body language still do it. For them it manifest in a "feeling". Like "i like this guy" or "this situation is uncomfortable".
But s.o. who learned it can do more. Say you are in a job interview and after answering a question you see the interviewer touching his mouth and crossing his arms. You know he didn't like the answer and you know why your feeling uncomfortable (It's not going well).
You can also make people like you, by mirroring their body language. People usally take a defensive posture (crossing arms/legs, holding a glass with both hands, etc.), when talking with s.o. they don't know well. Make them comfortable by doing s.th. similiar. Later on you can open your posture (e.g. unfolding your crossed arms and showing your palms) and they will naturally follow you. (called "pacing and leading" and often used by psychologists).
Also mention that most people think doing this is immoral per se, but i think it depends for what you use it. If you do it to make a woman feel comfortable, where is the difference in beeing a gentleman?
I really hate all salesman from the depth of my hearth though (i recognize their shady tricks)
If you somehow missed the opportuinity to learn that irl, i recommends study a bit psychology. Watching a tv show like "how i met your mam" might also be a good idea, because it probably even influcend the unwritten rules in real society.
If this question was a camouflaged "How to lay girls?" then there is always the guide by ross jeffries. But this is really shady and had those people invested a tiny amount of their effort in analysing their own inferiority complexes, they would be probably happier...
As someone with a passable grasp of both (using ML professionally, and having a wife+friends), here are some 5am thoughts:
1. They're not along a single scalar of difficulty, so I imagine you mean "Why can't I (and some subset of others) master ML but not social skills.
2. ML has large amounts of explicit knowledge, while social skills are largely about tacit knowledge. There are tons of books/videos/etc about social skills too, but they all fall back on metaphors and obvious over-generalizations. It's not (just) because the authors are being lazy - it would take a very long book to capture all the nuance!
3. To extend that point, humans never really figured out a good way to explicitly lay out the rules of language, even though almost every baby picks them up fairly quickly. Language is immensely complex, we just forget that because the human brain is so optimized for it. Social skills are that complexity squared, but (most) human brains are optimized for learning them as well. But writing down the rules as code or (far less efficiently!) a guide book is nearly impossible
4. "It's like everone else has a degree..." I completely understand that. If it's a help, I felt that way too through college. I know you're joking, but let me rephase it: They got good at it because they practiced it. Though you've spent the same number of hours on this earth as your peers, your attention was focused on math/computers/ML, and theirs was focused on observing/gossiping/socializing. Some of them instead focused on working out, and have biceps to prove it. You get what you practice, and you practice what you deeply resonate with.
Again addressing the question I assume you're asking, here's some advice from one nerd to another:
5. Like any academic discipline, you don't need to know everything to be useful. In fact, you begin to see positive results far earlier on the learning curve because people don't value novelty for its own sake. I was largely saved from ostracism by what my parents called 'good manners': Being cheerful, polite, and (by default) quiet. I was definitely considered a nerd, but everyone was nice enough to me
6. You will never be the Prom Queen/King, but I bet you don't want to. Just find a few people who seem to have similar interests and be cheerful, polite, and ever-so-slightly less quiet. If they have anything non-trivial to say about a topic you're also interested in, keep at it! DON'T get discouraged if it doesn't go smoothly - they are probably also learning social skills
7. Have some humility. You might need to buy new clothes, get a haircut, or something else to 'fit in'. Maybe in a perfect world that wouldn't be necessary, but after 18 years of trying you should give yourself a budget of $180 and 18 hours of eye-rolling conformity preparation. People have gone through worse to make it in this world.
8. That doesn't mean that you totally forget about your true self, just that you spend your 'weirdness points' carefully. Be 90% conformist, find the people that resonate with that 10% you're showing, and maybe you can mutually inch down from there until you're comfortable.
Finally, the books/videos/blogs aren't totally useless. Maybe ask someone that you trust which one might be best for you (since it depends on where you're starting) and just rigorously follow the advice for a week. Yes you will roll your eyes, but half of it will work just a little bit. PAY CAREFUL ATTENTION TO WHAT GETS POSITIVE REACTIONS FROM PEOPLE. I put this in caps because I don't have a better way to break it down into actionable steps, and I know it will be hard. But feedback it the core of learning, and I'm going with the theory that you have some (however attenuated) ability to read positive emotions in others. There are literally videos and books on this if you want to practice (remember, you have 18 hours in your budget). Then go out, have a tiny bit of success in a sea of awkwardness, focus on that success, and go out again to have a 'small' bit of success. Then a 'tad' of success, etc. It will be in a sea of awkwardness - don't be discouraged. "Pain is weakness leaving the body" as they say in Crossfit Gyms (you're rolling your eyes again - remember that you've got 17.9 hours of eye rolling still in your budget!)
Anyway, best of luck. It will be hard. You've already done a hard thing, just one that you're more inclined to. If your Prom King could get through algebra (hopefully), you can get through this!
There are no secret rules. Most people are simply different from you. The problem is that you care about something that you sbouldn't care about.
If most people don't find you interesting, the other side of that same coin is that you also do not find them interesting. Not really and not for long. For you to be interesting to most people, you would have to be uninteresting to yourself. You would have to waste many hours of your life thinking about and doing things you aren't actually interested in doing. You would have to fake having attitudes and reactions you don't actually have.
Fuck most people and find your own honest society among more select communities. There are countless out there and today with the internet they are effortless to find. And this does not mean only living on the internet, I mean this makes it easier to find the right other people to spend time with irl.
My own examples are things like community theater and sci-fi conventions (back in the before times).
A hundred years ago I found an irc chat room of Spider Robinson fans who became almost immediate family. Almost all geeks and outcasts of one sort or another, and all far more tolerant of each others weirdness than the normies are. We had gatherings of various sizes irl and some of these people became real friends actually far more sincere and real than any of the normal people you see day to day and at whatever gatherings you've been at where you saw other people being social without you.
Those normal social interactioms you are witnessing as an outsider are actually mostly not deep or real connections. What those people have is something you actually don't want. It's generally quite shallow and frequently even insincere.
What good is that? Of what value is that? Say you start spending 2 hours a day at the gym and an hour a day watching sports to be up on all the happenings, and change your attitudes to be more selfish and a little casually racist and xenophobic, and more normal people accept you. What then? What does that get you that you actually want? Douchebag friends? A douchebag girlfriend? It can help with networking but you don't need to do any of that to get a job, and again even if you got a job that way, it would be a bad job with douchebag co-workers and boss. What good was that?
Aside from all that, and actually partially invalidating it, today it's more acceptable than ever to be different. In fact if anything it's almost a problem today that the normals are sensing that the geeks run things, and so the normals want to get some of that cache without actually being the kind of person that has the innate curiosity that makes a geek a geek. THEY are now the ones wondering what the secret rules are, trying to be nerds and makers by aping what their impression of nerds and makers.
But for you it's just yet another reason for you not to care about being good at being social with anyone who you aren't already social with, even if that means allowing most people, 99.5% of people, to have no use for you. Find select communities to join based on your actual interests, allow some time for people to know you, and that's pretty much all there is to that.
For instance, you posted a complaint that I have heard many times, here on the kind of forum that not everyone reads. I have no problem with you so far, other than that I find this question to be hugely pathetic baby whining. If you're so smart, then why haven't you figured out that you don't actually want what you think you want? You want society, but you don't actually want society with the wrong people. I just criticized you for this post, but, I do so as an equal and a friend. I classify this thing you expressed as a normal human weakness which I tolerate in others the same way I wish them to be tolerated in myself. To me it doesn't make you a bad person or uninteresting to converse with or hang out with. And this acceptance is true for most people in these more select communities I'm talking about, and forms a significant part of what makes these people better people to be friends with.
HN isn't really a hangout or a community, but posting this question, here in this kind of audience, is actually a small step in exactly the direction I'm talking about.
Social skills are broadly made up of three things:
Observation (body language, how people look at you, each other)
Listening (what people are saying to you, the tone, speed, variability of pitch)
Speaking (how you say something, etc)
Body language can be hard, because no-one has really codified it in an accessible way. Yes there are books, but they tend to drift off into science noise, or babble.
The problem is that we are used to watching actors. The problem with actors is that they (like most people) can't control their body language entirely. So what you see as affection on TV, might not actually be Affection. (this is why its so startling to see real affection in the movies. the so called "chemistry")
solution: at a cafe, or a shopping mall, sit with a set of headphones on, and just watch people (no don't stare) look at the parent with their children, the young couple, the old grumpy farts. nearly divorced boomers. Try and guess what they are thinking through their actions.
Where are they looking when they speak?
are they hunched over?
where is thier body facing?
Are their arms crossed over, or wide open?
Listening, again at a busy place, a food place, cafe or somewhere where there are lots of people, listen in (again headphones are a great foil for this sort of thing). What are people saying to each other? what reaction does it have? when people are happy, what speed is their speech at? is it all one tone?
speaking: An excellent tool for when you are not sure is "mirroring". That is when someone makes a statement that you are not sure of, repeat the last few words back to them: "hi OP, how are you? can you come with me please?" you: "come with you?" (the tone of your voice is important here. you need to be light, fluffy. subtle rising intonation helps) They will normally give more information "Yeah, I have something to show you" etc etc etc.
A good rule of thumb is that the words people are speaking only contain something like 20% of the meaning of what they are saying. Think of the ways you can say "are you having fun?" The delivery can change the meaning from innocent, genuine question, menace, anger, sadness. Even though the words are exactly the same.
finally the last thing you need to work on is "empathy". No its not a wooly thing. Its the ability to predict how the person you are talking to is feeling. it doesn't involve crying. basically its all the information you've gathered, condensed into a model, and use that model to understand why they are acting the way they do. hint: people are never irrational to themselves.
TL;DR your life happens within a field of informed movement/perception/relation that determines which social capabilities you have and which not.
As we grow up as a baby, our first connections to the world are based on touch.
The skin is the interface between the world and ourself.
How the world touches us, informs in our motor system a picture of the world.
Over time the cutaneous interactions (movement qualities) modulate into mimics, later into speech (where we still find it as characteristics of our voice).
Now, assume there is a circular process (Gestaltkreis) of your motor system.
It constantly sparks a movement intention.
First it needs to be executed.
Then it needs to be perceived: Has it been executed?
For both phases, the body needs to convey signals.
As the motor system only sparks a movement intention until it receives the full perception of the executed movement, sparking of the movement intention means that the trains are not yet developed to the extent required.
"What fires together, wires together" / Neurobiotaxis may play a role here.
Movement essentially becomes perception. And your body is your compiler for that.
The motor system basically takes care for development of the trains in your body.
Now, there are two considerations:
1. You can relate to others to the degree your body is integrated internally (inner world connectivity ≈ inner to outer world connectivity)
2. The circular process undergoes biological phases: In different phases, different parts of your body grow; which brings your body out of balance (while you move). The motor's core intention is to develop your ability to maintain your balance with different movements. That is a process after you have attained the ability to run. Those different phases require different sensory inputs. Our parents (society) are usually not able to provide that (as they themselves did not receive it). So, you might end up with social capabilities of a disturbed child as an adult. The movement qualities show for example how you will act in group settings, in which kind of situations, etc.
There might be an approach  (with quite some history but ironically yet to be validated empirically) that makes that circular process visible:
It allows the movement intention to become visible to a trained facilitator.
The facilitator then verbalises the intention - which is not accessible to the subject - to the subject.
The verbalised intention is basically a new movement possibility / way to perceive the subject had not on his internal movement world map. While the subject tries out the movement possibility, this also happens in the circular process. That means, perception of the movement of the body is continuously transmitted to the motor system. And as mentioned earlier, once the perceived executed movement is equivalent to the forecast of the executed movement intention, the sent out movement intention changes. The Bewegungsgestalt has irreversibly evolved. And this evolution follows a biologically predetermined sequence (you know in advance what the next movement intention will be once the current has been fulfilled).
And with the changed Bewegungsgestalt, the attained way to move and to perceive, we are able to relate differently to the world - and the world is able to relate differently to us. That makes sense to me, as we evolve our internal connections, we evolve the connections to the outer world.
As this is related to fascia, you might be interested in the Roll Model by Jill Miller, also the coop of her with Thomas Myers Roll the Anatomy Trains online course.
Yes, I see the value of mental efforts of improving your social skills by applying communication technique A or trick B. However, if it holds true that any of this effort happens within the context of your movement/perception/relation field, it is naturally limited by the stage the Bewegungsgestalt has evolved into.
Because it only involves 1 part of your being: the thinking mind.
Social skills involves the other parts such as connecting to people, doing / acting on some stuff, speaking, sometimes lying or pushing people away.
As an anecdata I was a total nerd before with 0 social skills and no one wanted to talk to me, but by studying a bit of personal development you can get the basics and understand the subtext of most interactions, which is actually the most important: "what do other people want from the interaction ?".
Now I can know go talk to a lot of people. I can travel alone, go to clubs / bars alone and talk to people and (before i had a gf) pick up chicks by myself, which 90% people wouldn't. It's still draining but because I learnt to have fun with these settings (I found my vibe), the cost of not going is higher than going.
It's possible to improve a lot if you will you can read stuff. I recommend:
- The Game by neil strauss (it's more seduction-oriented but it's mostly about someone who was a nerd journalist and became one of the most famous womanizer ever. Super fun to read if you don't wanna take it at 1rst debree)
If you are a guy then Social skills are about one thing only:
Accepting failures and low success rates
People who love machine learning belong to the camp of the serial optimisers.
There is hardly something which is more at the opposite end of the spectrum
Also given that we are taking about machine learning let me quote the movie Moneyball
Moneyball of course isn’t about machine learning , but it’s actually about something even more important: how clean are the data being used
In any event at some point Billy Beane portrayed by Brad Pitt says :
“I hate losing…in fact I hate losing more than I love winning”
Well in order to be “good with social skills “ you gotta be the opposite …you gotta love winning much more than you hate losing , so that the few victories will get you excited and propel your spirit through all the rejections .
Also, social skills are an oppositional race to some degree: you want to get better at getting people to trust you at the same time people are learning how to not trust anyone in this environment of being grifted by ads/shitty jobs/pundits 24/7.
My advice: Be kind but ruthlessly performative. Think of yourself as putting on a show for other people. But tap into your innate compassion and love for humankind and ask yourself how they could benefit from the show.