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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  • There are parts that are outdated or badly thought-out and terribly in need of an Amendment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:

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      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

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                  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:

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                      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.

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                                    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

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                                                More by this author

                                                Anna Chui

                                                Anna is the Chief Editor and Content Strategist of Lifehack. She's also a communication expert who shares tips on motivation and relationships.

                                                The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You The Purpose Of Friendship: The Only 4 Types Of Friends You Need In Life How Self-Doubt Keeps You Stuck (And How to Overcome It) How to Live Life to the Fullest and Enjoy Each Day 30 Books Everyone Should Read At Least Once In Their Lives

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                                                Published on May 18, 2021

                                                How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

                                                How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

                                                We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

                                                The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

                                                Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

                                                Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

                                                Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

                                                There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

                                                Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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                                                Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

                                                We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

                                                Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

                                                A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

                                                The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

                                                Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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                                                Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

                                                Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

                                                Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

                                                While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

                                                Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

                                                These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

                                                Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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                                                Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

                                                Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

                                                Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

                                                Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

                                                Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

                                                Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

                                                As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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                                                This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

                                                Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

                                                Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

                                                These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

                                                Actions Speak Louder Than Words

                                                Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

                                                Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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                                                Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

                                                More Tips Improving Listening Skills

                                                Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

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