(Epistemic Status: The usefulness of this really depends on if you think I’m good at socializing or if I’m terrible at it. This is kind of the secret to me verbalizing and S2ing various social things – I think it’s helpful to be able to invent your own vocabulary for this stuff.)
A year ago, roughly, I had my first hypomanic episode. It was scary, intense, wonderful, and was the first time I actively decided to change my life. I had been in the Boston rationalist scene for a bit, started getting invited to parties, was slowly accumulating social capital. I was a reasonably fun and likeable nerd to be around – but I wasn’t really in control of my interactions. Some nights would go well if someone approached me and lead me around the conversational circuit. Some nights would go poorly if I weren’t attached to someone to talk to. I didn’t really know how to initiate, to keep a conversation going, to be eloquent whatsoever. I had no idea what was going on in social reality or even that it existed. In March of 2017, I started taking steps to change that.
The first thing that happened is I basically decided that I was done sitting around at parties waiting for people I already liked to show up and just getting in a cluster with them. I was gonna talk to new people and find out who was interesting and make new friends. This worked surprisingly well – as I’m sure everyone knows, people like talking about themselves if you aren’t weird about it. The second thing that happened is I became significantly more open to new experience – going to new events, doing new things, meeting people on the internet for coffee. I was fairly wild, powered by hypomania – and it pretty much always worked well. The third thing that happened is what this post is about.
So, it’s one thing to suddenly become social and talk to a lot of people – it helps to train your S1 to do interesting things, you’ll skill up by default. A lot of the whole delayed social development thing is mostly lack of opportunities in childhood due to things “clicking” out of order – at least for most of the people I hang out with. It catches up eventually. The thing that I do that might be unusual and allows me to generate weird jargon for things (and also generally causes people to think I’m “interesting” and all that entails) is posthoc analysis of almost every conversation I have.
I spent a lot of time on public transit – it turns out this works well for the way I think about things. The time between “finishing a social interaction” and “going home afterward” is usually ~30 minutes, and I don’t have to do anything active during this time. I’m just sitting and thinking. My memory is usually good enough so if I do a quick recording of my impressions of what was important in a conversation, I can capture the gist of most of it, as well as a few specific examples of things that seemed unusual or notable. I simulate what I could have done that might have gone better, I consider options that might have gone worse, and I label things that had an effect and speculate on why that effect happened. This last bit is basically half of my blog posts.
What happens after that is I integrate what I’ve derived and try it out next social opportunities. And I make sure I have a lot of social opportunities. At my peak, I was pretty much going out to something or other 6 out of 7 nights a week. I didn’t really try a lot of things at work because the cost of failure was much higher – it’s different to experiment socially and mortally offend a coworker. It’s much easier experimenting socially and accidentally offending a friend who generally will understand if you’re honest about essentially trying to power level social through experience. It’s also easier to meet someone new, mess up the interaction, and just lose the potential tie – you’ll probably never see them again or if you do, you probably won’t be remembered that discretely.
Of course, the other part of iterative socializing is “how do I actually generate 6 opportunities to socialize in a given week.” This is admittedly a bit more illegible and generally relies on being in a big city – I think it would take a different skillset to successfully bootstrap social skills in a more rural environment. In the city though? It mostly relies on going to public events and being determined to talk with at least one person. If you hit it off, invite them out one on one. If you’re really doing well, they’ll want you to meet their other friends. The thing about social interaction and social graphs is it’s a very fast moving success spiral. Your schedule can go from 0 to full in less than 3 months.
Overall, iterative socialization is a combination of skills to get good at socializing in a way that is most in line with the way you interact with people “naturally”. The skills involved are actually starting conversations, finding events to go to that interest you, and being willing to do post hoc analysis of your interactions. If you’re good with words, labeling interactions that seemed “weird” in some way, as well as labelling patterns can be helpful to give you a handle on target interactions to replicate to raise your ability to be consistent in conversation. There is a bit of a caution here, though – conversation is not a road, it is much more flowing. Having a few patterns to work with can make it easier to jump off into good conversational flow – having too many patterns or scripts mostly just leads to either having the same conversations over and over, or to being very very good at talking with one type of person and very bad at other types of people. This is in fact an error I have made thus far – I made techniques as if they were universal, and a couple of them are, but I didn’t actually tag the type of people I was talking to in a legible fashion – so I still have a lot of work to do.
Discussion Questions: Do you ever analyze your conversations after the fact in a useful fashion (feedback looping over how embarrassing you were doesn’t count unless you get actionable changes to the way you behave)? Does this method help explain some of the underlying mechanisms of my social style? Does this method seem like it would be useful for improving your social skills? What are the flaws of this method in your experience?