Advertising
Advertising

The Great Perils of Social Interaction You’re Probably Experiencing

The Great Perils of Social Interaction You’re Probably Experiencing

The perils of social interaction? Yes Wait But Why has this insightful explanation.

If an alien ever immigrated to Earth, he’d be a social disaster.

He’d try his hardest to learn by observing how humans behave, but it wouldn’t be easy—he’d see someone ask a stranger for a cigarette and he’d go ask for a sip of someone’s latte. He’d see a couple kissing on the street and he’d go try to kiss the policeman on the corner. He’d stare. He’d get food all over his alien face. And when he got tired, he’d lie down on the sidewalk.

Our alien immigrant wouldn’t last a day before being arrested. He wouldn’t be behaving correctly, and he’d quickly be forcefully removed from society.

That’s the way things are—there is an intricate set of thousands of social rules, and we’re all sharply attuned to them. If we weren’t, we’d be sent away somewhere. Even being nearly perfect will get you into trouble—you can have 98% of the rules down cold, but that last 2% will leave you with a reputation of “rude” or “weird” or “creepy.”

But the hardest part of trying to abide by the Social Rulebook is that it’s far from a perfect book. It’s a lot like the Constitution:

  • It takes you to a certain point but then leaves much up to interpretation
  • There are parts that are outdated or badly thought-out and terribly in need of an Amendment
  • And to further complicate things, every nation, ethnicity, culture, and subculture has its own unique version of the Rulebook

Unfortunately, in the world of social interaction, there’s no Supreme Court to interpret tricky situations, no legislature to amend bad rules, and no international law to help standardize things across cultures.

It’s the wild west out there.

So you’re welcome to head out into public, but before you do, I’ll sprinkle you with just a sampling of the perils you’ll face, as a final warning—

Perils of Interacting With Friends and Family

You’d think that friend and family interactions would be on the safer side, since those people are likely to be using mostly the same version of the Rulebook as you. The problem is, with those closest to you, an expectation of intimacy and comfort puts pressure on each interaction going well, your history together often leaves things highly charged, and since this is the arena where gossip and long-term memory live, the stakes are at their highest. Also, you’re probably kind of an awkward person and awkward people are never safe, no matter whom you’re with.

When meeting up with a friend or family member, things can get tricky before they even start, with a potential 30-Second Hello:

initial recognition

    And just when you’re relieved that that’s over, you’ll find yourself trying to pick a door in one of the great social struggles of our time, The Handshake/Hug Decision of Doom:

    Advertising

    handshake handshake-2

      handshake-3

        I’ll be 90 and I still won’t have figured this out. There are different rules for everyone and nothing’s clear—Do I shake my grandfather’s hand or go for the hug? How about my friend’s father? Old friend? New friend? Opposite-sex acquaintance? Longtime work colleague? Sibling’s good friend who I’m meeting for the second time? It’s unbelievably complicated.

        And there aren’t just two options you’re choosing from—there’s the high school bro handshake/backslap douche possibility, there’s the vertical, loose-hand high-five that morphs into a weird springy-finger tension thing as you snap away, there’s even the easy but taking-yourself-really-seriously non-ironic fist pound. And even if you both go for the hug, there’s a question of duration and firmness and who’s in charge of those decisions.

        (Hugs are a weird concept, by the way. There are a large handful of people in my life I hug tightly every time I say hi or goodbye to them who I would never in any other circumstances touch that intimately. It kind of makes no sense. Whoever wrote the Social Rulebook didn’t really think that hard about it.)

        Anyway, just when this couldn’t get any harder, somewhere along the line, society decided it was a good idea to bring kisses into the mix. Kisses were doing just fine in the romantic and parent-child arenas, and it’s unclear why kisses have any part in any other situation. Unless it’s specifically part of your culture, no one under the age of 18 kisses people when they greet them, and as you move into the adult world, you’re just expected to figure out when to kiss people during a greeting. And there are multiple versions of kiss too—the light cheek kiss, the near-cheek air kiss, the absurdly drawn-out one-kiss-on-each-cheek-as-if-we’re-an-Arabian-prince skit—all further complicating the situation and putting us in deep peril of the dreaded Accidental Mouth Kiss:

        kiss1

          After surviving the greeting, some close friends continue to show affection, which leads to more trouble, such as The “Wait How Do We Stop Doing This” Physical Contact Situation. I often end up resorting to making up a drastic thing I need to do with my arms.

          adjacent-embrace-1 adjacent-embrace-2 adjacent-embrace-3 adjacent-embrace-4 adjacent-embrace-5 adjacent-embrace-6

            And all of this is nothing compared to The Money-Related Song and Dance. There’s the obvious:

            restaurant-1 restaurant-2

              restaurant-31restaurant-4

                Advertising

                restaurant-51restaurant-6 restaurant-7

                  But friends can break into a Money-Related Song and Dance almost anytime, anywhere:

                  tic-tacs tic-tacs-2

                    And it’s not just limited to transactions. At some point between the ages of 22 and 40, it goes from being totally okay to discuss your income, price of rent, and general financial situation with friends to not really okay at all. And we all have to figure out how to make that transition.

                    Perils of Interacting With Acquaintances

                    An acquaintance is someone you know, but you don’t hang out with them socially, and if you ever did, it would only be as part of a large group of people. It could be someone you went to high school with but were never friends with, someone who lived down the hall from you in college for a year, a friend of someone you know, or someone you work with or used to work with but you don’t know very well.

                    Most of the time you’re with friends, things are fine—the awkward parts are the exception to the rule. But with acquaintances, awkwardness is the rule. My theory is that the word “acquaintances” is derived from the word “awkward” to mean “people you’re awkward with” and was originally spelled “awkwaintances,” but then they changed the spelling to try to make things less awkward.

                    Here’s the issue—there are three ways to converse with someone:

                    1) Pre-Written Social Skits—You do this when you’re not trying to get to know someone better but you’re also scared to just act normally around them.

                    2) Climbing the Hill—Trying to get to know someone better or to catch up on their life.

                    3) Being Normal—Accepting the state of a relationship and just enjoying whatever you can from each other’s company.

                    In general, the main thing that makes interactions awkward is inauthenticity. Authentic is the enemy of awkwardness, and with acquaintances, the only two authentic options are #3 or, if you really do want to advance the relationship into friendship territory, #2. Since usually, neither party actually wants or plans to become better friends, we’re left with “Being Normal” as the key to acquaintance interaction. But here’s where we run into trouble. This is how most people see these three above types of interaction:

                    Acquaintance-graph

                      But that assumes that you can only be normal around someone you know well, which is not true. I started using a new barber last year, and I was pleasantly surprised when instead of making small talk or asking me questions about my life, he just started talking to me like I was his friend or involving me in his conversations with the other barber. By doing so, he spared both of us the massive inauthenticity of a typical barber-customer relationship and I actually enjoy going there now. He doesn’t go by the above graph, but rather, sees things more like three doors that you can choose from:

                      Advertising

                      doors

                        You’re not required to either smalltalk or pretend to want to get to know someone—it’s a choice to do either and you can choose “Be Normal” instead. Unfortunately, the Social Rulebook doesn’t talk about being normal with acquaintances, only a bunch of chapters about how to survive the terror of an acquaintance interaction, authentic or not. We badly need to make a Rulebook amendment here—until we do, my barber relationship will be a rare one.

                        For now, we’re stuck with things like The Work Acquaintance Trap, which happens when two people who are acquaintances by circumstance and have to see each other every day make the short-sighted mistake of sacrificing what had been the peace of an authentic non-relationship for the hell of a permanently-stuck-in-#1 cycle:

                        work-0 work-1 work-2 work-3 work-4

                          Because conversation type #1 involves a large number of pre-written-by-society, canned Robot Phrases, The Work Acquaintance Trap also leaves you at great risk of a Robot Phrase Mismatch:

                          WhatsUp

                            Even worse is running into an acquaintance in public. Both people are typically so petrified by the awkward-potential that they end up acting insane. And it can go on for a hideously long time if anyone makes the grave error of asking about the other’s life, leading to The Everlasting Acquaintance Run-In:

                            run-in-1 run-in-2 run-in-3 run-in-4 run-in-4.5 run-in-5 run-in-6

                              Perils of Interacting With Strangers

                              Interacting with strangers is another way of saying “interacting with the rest of your species,” and it’s often uncomfortable. Even though unlike the former two categories, nothing real is at stake (other than your dignity), stranger interactions can provide some of the most awkward moments in life.

                              Introductions are awkward by nature, and they’re severely complicated if you’re not entirely sure of whether the person you’re introducing yourself to is actually a stranger. The main way to get yourself into trouble is having a bad memory for whom you’ve met before, which can lead to a Nice to Meet You / Nice to See You Disaster:

                              see-meet

                                Then, of course, there’s The Sidewalk Direction-Mirroring Quagmire:

                                walking-direction-1 walking-direction-2 walking-direction-3 walking-direction-4 walking-direction-5 walking-direction-6 walking-direction-7 walking-direction-8 walking-direction-9

                                  One of the most asinine and outdated clauses in the Social Rulebook states that despite having zero relationship with me whatsoever, a nearby stranger must vocally command God to save me if I inhale some pollen. The Inexplicable Sneeze Standoff is possibly the single most awkward part of my life, especially since I’m a Multiple Sneezer.

                                  Advertising

                                  sneeze-1 sneeze-2 sneeze-3 sneeze-4 sneeze-5 sneeze-6 sneeze-7 sneeze-8 sneeze-9 sneeze-10 sneeze-11 sneeze-12 sneeze-13 sneeze-14

                                    Men also deal with a whole pile of stranger awkwardness in the urinal arena. This might just be a weird issue I have, but at some point, I become incapable of peeing if there’s some pressure to pee and I start to think too hard about it. Being next to one other person at the urinal in an otherwise-silent bathroom usually does the trick:

                                    urinal-1 urinal-2 urinal-3 urinal-4

                                      In the rare circumstances that the other person next to me is a weird neurotic person too, we run the horrifying risk of a Silent Urinal Standoff Nightmare:

                                      urinal-b-1 urinal-b-2

                                        Considering all of the hazards out there in the world, you’d think at least an interaction with a not-yet-sentient blob would be safe. Think again. Interacting with stranger babies in public is a high-stakes endeavor—if they respond well to you, you’re the most charming person in the room and everyone is suddenly smiling at you and wants to marry you. It goes like this:

                                        baby-1 baby-2 baby-3

                                          The baby acted like a reasonable person and everything went well. But the problem is, a large percentage of babies are bad, and you never know who’s who. Nothing will make you look and feel like a big weirdo quicker than a baby reacting badly to you. Beware The Bad Baby:

                                          baby-4 baby-5 baby-6 baby-7

                                            baby-8 baby-9

                                              It’s a tough world out there. And just when you’ve had enough and you’re heading home to safety, you’ll likely say goodbye to whomever you’re with before realizing you’re about to embark together on a Same Walking Direction Post-Goodbye Walk:

                                              goodbye goodbye-2 goodbye-3

                                                If you liked this article, subscribe by email to have Wait But Why’s once-a-week posts sent to you by email. Never any spam.
                                                Visit Wait But Why: www.waitbutwhy.com
                                                Follow Wait But Why on Facebook: www.facebook.com/waitbutwhy
                                                Follow Wait But Why on Twitter: www.twitter.com/waitbutwhy

                                                More by this author

                                                Anna Chui

                                                Anna is a communication expert and a life enthusiast. She's the Content Strategist of Lifehack and loves to write about love, life, and passion.

                                                23 Books About Racism to Inspire You to Embrace Race and Do Good 50 Life Purpose Quotes to Give Meaning to Your Life How to Live Life to the Fullest How Self Doubt Keeps You Stuck (And How to Overcome It) 26 Useful Things to Learn Now That Will Change Your Life

                                                Trending in Communication

                                                1 What Is Life About? 9 Ways to Find Your Meaning in Life 2 7 Things To Remember When You Feel Broken Inside 3 Focus On Yourself, Because Most Of The Time No One Really Cares 4 10 Principles for Success to Live Your Dream Life 5 10 Powerful Ways to Be More Confident

                                                Read Next

                                                Advertising
                                                Advertising
                                                Advertising

                                                Last Updated on August 10, 2020

                                                10 Principles for Success to Live Your Dream Life

                                                10 Principles for Success to Live Your Dream Life

                                                Are you stressed out and overwhelmed, wishing you had more time to do the things that really matter? Are you ready to do something better, something special in your life or your career?

                                                If you’re ready to do what you want in life, then the 10 principles of success are what you need to follow.

                                                You were born with a gift that no one else in the world can express like you. When you dance to your own music, you naturally develop your innate abilities and excel in work and life. You are a total rock star. But when you live someone else’s idea of who you should be, it throws off your groove.

                                                Many people—maybe you—stopped following their dreams way too early in life because their talents were ignored, minimized, or shamed. They didn’t have the chops to win an American Idol competition or nab an Olympic gold medal, so they stopped expressing their inborn gifts altogether.

                                                You don’t need to be an award winner to rock your life. Living your dream life is about discovering your superpowers and feeling vibrant and joyful when you use them. It’s about owning what makes you unique and finding like-minded people to support you.

                                                Here are 10 success principles to help you live a rich and rewarding life on your terms that have worked with thousands of people in my workshops and will work for you, too.

                                                1. Get a Hobby to Move Closer to Your Dreams

                                                If you never became a professional dancer or a world-renowned author, it does NOT mean you should stop dancing or writing! These activities make you come alive, even if you “only” do them as favorite pastimes.

                                                Engaging in a hobby is one of the most important success principles you can follow to move closer to your dreams.

                                                When you try something creative for the first time or in a long while, you begin to see opportunities at work and in life that you were unaware of before. You also feel happier and more energized, according to a recent study from New Zealand.[1]

                                                Some of my most burned-out executive clients reinvigorated their careers by discovering a creative outlet that refueled them after the workday ended. Research at San Francisco State University shows that having a hobby lowers stress and helps you succeed at work.[2]

                                                So, give yourself permission to try new things and revisit old passions you gave up long ago. Setting aside just one hour a week for personal exploration can significantly change your life.

                                                Who knows? Your creative outlet could transform into a thriving business or lead to a new profession down the road.

                                                Advertising

                                                2. Focus on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

                                                Did you know that you are more likely to succeed when you develop your natural strengths rather than work on your weaknesses? The problem is that you probably don’t know where your true talents lie.

                                                Here are a few options to help you discover your unique strengths. You can:

                                                • Take the VIA Character Strengths Survey[3]
                                                • Try Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment[4]
                                                • Answer a few Superpower Questions

                                                Once you understand what makes you tick, you can use these skills at work and your personal life to get more done in less time. If you boost your unique abilities through practice and study, you can accelerate your career and become a leader in a field that matters to you. It’s worth investing in yourself this way.

                                                3. Jumping off a Cliff is NOT Required

                                                Here’s the deal: most people are too afraid to change. When participants first come to my workshops, they tell me they have mouths to feed, bills to pay, and fear that if they follow their dreams, someone will get hurt.

                                                The old saying “leap and the net shall appear” does not comfort them. Because they are hesitant to plunge into the unknown, they believe their only option is to stay put where they are in life. Can you relate?

                                                You do not have to sacrifice the life you have now to start a new one. I was a psychology professor by day and singer by night for years before I transitioned into a full-time music career.

                                                Just take a little time out each week to do what enlivens you through a hobby, volunteer work, etc. Get a feel for it.

                                                Is it what you really want? If so, increase the time you spend doing it and make the transition when the time feels right.

                                                4. Give Your Inner Critic Some Love

                                                The main culprit that keeps you from stepping outside your comfort zone and getting the life of your dreams is KCRP or K-CRAP – the radio station that plays 24/7 in your head. The moment you try to do something interesting with your life it slaps you down with such chart-topping killer hooks as “Who do you think you are?” and “You’ll never be good enough!”.

                                                Have you ever noticed that KCRP’s mean-spirited DJ sounds like your parents, teachers, bosses, and other authority figures who shut you down creatively? These folks don’t need to stifle you any longer (although they often still do) because your inner critic does it for them. That keeps you stuck in a rut.

                                                To break free, try thinking of this DJ as a gruff old grandfather who gives you crap to keep you safe. Remember, this grumpy grandpa is woefully out of touch with the times. So, his stern opinions don’t really matter much, do they? Give him a pat on the back for his good intentions, and put your focus back on what makes you come alive.

                                                This success principle will give you the courage to venture into the unknown where you can dance to the beat of your own drummer.

                                                Advertising

                                                5. Embrace Your Inner Self

                                                Many of us don’t go after our dreams because we’re afraid folks will find out how odd or strange we are. But our little eccentricities often turn out to be our greatest strengths. Yes, it’s good to be quirky.

                                                Odds are, you lost track of your true passions and talents before you were even old enough to know you were getting off-track. You became slowly “adulterated” by learning to:

                                                • Take on family roles that don’t match who you really are.
                                                • Spit back what teachers taught you in school rather than risk getting bad grades for being original.
                                                • Hide parts of yourself that don’t seem acceptable to certain social groups.

                                                The price for fitting in is that you may wind up leading a life that doesn’t fit you all that well. Your true calling becomes clear when you embrace what makes you different from others and allow yourself to stand out from the crowd, even if it feels awkward. Often, the very qualities you view as your flaws are your greatest gifts.

                                                Here’s How to Listen to Your Inner Voice for Greater Fulfillment.

                                                6. See the Bigger Picture to Find Your True Calling

                                                I cannot stress the importance of this success principle enough. Your true calling is right in front of you. But you may miss it because you’re looking for it in the wrong place.

                                                To “see” it clearly, try widening your point of view.

                                                Case in point: Maria felt she needed to retire early from being a police detective, so she could travel abroad. I encouraged Maria to think of ways that she could continue to serve as a law enforcer (a career she loved) and travel overseas at the same time.

                                                A few months later, Maria landed a job with the United Nations in Bosnia training the local police force to understand and embrace human rights procedures.

                                                Like Maria, you are an everyday rock star capable of accomplishing greater things than you can imagine. Is what you’re looking for right in front of you, too? Do you have an inkling of what it may be?

                                                Look beyond your day-to-day activities, your current job, and even the town you live in. View your life from an eagle’s perspective and be open to new possibilities.

                                                7. Try a Little Wish-List Magic

                                                Pretend I’m your fairy godmother and I give you permission right now to be your most magnificent self. What kind of life would be music to your ears? It doesn’t matter whether it seems unattainable or even downright crazy. Write it down on a wish list.

                                                Get quiet. Be honest. Think big.

                                                Advertising

                                                What would you like your career, your relationships, your health, your finances, and your spiritual life to be like? Jot down enough details so that your wishes seem tangible to you. Then, look at this list every morning before you start your day and every night before you go to sleep.

                                                Sounds silly? It’s not. It works! Permitting yourself to daydream about a rich and fulfilling life is the first step to manifesting it.

                                                8. Take Breaks to Get Clues About Your Ideal Future

                                                Did you know that working straight through to a deadline leads to diminishing returns? Research shows that taking a break for 15 minutes every 75 to 90 minutes can help you recharge, refresh your focus, and get more done in less time.[5]

                                                Wait, it gets better! A Stanford study shows that walking increases your creative output increases by 60 percent. Doing repetitive activities such as walking, running, riding your bike, swimming, and sweeping allow solutions to problems to pop into your mind out of nowhere.[6]

                                                What does this success principle have to do with creating your dream life?

                                                These mini-breaks allow you to get vital clues for what to do next to attain your ideal future. Plus, you won’t waste precious time and energy getting lost in other people’s agendas.

                                                9. Take Action on Your Inspired Ideas

                                                Once an inspired thought pops into your mind, take action.

                                                This is one of the most powerful success principles for turning your dreams into reality; the sooner the better. Whatever it is—from calling an old friend to taking a new route home—be sure to do it!

                                                Pay attention to your oddball hunches. You need to go after what you want, not just dream about it. As comedian Jim Carrey warns,

                                                “You can’t just visualize and go eat a sandwich.”

                                                10. Count Your Rockstar Moments

                                                Still not sure you have what it takes to get your dream life? This final success principle is guaranteed to help.

                                                Make a list of everything you’ve ever accomplished. As you read back through it, put a star next to each item, and let it sink in.

                                                Advertising

                                                You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how good you’ll feel about yourself afterward. You’ll also see how effective you’ve been in the past at getting what you want. You’ve succeeded before, you can succeed again.

                                                You already rock. You just need to own it. Trust me, you’ve got this!

                                                Final Thoughts

                                                Eleanor Roosevelt said,

                                                “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

                                                Following these success principles will help you find the time and energy to do the things that really matter and live with clear intention.

                                                By spending just one hour a week doing something you love, focusing on your strengths and achievements, embracing what makes you different, and acting on inspired ideas, you can create a life that is a perfect fit for you, step-by-step.

                                                If you don’t have a clue about what your dream life could look like yet, don’t worry. Your heart knows. It has been “talking” to you for a long time. It’s just being muffled by KCRP, buried under a lot of “shoulds” and fear.

                                                This article can also help you figure out the life you truly want to live: How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up.

                                                Stand still, get quiet, and listen. It’s constantly telling you what you need to do to realize your own rockstar potential. It may be just a whisper now, but the more you pay attention to it, the louder it will get, and the easier it will be to follow.

                                                More About Success in Life

                                                Featured photo credit: Rahul Dey via unsplash.com

                                                Reference

                                                Read Next