Discussion: Socially Awkward Penguin as a tool for unraveling social enigmas

by Raw_Power1 min read17th Jun 2011102 comments

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Emotions
Personal Blog

So I was there being my rationalist-with-akrasia-issues, nerdy, awkward self who studies acting, singing, rhetorics, PUA, TV Tropes, Machiavelli, The Art of War, the 48 Laws of Power, the Art of Seduction, the Seven Habits... in the hopes of escaping his chronic fear of his neighbor (with some success, shall I add, but it comes slowly). And then I sumble upon this nice little harmless meme:

Socially Awkward Penguin

I was absolutely stunned. This behavior. I thought it was strange and unique. It's incredibly common. This gave me great hope. If it is common, it means it isn't due to noise: there's a pattern there, there's something to unravel. The misjudgements of power, of what it's right to do, of when to fear and when to be bold, when to speak and when to be silent... What *is* the right thing to do when you're with a coworker on an elevator? What do you say when someone remembers you, but you don't remember them, and they have noticed that? What do you do when you're hit by a paper ball in class? What do you do when the only people you seem to be able to make friends with are older, younger, or of the opposite gender, and you're utterly intimidated by people of your same age and gender, the friendship of whom you know would profit you most? Why do you automatically recalculate trajectories to avoid acquaintances in the hall, at the super, on the bus? Why is it that when a person of the opposite gender so much as pays attention to you, you think you have a crush on them?

There are clues to some of these questions in the books and works I linked back there. But, more often than not, we expect those problems to solve themselves, with one magical word, "confidence".

I am confused at that notion. I find it unsatisfactory. I want to understand social awkwardness. The rules thereof. And how to vanquish it. And I want the keys in a way that can be taught. So that, when I have kids, they don't have to go through the same stupid struggles and can actually feel good about themselves and focus on getting stuff done.

So, I hereby summon the powers of the Lesswrong community: let us pick apart this problem as we know so well, and let us unbury the roots of this evil that is social awkwardness, so that we nerds and geeks may defeat it at last, and live free of its funk.

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I used to be horribly shy and awkward. I didn't have a girlfriend in high-school, ever; I was (and am) clumsy as hell; I didn't (don't) get people. I had basically every common social nerd-failing. However, my problems with social awkwardness have been solved for some time now.

My secret? Not caring.

Well, that's the result, but I guess there are a couple reasons as to why I stopped caring. Easier said than done, I know, but hopefully the following monologue will spur similar realizations in others. (And if it's too long, control-F "robot".)

For one, I began to step back and look at these problems in a larger context: they don't really matter. I make a joke and no one laughs? No one will even remember this occurred five minutes from now, let alone a day or week or year. Even if they did, why would it matter - am I hurt by it? Unless the person who I'm trying to get a chuckle out of is my boss, who refuses raises to unfunny employees, then no - not at all, in any way.

For two, I realized other people don't really care either. They are rarely paying so much attention to you as you think, and rarely so judgmental as you fear. More interestingly, they often take their lead over... (read more)

I agree fully with Hul-Gil. The main thing hindering the socially awkward is caring. Stop caring about your image and your social awkwardness goes away. When you truly reach a point of total apathy regarding how others see you—then nothing you do will be awkward. The difference between a person who's random without caring how they're perceived and the person who tries to be random but ends up being awkward is this: The latter really does care, but acts like he / she doesn't. It shows.

Here's my, perhaps slightly sadistic, bit of info: After that, if other people think what you're doing is awkward (you won't, because you won't care), it becomes a means for your own entertainment.

I've come to the point where I take a strange, humorous pleasure in making others around me feel awkward. People who I don't know, of course, feel strange. People who I do know think it's hilarious.

Although one thing I still kind of struggle with is feelings about the opposite sex. I'm hoping to read more comments regarding it.

"Why is it that when a person of the opposite gender so much as pays attention to you, you think you have a crush on them?"

That's just something I can't seem to get over. I think to myself, "I know I don't have a crush on her," etc., etc., etc.—but it's like a perpetual loneliness whispers unwanted daydreams of being with someone, regardless of how little a connection there is.

2Hul-Gil10yReally, I probably could have posted just this sentence. Exactly what I meant. At first, this attitude was difficult to achieve, and sort of forced - thus I'd go to the grocery store with messy hair, and have to force myself to remember "you're a robot!" Now, however, it doesn't even enter my head to worry. This is probably largely what spurred the "robot approach." In my all my favorite fantasy or sci-fi stories, there's always that episode or chapter where A Female seduces all the normal characters (unintentionally or otherwise)... but The Robot remains immune. It's almost like a superpower (in this context), to be unmoved by beauty. In real life, of course, I have only rarely been approached by beautiful females intent upon seducing me in order to take over my spaceship. But I did often feel like they had undue power over me; so I'd think to myself "ha, ha; she thinks I have a crush on her because she's pretty and I'm not, but really all I care about is science!" (Though I did eventually meet a girl who had a thing for mad scientists. Took more than two decades, though.) Also, I... uh... once pretended to be gay. Turns out females can be great friends if there's no sexual tension. This served as a valuable lesson to me; since most of the tension was evidently just in my head (girls don't actually seem to immediately assume I'm trying to get in their pants like I feared), if you just act unconcerned you'll probably find they have no problem hanging out with you. (I just realized a lot of this is not directly relevant to your problem, but it's at least somewhat related, so I've posted it anyway.)
0[anonymous]10ySurely it can't have been that bad for everyone, otherwise there'd be an outrage! ... People never seem to talk about Boarding Schools as opposed to Normal Schools.... Nor do they compare it much wioth Homeschooling.
1Raw_Power10yYou mean, like, No Sense Of Personal Space [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NoSenseOfPersonalSpace] and The Tease [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheTease] sort of stuff?
4AmagicalFishy10yNot quite; it's more blatant (and intentional) than that, I suppose. I'll give a few examples: *The other day, when hanging out with some people, I poured myself a glass of water, walked over to one of the females, dipped her hair in it, drank the water and shuddered—as if the remnant taste of her hair was ecstatic. Of course, she was creeped out. Of course, everyone else thought it was hilarious. I acted as if it's normal. *At a small get together, I put on someone's football helmet and narrated a basketball game (I know absolutely nothing about basketball). Afterwards, I unnecessarily asked someone to help me take it off—being as genuine about it as someone who really needed help. He helped me take it off, me making it difficult in a subtle manner. I shook his hand afterwards, and held onto it. I said to him, quietly, but loud enough for everyone to hear, "Wow, you have really soft hands. That's really nice," and I rubbed his hand a bit. The few people there who knew me thought it was hilarious. He was, of course, kind of weirded out, and the people around him were a mix between the two. *Telling the girl at the drive-through she has an astonishingly pleasant neck. *Whispering, "I want to be with you forever," while hugging someone. Stuff like this. It sounds weird (tee hee), but totally getting over caring about what people think helps, and I think doing really, really strange stuff helps getting over it.

You are making the people around you feel uncomfortable. Not caring if the people around you are uncomfortable isn't just cool, admirable detachment, it's borderline sociopathic.

1AmagicalFishy10ySomeone else feeling uncomfortable for a small moment is, I think, a pretty reasonable side-effect when you're trying to not always feel uncomfortable. I'm not hurting anyone, physically or emotionally, or any other such thing, but I'd rather be able to make other people feel uncomfortable for a few minutes instead of me feeling uncomfortable every time I interact with someone else. Maybe there's just a better way?
4Alicorn10yHow do you know? I have a friend who feels roughly as protective of her hair as an average person feels of their genitals. If you helped yourself to the end of her braid and dipped it in your water without a by-your-leave she'd feel violated and uneasy for days. I'm a little less neurotic about mine, and would shrug off such a thing faster than that, but if I thought I had any chance of getting you kicked out of the venue after you pulled that kind of stunt, I'd do it, on grounds of do not want (and "what if next time it's not water, it's scissors? What if this escalates every time I let it slide?"). Sure, she's uncommon, so am I, but we also have a reasonable expectation that people will not seize our hair when we go out in public. I'm sure there are victims of various forms of assault with PTSD who could be triggered by your remark about their neck. Etcetera, etcetera. If you need to make others feel uncomfortable so you don't have to (and there's an if there), seek volunteers. Do not hunt down victims.
3AmagicalFishy10yHaving someone volunteer would defeat the purpose, yeah? The female whose hair I dipped in my glass was one of my friends—yes, she was creeped out by it for the moment, and yes, the other people we were with thought it was funny, but that was the extent of it. We've spent time many times afterwards, and laughed about it. I think either you might be making some faulty assumptions, or I didn't include enough information. Though, your crafting a completely arbitrary situation that makes hair-dipping a horrible thing, calling people who feel uncomfortable "victims", and suggesting I may be a borderline sociopath leads me to believe that you might just be a bit uptight. I'll leave this part of the discussion, I don't think continuing it will be beneficial to anything.
6fburnaby10yI think you've discovered the same tricks of status-gaining and coolness that the high-school bully did when you were all 16. Some people can stand it and find it funny, while others are likely going to go home and think about killing themselves just for an out.
3RichardKennaway10yAnd others take the bully out first.
0Peterdjones10yNot that we are encouraging high school shootings.
1RichardKennaway10yOf course not. Killing everyone is way disproportionate.
2AmagicalFishy10yI feel like you guys have this unusually serious idea of what I'm doing. No one's being "bullied" or harmed, and the majority of people I act towards are people I see and interact with frequently. I can only assume that, since so many people are taking it that way, that there's been some horrible fault in my description.
0fburnaby10yI thought about this a bit more after posting. I definitely do something that could plausibly be described by your previous post with certain people that I'm very comfortable/familiar with. Context is hard on the internet and I can imagine contexts where your described behaviours would be sensible. But they weren't the first ones that came to mind.
5cousin_it10yBeing unafraid in social situations is useful, but it seems to be most effective if you combine it with another skill: the ability to accurately read people. Here's a beautiful Reddit comment [http://www.reddit.com/r/dating_advice/comments/i9bi1/how_do_you_get_a_relationship/c221mg5] explaining that skill. Disclosure: I only recently realized that I'm bad at reading people, and I'm going to follow the advice in that comment.
0XFrequentist9yThat comment deserves its own post!
2wedrifid10yI can't decide what would be the most 'hilarious' reaction. Seeing her kick you as hard as she could in the balls in self defense or her having you charged with sexual assault.
2[anonymous]10yIs doing that kind of things absolutely neccessary for maintaining your indifference? It sounds like people caught up in your jokes might not enjoy them. And didn't you ever get in trouble for acting like that, for example by getting challenged, physically assaulted, thrown out, fired, etc.?
0AmagicalFishy10yNope. I'm trying to find a way to consolidate both of our mindsets on the matter. Anyone who would "challenge", physically assault, etc. me because I made them (or someone) feel a bit uncomfortable for a couple of moments, I think, might be blowing things way out of proportion. That seems unreasonable to me, the inability to deal with a little discomfort. The only thing I can think of is that there's the idea that the only way I interact with people is by doing these strange things? If that is the case—it's not true, and I can see where others wouldn't want someone who always makes them feel uncomfortable around.
3Raw_Power10yWhy? Why should people tolerate you inflicting discomfort on them, regardless of how often or how nastily you do it?
2CuSithBell10ySo, you think it's unreasonable to attempt to avoid social discomfort by doing something that someone else might not like?
1wedrifid10yThe impression I am getting is one of belligerent naivety. You are describing the active violation of another's person in a manner with overt and intentional sexual implications. That is a big deal. A strong reaction against that is fairly reasonable and should certainly be expected either by the victim or a witness.
2AmagicalFishy10yI'm trying to put a finger on the origin of differences in opinion between me and everyone who agrees with you—but I'm having a hard time. I live in Eastern US, so I can't imagine there's a huge culture gap. I can't think of any situation where someone could make me feel uncomfortable, and I, in turn, would hit them. To me, that seems absolutely absurd. I can not see the sense in the situation. If I were to touch someone's hair, and, in return he/she kicked me in the testicles—how can a person seriously see that as self defense and not a blatant escalation of an otherwise harmless situation? Though, wedrifid, it looks like many people agree with you, and it'd be silly to assume everyone but me is violent or unable to handle themselves, so I'm apparently missing something. I've been "messing with people" for a while, and never have I come across anything more severe than someone simply being "weirded out". There's a difference between not enjoying something and being unable to handle it. There are many things in life I "don't enjoy", but their importance, relevance, or the time I spend thinking about them is infinitesimal. Is there a generational difference between me and the people commenting? I'm 22. Perhaps socially acceptable actions and reactions were a lot . . . stricter in the past, and that reflects in people's opinions?
2arundelo10yAn ex-girlfriend of mine had a joke where she would return from the bathroom and put a wet finger on my neck, saying "I peed on my hand".
2CuSithBell10yI guess the LW question would be: what is the probability that it was a joke?
2Hul-Gil10yI find that kind of stuff to be pretty funny. Alicorn has a good point in that in some cases, it can go too far; doing the hair thing to a stranger would be an example of that, perhaps. But doing it to friends or acquaintances, when you're reasonably certain they won't suffer from it? Seems fine. (Also - the hair thing is gross! I wouldn't wash my hands in that water! But I'm just uncomfortable with other peoples' bodies in general.)
1AmagicalFishy10yIt's a weird thing; in my various mental, social, and emotional endeavors, I've developed a strange standard for what I think is gross—typically, if something doesn't have a high-chance of detrimentally affecting my health, I'm ok with it. (This has lead me to do things that other people wouldn't think of doing, ever, haha.)
0Raw_Power10yYou mean ME GUSTA [http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/120389-me-gusta#.Tf_-eD8mwWM] sorts of things?
3Hul-Gil10yI prefer to think of myself as a Cloudcuckoolander [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Cloudcuckoolander]. (Also, thanks - now I'm stuck on TVTropes again. I'm not even sure how I escaped last time.) (Also, weren't you a poster on Totslet? :O)
1Raw_Power10yNeivar, I am a veteran troper.
4[anonymous]10yLong ago, I used to worry about situations where I do awkward things (and was pretty awkward), but then I remembered everybody else is too busy worrying about themselves looking awkward to really care about my awkwardness. I stopped being strongly awkward after that, and of course I'm much happier--it was probably the one "turning point" in my life where I went from anxious/unhappy to calm/happy. (It was at about the age of 12, IIRC)
1Will_Newsome10yI call this "aspy game". I used it to great effect in high school, to the extent of feeling that even if I'd never gotten laid after high school I'd still feel like I'd aced natural selection's test. Being naturally narcissistic probably helped. So I guess my secrets to social success, especially with hot chicks, were: dressing well, exercising, befriending a few of the highest status people, and aspy game. (Befriending the highest status people was surprisingly easy. But maybe that was just anthropic selection.)
[-][anonymous]10y 12

One thing that helped raise my confidence level and made many of these problems magically disappear is resistance training.

I'll just quote RAW on that:

Whenever you meet a young male or female, ask yourself consciously, 'If it came to hand-to-hand combat, could I beat him/her?' Then try to determine how much of your behavior is based on unconsciously asking and answering that question via pre-verbal 'body language'.

It didn't take much to get good results. After I put on 10kg (75->85 at 185cm) and got strong enough to actually do some push-ups, most people didn't feel threatening anymore.

(Well, and probably knowing that almost everybody will avoid fights at all costs, so you could do lots of damage even if you're a skinny nerd, but just are willing to actually attack. But only knowing this alone didn't do it, I actually had to gain some strength. I don't intend to ever actually get into a fight, but I run on hardware that cares about this crap.)

5NancyLebovitz10yI'm 4'11" and not athletic. I occurred to me that if I was afraid of people for being bigger than me, I'd go around being afraid of people all the time, so I pretty much shut off that part of my mind off. I grant that this is presumably easier because I haven't be subject to much physical assault. So far, this policy hasn't made my life any worse.
4CronoDAS10yYou're also female, over 21, and not in [http://www.slate.com/id/2089095/] prison [http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200909/why-don-t-students-school-well-duhhhh] . When you're a 11-year-old boy and don't get to choose your own peers, someone being bigger than you is, well, a big deal.
0NancyLebovitz10yI'm surprised at the number of upvotes my comment got. I think people took it as more general advice -- and more generally feasible-- than I intended.
0wedrifid10yImagine you are 4'11" and packing.
3Raw_Power10yThat's an interesting perspective. Though I don't know for you, but when I start reguarly working out, I feel a lot happier, like, constantly, but I also feel less witty and more stupid, for some absurd reason. Endorphins?According to Swartzenegger, being at peak muscle power feels like cumming all the time... [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMjG2s6UOaw]. That can't be good for thinking clearly... On the OTHER hand, actuial martial-arts training can have the opposite effect: the techniques taught in "Do" style arts are so impractical, so forced and so context-specific, you find yourself fearing fights to happen because you're afraid of botching your moves. This is especially true in the lower levels or when you haven't learned the fundamentals, but I know a Taek Won Do black belt who is still terrified of sparring with me, even though her moves are incredibly precise and quite redoubtable... as long as you don't catch her leg... Oh, and the problem with practical martial arts is that you're afraid of not holding back proprely and ending up commiting manslaughter or something generally gory. This was a real problem with LINEAR: the moves being useful for killing and virtually nothing else, and being simple to the point of being reflexes, got many a drunk Marine in trouble. I'm really veering off-topic here, yes?
2[anonymous]10yInteresting side-effect. Something like this happened to me when I was taking anti-depressives, and the direct euphoria after a good workout does make it harder to think carefully. Doesn't last long, though, while the confidence boost is more or less permanent. Maybe do some push-ups when you need to engage with other people and listen to Nick Drake if you need to think? ;)
-1Will_Newsome10yTestosterone.
0[anonymous]10yYour answer sounds incomplete. I could beat most women in the ring, yet I feel scared to approach them :-) That said, working out does make me feel better about myself, and thus more confident.
3[anonymous]10yYeah, it's one component, but not the whole solution. Don't know about approaching humans as part of dating, never did it. Only had one relationship and I found myself talking to a girl for a couple of hours, I realized I enjoyed it, told her so, she agreed, girlfriend for a while. Stopped it once I realized I didn't like her enough to spend much time with her (not interesting enough), didn't try again because I found people not very interesting in general. (Also, what Hul-Gil said.)

A little bit of reflectivity helped me a lot. When I say something stupid (it could be something socially awkward, or in the same way something obviously factually incorrect), I now see it as my brain failing me, without identifying with the error (I am a more long-term reflective process running on the brain, not its individual responses; I'm the one who noticed the error and will correct it, not the one who made it, if it's not the error of not training my brain better). I then look at the error and its causes, figure out a better decision, and try to train my brain the skill of noticing that situation and recognizing the better way of understanding it faster. This both reduces the negative emotional impact of making an error (less identification with its cause), and benefits the learning dynamic (more time is spent on solving the puzzle of how to do better, and not on blaming myself).

(There is of course a danger of falling into "not my responsibility, I don't care" mode. But your brain is still your responsibility, even if it's not the same thing as you. And teaching it important skills, such as generating more optimal thoughts immediately and not only on reflection, and not generating some wrong thoughts without needing to notice their wrongness on reflection, makes you stronger.)

This is not my original observation but I haven't seen it mentioned yet in this discussion:

The reason a middle school or high school student feels awkward, disconnected and asocial may not be that he/she has anything at all wrong with them. In fact, the problem may just be that middle school and high school are horrible places which encourage human beings' worst tendencies and stifle any opportunities for positive interaction and self-actualization.

If you feel awkward in the cafeteria at lunch time and you don't know or like anyone around you, that's beca... (read more)

1Will_Newsome10yI hear this a lot from the Less Wrong and SingInst crowd, but I'd like to say that I thought high school was awesome despite also being incredibly painful at points (to the extent that I dropped out during my senior year).
3Raw_Power10yPlease elaborate...
1Raw_Power10ySurely it can't have been that bad for everyone, otherwise there'd be an outrage! ... People never seem to talk about Boarding Schools as opposed to Normal Schools.... Nor do they compare it much wioth Homeschooling.

Stranger at your table eats biscuits out of your packet. You're just speechless.

0Raw_Power10yI won't explain the joke, but it really was an unexpected twist...
[-][anonymous]10y 7

The ur-rule for social interaction is pretty simple, actually (in form at least):

Do whatever will raise your status. Avoid that which will lower your status.

(Edit: See wedrified's more nuanced explanation below)

Confidence is simply a proxy for a certain class of high-status behaviors. PART of that is not displaying concern at how your behavior is interpreted (because if you're worrying about your status, you're obviously low-status), but if your behavior isn't in the ballpark of "proper" already this will backfire (unless you're so high status th... (read more)

9wedrifid10yDefinitely not. Raising your status too much when at work, for example, can make bosses and powerful rivals feel (too) threatened and subject you to reprisals. Consistently raising your status with equal-status friends rather than alternating with a process of give and take also has undesirable consequences at times. When you master social skills you have the ability to lower your status a little as necessary rather than rigidly taking the high status route every time. Strength rather than brittleness.
2[anonymous]10yAgreed, thanks for the correction.
-1CuSithBell10yCan someone point me to examples of how status-theory reduces the complexity of social phenomena in a useful way? I mostly see it used descriptively, and then there is a great deal of context-specific information added.
3jhuffman10yI am not saying this is true, but a possibility would be that it gives you a more useful analytical model with which to ascertain other people's motivations and incentives which could further guide your own interactions with them.
1calcsam10yI've been reading Keith Johnstone's book on drama which has some great examples of this. Highly recommended. Since then, from time to time I ask, "What would a high-status person do here?" and do it. Sometimes I want to lower my status and reverse the question.
1[anonymous]10yStatus theory doesn't really add any new mechanisms for human behavior, it just extends them from cases where they're obvious to cases where they're less than obvious. Concepts like "coolness", "popularity", "prestige", "high-class" are all basically synonyms for high-status, and systems of status are often explicitly codified in society, such as with titles of nobility or caste systems. And theories of fashion and other "positional" good are already status-based. So it's already a mechanism responsible for quite a bit of social interaction. Status theory, as best I can tell, is really just saying that these particular cases aren't unique, and that all social interaction has an element of status-jockeying embedded in it. Armed with this explanation, large chunks of otherwise weird behavior (karma systems, etiquette, insults, giving non-monetary awards) begin to make sense.

Try this: revel in moments that are awkward for everyone. Crave them. Love them. Seek them out, and bask in them when they arrive.

Becoming generally comfortable with others' palpable discomfort is something I've worked on recently, and I've found it useful. There are still a few situations that make me feel uncomfortable, but they're becoming fewer and rarer.

Suggested venues for finding universally awkward situations: introductions, elevators, first dates, locker rooms, job interviews, crowded transit, sales pitches.

Might not help you to understand social ... (read more)

3Alexei10yYes, I would highly recommend doing rejection therapy. We did it at rationality mini-camp and from what I've heard, everyone had a fun time AND they became more open and socially adept. You just realize how much you can do/get just by asking, how people react to you (they don't really care), etc... Best way to try it is to go downtown or campus (if you live in a big city) or drive up some place where you don't know anyone and just walk around asking people for things (money, items, high-fives, going to lunch, anything at all). The goal is to get they to say YES, but you do it to get rejected. Get some friends to come with you (but do the exercise individually, being in a group dilutes the feeling of rejection). Do this continuously and I think you'll be very happy with the results.

Overcoming social awkwardness is difficult to communicate - it's like trying to communicate how to prove theorems to someone who's bad at proving theorems. Do you say "Think of more ideas," like it will help?

The beginning and end of it all is practice. There are two sorts - reading proofs someone else has done, and doing proofs yourself. Or rather, observing other people (both real and fictional, though fictional has obvious problems) and getting into social situations yourself. Practice:

1) Get used to using the basic forms (induction, proof ... (read more)

Use the chaotic inversion principle: instead of saying that something's intrinsically difficult to communicate, say that most people suck at communicating it.

There's a big difference between a teacher who says "the beginning and end of it all is practice" and a teacher who says "okay class, hold on to the edge of the pool and make this exact motion with your legs. cousin_it, turn your heel inward a little more." If someone can't be the latter kind of teacher, I'd rather they avoided teaching entirely.

If you don't know how good you are at teaching, ask yourself this: do you empathize with the student? Do you understand exactly what problem the student is facing right now, and did you have to overcome the same problem yourself? Naturally skilled people mostly suck at teaching because they stubbornly believe that the student can "just do" something non-trivial.

Imagine you're teaching someone to ride a bike, but for some mysterious reason they can't even go two meters without losing balance and falling. Would you know how to debug the problem, or would you exhort them to "try again" and "keep your balance", then leave disappointed after they fail 10 times in a row? The latter is what happens when naturally social people try to teach awkward people to be social.

5Manfred10yWhy? It's not what's referenced in chaotic inversion - that's "chaos might actually be ignorance." Some things really do take more work to communicate than others, especially skillsets that will be different from person to person. True, I probably should have been more specific, and it's even worse than your examples because there is no "this exact motion," and I am the swim teacher who says "see that bunch of people swimming over there? Try and do what they're doing for an hour." I'll add a list of practice items in order of scariness, but I suspect that RawPower also could have made a similar list, and the trouble is more devoting the effort to doing them. Real-world practice ideas, in rough order of scariness: If invited to something, go. Join a club. Join a club that will require you to interact with normal people. Play a drinking game. Friend on facebook someone you know who hosts a lot of events (can find out by asking). If in a room full of people, strike up three conversations within the next hour. Ask an acquaintance to go grab lunch with you. Talk with them. If you're walking in the same direction as someone on the sidewalk, strike up a conversation. By the end of a practice conversation you should find out their name, what they do, whether they are enjoying the conversation (do not actually ask - use detective skills), and what their favorite dinosaur is (or a similar detail). Optionally you could find out about their general social lives, recent entertainment they've attended, if they have any big plans for the future, and if they have heard of [thing you like]. Extra credit - make up new things to find out that you think people would find interesting if someone asked them. Invite several acquaintances out for lunch or dinner. Most will say no. Some will say yes. Host a dinner party. Get out on the dancefloor and do what you see other people doing. Invite one to five acquaintances over to do an activity such as a videogame, a board game, or watchi
1cousin_it10yApply the chaotic inversion principle again. It's more likely that you don't know the required exact motion, but still try to teach people using your vague understanding.
3Manfred10yWhy? Going back to proofs, it's reasonable that there's some optimal proof-finding algorithm given the set of proofs you want to solve (equivalent to knowing what social situations you will be in). But if you don't know the problems, is there an efficient one-size fits all algorithm that isn't basically "find the right algorithm in your situation and then execute it?" Does there have to be?
3NancyLebovitz10yIt's not that binary-- good teachers learn to be more perceptive. They don't hit a point where they know everything they need to know about teaching. I agree that the basic willingness to share knowledge rather than just say the usual thing is essential.
3Raw_Power10yAnd this is why I think researchers shouldn't be teachers and vice-versa: the skillset is completely different
2Manfred10yThey do share intelligence and knowledge of the subject, and being able to break down your knowledge into parts is useful for a researcher too. I think requiring researchers to teach at least some undergraduate classes is a good idea, because it serves as a form of professional development, keeping them in touch with the basics and keeps them integrated in university life. Although there should be recourse if a researcher is a particularly bad teacher, normally they do quite well.
0Raw_Power10yIn my experience university teachers really don't give a crap about the students understanding anything and think all the technical low-level calculaton grunt work is so beneath them it doesn't deserve any attention. Ask any of them to derivate a freaking tangent and watch them sweat.
0Manfred10yWhat subject was taught by this professor who had trouble taking the derivative of a tangent?
0Raw_Power10yHere is his page [http://documat.unirioja.es/servlet/autor?codigo=1285070] Guy is apparently a highlevel mather, but completely out of touch with peasant-level calculations, apparently.
0Manfred10yHuh, I have never run into such a person, though I've run into a few professors who were bad teachers. But in your experience it's common: you say "In my experience university teachers really don't give a crap about the students understanding anything". Is it really that common? Are you generalizing too much? Maybe it's a difference between different countries. Have you read Richard Feynman's account of teaching in Brazil?
0Raw_Power10yNope. Do tell.
1Manfred10yWell, in short, science education in Brazil was consistently terrible because it taught students to value memorization but not understanding. In long, you can read his account here [http://v.cx/2010/04/feynman-brazil-education].
0Raw_Power10ySo... like Japan?

A technique: I defuse awkwardness by smiling and (humorously) describing the situation. In other words, I recognize when an uncomfortable silence is about to happen, and break it immediately by talking. Using the examples from the SAP video:

  • No one laughs at my joke: Say "Er, that was funny in my head, but I guess you had to be there"
  • Someone mentions that I'm online 24/7: Say "I leave the computer on while I'm out or asleep"
  • Holding the door for a person too far away: Say "I regret this. You'll have to run"
  • I wave back at
... (read more)
1Maelin10yI like this. I find this kind of lampshading technique very helpful, provided you can lampshade in a way transforms the awkwardness into humour. For instance, if I have just made a foolish mistake, I will often say something like, "Wow. That was pretty embarrassing." as if I am marvelling at my own foolishness in amusement, rather than feeling shame. People in conversation are generally not malicious and awkwardness is usually considered undesirable by all participants. It doesn't take a lot of effort to defuse it.

I find that when I feel awkward, other people can tell. Unless they're remarkably understanding and poised, this tends to make other people feel uneasy enough that they too become awkward.

This tells very little about how to actually become less awkward, which seems to me to be mostly a matter of practice so that you know what to do, and somehow making yourself feel less self-conscious so that you don't start feeling awkward.

8[anonymous]10yThis actually sort of hints at one of my go-to techniques, which is to assume somebody else is probably feeling awkward, identify that person, and make them feel better. Even if you still come off as shy, people will think you're a really nice shy person. ETA: Downside, if you are a lady and even sort of cute, you end up with a lot of awkward dudes crushing on you.
0Raw_Power10y"Girl payed attention to me/ I think I just fell in love" is indeed a very SOB reaction. Of course, Fluttershy-like girls can be really compelling in their own way.
8[anonymous]10yYou know, I'm not sure the instant attraction when a person of your preferred sex is nice to you is actually the thing that's weird here. The difference is that a non-awkward guy, at this point, gets flirty and tries for the phone number, and an awkward guy spends 3-6 months trying to make you like him and then confesses his love via AIM.
6Alicorn10yThis is clearly the best way to confess love. Even if you are in the same room with the object thereof.
0Sniffnoy10y3-6 months? So impatient... :P
5Raw_Power10yAlso, the normal guy is less SERIOUSLY flirty, more nonchalant, and less afraid of it backfiring. The seductive implications of that... are for another discussion entirely. But yeah, the normal guy doesn't care if you like him or not as long as you put out, the awkward guy wants you to completely fall for him.

Well, here's an idea: how about this: let's ALL post examples of socially awkward interactions and post them all to a common website (maybe you have some examples that are highly upvoted on reddit's archives). Most of the people I talk to are socially awkward themselves, and they've gone through some pretty intensely interesting experiences. It sometimes alleviates social anxiety since you get an idea of what people tolerate and what they don't, so that you feel somewhat more confident about how people will receive you in real life.

Here's a facebook group ... (read more)

0Raw_Power10yThe point of this discussion is not really to vent [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5az3Z7wf7Xc], but to analyze and deconstruct the causes of Social Awkwardness. I'm still upvoting you though.

There seems to be a real mix of the Socially Awkward Penguins. Some of them seem sort of funny and minor, while others seem demonstrative of actual mental illness. For example, multiple of those linked includes people "starving" because they are going out of their way to avoid social interaction.

2Raw_Power10yWell it isn't really "mental illness", more like absolutely not knowing what to expect. As I said, me reading all those books up there and reading the sequences at this very site has helped me see through a lot of the bullshit "normal" people use to justify their behavior, which they take for granted. Once you've seen that they are as weak, incompetent and insecure as yourself, and that they aren't nearly as dangerous or powerful as they want to appear, you can talk to them much more easily. Becoming easy with your own awkwardness and playing it up for adorkable points is also a good way of turning a faux pas into a pas de danse. Darren Criss (A Very Potter Musical, Glee) has been a great model for me in that sense, especially when it comes to dancing.

Your "Socially Awkward Penguin" link goes to lesswrong.com/submit, perhaps you intended http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/socially-awkward-penguin?

5Raw_Power10yWhy yes, thank you very much. "Can never speak up or stand up to other people in Real Life, but could be a Moderator on the Internet": This is especially depressing when you know yoruself to be quite persuasive and eloquent and captivating on the Internet, only to find that all that charisma goes to mush when it's time for live-action interaction.

Huh, I just realized that Socially Awkward Penguin has an unexpected benefit. I can remember instances of when I totally didn't understand why people would act a certain way, then remember a point at which I'd either explicitly or intuitively grokked it. For, example: "Make joke, no one laughs. Friend repeats joke--greatest joke ever told in the history of comedy." (One of my close friends was the future homecoming king at a big high school.) It's weird to think that I didn't understand why that would be the default expectation until I was almost 17.

2Kaj_Sotala10yI don't get it. I've never experienced a situation like that.
4Raw_Power10yIt comes down to eloquence and timing. Surprisingly enough, the skills needed for stand-up comedy are completely different from those used in a group or in a one-on-one discussion. I'm very successful at the former and the latter, but I suck at the one in the middle.
-1Will_Newsome10yRaw_Power's explanation is some of it, but also, if a person who is really high status says something in a voice that's inflected as if it were a joke, then it automatically becomes hilarious and people have to laugh. I was very weird and lower status than many people I randomly met up with at the mall (because I was with my super high status friend) and so when I made a joke, no one would laugh, even though they would laugh a lot when he repeated it later. It's not entirely that my delivery was bad, I think it was largely a result of status differentials.
0Kaj_Sotala10yAh. That sounds right.
0Raw_Power10yMy god you have put your finger on something big here... Even though Lord Hamster never laughs at Tool Stanley's Jokes...