SUPERHUMAN SOCIAL SKILLS


*Actionable Takeaways From This Book:*

  • You should be a 'net positive' in social interactions, not negative or neutral (replacable with someone positive)*

  • Being emotionally independent not only makes you nicer to be around, but it also makes it easier to make new friends as you ask for nothing in the early stages of a friendship*

  • Paying attention to the meta-channel of communication will improve your comunciaiton*

  • A story has 3 parts, when storytelling you need to stop after the resolution of the problem and not much later, otherwise your story will be boring*

  • Be easily distractible with your own stories (stop whenever there is a chance and wait for literal cues to continue) but pay close attention to other's stories and try to have them finish them*

  • Do not brag, asking questions is a form of elevating status*

  • Don't tease someone about something unless they have no reason to take offense*

  • You can alienate people by impressing them, but have no risk in making people like you*

  • The closest friendships that are formed are with people whith whom you have multiple, varied shared experiences, a single repeated one does not count*

*On being a net addition*

Beyond just getting along with people in all strata of society, you want to generally be a net positive to any social situation in which you're placed. If someone was eating alone, and you were to join them, that should make their lunch better. If a few friends are having tea together, and you get invited, your presence should make everyone have a better time. And if you go to a large party or event, even though your impact will be proportionally smaller due to the size, those you interact with should be glad that you were at the party.

Being a net addition is different than just not being a net negative. Being simply neutral is often a negative, as you are taking up an attendance slot that could have been used by someone else who could have been an addition. It's important to proactively add to social situations.

*On the anatomy of social groups*

Most social circles are actually series of concentric circles. There's the small inner nucleus of people who organise and get invited to everything, and without whom events wouldn't even happen. Then there's the next ring of people who are always welcome, but would never displace a member of the nucleus. Outside those two circles are people who usually get invited, but only if space permits. Or maybe they have certain personality quirks that make them incompatible with others in that circle, meaning the core group must choose who gets invited and who doesn't.

The nucleus is comprised of the people who are net additions, and who orchestrate events. The next circle is those who are also net additions. The circle further out are people who are “not negative”. Sometimes they add, sometimes they're neutral. They're nice to have around, but not a sure enough thing to make sure they come to every event.

*On emotional independence*

A person who is emotionally independent from acquaintances is most likely minimising the impositions he creates on his friends, but is also making it very easy for new people to become his friends, since he asks nothing from them in the early stages of the friendship.

*On the anatomy of communication*

A master of communication must be able to have two major conversations (content and meta), while maintaining two minor conversations (emotion and status). This is no exaggeration. If someone were to transcribe the meta conversation between you and another person, it should be totally coherent. Same with the other two. If that conversation did not flow as smoothly as the content channel, you'd find that the conversation was frustrating to one or both of you, even if you couldn't identify why.

The point of the meta channel is that it allows for shades of grey not afforded by the content channel. If the content channel is a lecture, the meta channel is a dance. It's pushing and pulling, circling and parrying. Imagine if someone said, “I'll eat at the pizza place, but I'd rather go somewhere else.” That's exactly what our first person communicated on meta, but when it's in the content channel, it actually means something different. It's a much stronger disagreement, and is the beginning of a disharmonious decision-making process.

Once you are really tuned into the meta channel, you might feel as though you are in the matrix. Even when people aren't intending to communicate on the meta channel, you can infer their sub-communications. You understand not just the “what” of people are saying, but also the why, and you gain the power to have two complete conversations at the same time.

The first step to communicating on the meta channel is to constantly ask yourself why people are saying the things they say. Why did he choose that exact phrasing? Why didn't she say something else instead? Why share that information now? Come up with some ideas in your head, and check them later when you have more information. By making predictions and checking their accuracy later, you'll begin to calibrate your brain. When a prediction was off its mark, take the time to analyse and think about it.

*On storytelling*

A lot of conversing is taking the other person on an emotional journey. You think about where they are emotionally, as well as where they want to be, and you use the emotional channel to guide them there, or keep them there if they want to stay in the same place.

The payoff is the big moment in the story, and it's a natural high point. It's your cue to exit the story and stop talking. If you keep talking, you lessen the impact of the story and ruin it. But if you consistently end stories with a strong payoff, people will want to hear more of your stories. They've trusted you with their attention, and you've respected it by giving the minimum background, an exciting buildup, and a satisfying payoff at the end.

Stories are best when they are brought up in context. That context can be time-based (“Guess what happened to me just now?”) or topic-based. You'll notice that stand-up comedians have two standard segues. One is to say, “Yesterday I ______”, and the other is “Speaking of ______”. The former makes a story relevant based on the time it happened, and the other makes it relevant due to the topic.

Tell good stories about your friends.

Your friend looks good because you're telling a story about him in which he shines. But he also looks good because his friend thinks highly enough him to prop him up. In addition, you look good because you are secure enough to make your friend look good rather than toot your own horn

> Be Easily Distracted During Your Own Stories, But Not Theirs

Drop a story at any distraction, if the person doesn't bring it up, it wasn't as fun for them, don't refer back to it.

Your goals in a conversation are to make sure that the other person enjoys themselves, to allow them to learn about you, and for you to learn about them. By allowing them to tell a story that's not all that interesting, you are letting them enjoy themselves, and you're also learning about them, even if it's in a tedious format.

*On status*

Instinctively reading status from the way people act and speak is consistent and accurate, which indicates that it's extremely difficult to fake. If you feel like someone is high status, they probably are. If you think they're overreaching and are trying to convince you that they're high status, they probably are faking.

For this reason, it's dangerous to try to fake your own status through body language and tonality. As you become more comfortable and confident, these aspects of communication will naturally change in a positive way.

Your boss says that he thinks the food at a restaurant is terrible, and you agree with him even though you think it's great. The “cool guy” at a party loves a song, and suddenly everyone likes it, too. This is a low status behaviour that invites disrespect.

Disagreeing with everything is even worse, but expressing your own opinion in a clear and appropriate way conveys that you have the ability to think for yourself, even in the presence of strong outside influence. You will be given respect for doing this.

*On conveying value vs bragging*

The value that you convey must be true and authentic. That means that exaggerating is a bad idea. When people have few data points to judge you on, each one will be used and weighted heavily to mean more than it actually does. So if you exaggerate once or say something that doesn't really seem to jive with who you are, it will be noticed and held against you.

You can also convey value through asking questions. If someone else is an expert in an area, you could ask a question that presupposes a certain type of knowledge. If you flew airplanes, it would be inappropriate to come out and say, “Hey guys, I'm a pilot!” but you could ask someone who flew helicopters about specific differences between the two.

You'll notice that these alternatives are also more valuable to the listener. They inform, entertain, or engage, rather than just impress. If you're not sure if you're bragging or not, don't say it. Bragging is extremely detrimental, and you'll have plenty of other opportunities to convey value.

*On ratios*

When you begin a conversation with a new person, you should have a loose default of doing all or most of the talking. If the person isn't socially adept and can't think of things to say, it won't be a problem, since you'll fill any silence with interesting stories, questions, and observations.

Eventually you want to transition to a lower ratio, preferably fifty-fifty. If you have someone who is really shy, you may always be at sixty or seventy percent, but greater than that is a lecture, not a conversation, and it's very likely the other person will become frustrated.

As a general rule, never over-explain. If you're talking about something intellectual, do the bare minimum amount of explanation. As soon as someone nods or agrees with something you say, move on to your next point. When explaining, question and answer is the ideal format. It allows the person receiving the information to get exactly the information he needs, in the depth he prefers, and it keeps the provider of the information confident that his input is valued.

The general idea is that you tell one story and lace it with as many hints about other stories and conversations as possible. For example:

“Back when I lived in California, I had this friend who lived on an Icelandic car ferry. We were working on a project together, and were having an argument about whether we should hire someone or not...”

The story may be about how you decided whether or not to hire someone, but there are several topical hooks that have been dropped. You could talk about California, living on a boat, Iceland, or the project you were working on. This often leads to chance overlaps, like, “I used to live in San Francisco. Where did you live?”

This also provides the other person with a very convenient way to stop your story if they're not that interested. It's a game of constant escalation of interest, allowing them to hop through your topics until one is so interesting that it becomes a real conversation. At the same time, it doesn't burden them with the responsibility of coming up with the topic themselves.

*On being funny*

When evaluating others, we are always looking for proof of claims. I can recite some memorized facts to give the impression that I'm smart, but it's not proof. Some experts believe that a sense of humour is attractive because it is proof of intelligence that can't be faked. It takes brainpower to make unusual connections, read the other person, and deliver a few sentences to make them laugh. You can't just memorize jokes to do this, you have to be able to improvise. That's where the proof lies.

As a rule, you don't tease someone about something unless they have no reason to take offense to it.

*On engaging the quiet ones*

“Jean, you always have interesting takes on these sorts of topics, what do you think?”

Unless the topic is very far from their interests, this will engage almost anyone. When a conversation makes someone feel important, the conversation then feels more important to them. Even if they quickly give an opinion and then the conversation continues, they will be more engaged because they've invested in it.

*On modesty*

He should avoid talking about travel at all, or, if the topic comes up in conversation, he should say, “Oh, I was just in Europe. I got a crazy deal on a ticket, so I couldn't pass it up.”

There's no way they can interpret that as him thinking he's better than them. They can imagine being lucky and getting a good deal on a trip. They probably won't even ask where in Europe he traveled. It's just too far from their reality to be a relevant detail.

Of course, sometimes you'll meet someone who is genuinely interested in the details and keeps probing. No problem obliging them-- the point is to share the information they'll most relate to, and then to allow them to choose how much of the other information they receive.

Just because you downplay to people who might be intimidated doesn't mean that you should exaggerate to those on the other end of the spectrum. A little bit of modesty is appreciated by everyone, but exaggeration sours people quickly and makes them assume everything you say might be an exaggeration.

*On being happy*

***Remember that there's a difference between someone liking you and someone being impressed by you. Impressing can alienate, but you won't run into any problems making people like you.

> Everyone has some sort of self-description. Maybe I'm an adventurous traveler and writer, maybe you're a sarcastic musician and comedian. However you define yourself, add “happy and positive” to the beginning of that description, and be that version of yourself.

*On being unpredictable*

But there's something really magnetic about someone who brings something different to the interaction every time. You don't know what they'll say. Maybe they'll have a really interesting question they're mulling over, maybe a great new story, or maybe some exciting new place they've found. Their positive contribution to the social interaction is unpredictable.

People who are reserved and minimise their impact succeed in leaving everyone unfounded, but people go to social gatherings for a reason, and that reason is not to be unfounded or remain unimpacted.

Think of the ideal person you'd like to meet or hang out with. A dynamic person. He's going to be excited about something, but you don't know what. He won't sit by in the wings, but will be sharing his excitement with everyone. He enriches the environment both through the content of what he

shares, and also through the emotion he brings. His cheerfulness and excitement lift everyone's mood. That's addictive. It makes people want to spend time with him.

*On exchange of value in a friendship*

When you really like being friends with someone, it's because they're bringing a lot of value to the friendship. When you stop being friends with someone, it's because they weren't bringing enough.

In certain ways, you're also taking value from your friends. When you drink some milk from their fridge, you've taken a little bit of value from them. When you spread bad rumors about them, you're taking a lot of value from them.

In the end it's a subconscious equation that you're calculating, weighing value taken with value given. As a friend, you want to maximize the value that you give to your friends, both things that you are and things that you do.

*On why we create friendships with some people and not with others*

If you don't have those similar experiences, then you'll probably have to create them. The catch is that you can't just do the same thing together all the time. That's just one shared experience, repeated indefinitely. That's why there are some acquaintances that never become friends, no matter how much time you spend with them. You don't have those shared common experiences, and you aren't really creating them either.

You want to be the Queen of England. You want to be the person who any of your friends can introduce to anyone they know and be sure that it will make them look good. Besides getting more high-quality introductions, this also ensures that your friends can give you a really positive introduction. They can say great things about you and don't have to hedge it. If you might be a liability, they talk you up a lot, and you end up offending them, all of a sudden your introducing friend looks really bad. If they're worried that's the case, you get an introduction like, “Alice is a great person, but once in a while she...”

*On getting other people to meet you*

One day I got an email from a long-time reader, asking if I wanted photography lessons. He was friends with a famous photographer, and offered to fly to my city with him and have him teach me some things about shooting.

It sounds like a bribe, and sort of is, but mostly it's a side door. His approach was so different than everyone else's that I didn't have a blanket policy that covered it. I had to evaluate the invitation individually, and ended up accepting.

Another time a woman emailed me saying that I was her husband's favorite blogger, and she wanted to fly him to my city under the guise of a romantic weekend away, and then have me show up for tea as a surprise. The idea was so fun that I happily said yes.

*On feeling intimidated by others you'd want to be friends with*

The first thing to realize is that you just have to bring one thing, plus good social skills, to the table for someone to be interested in being your friend. Good social skills ensure that you don't impose on the other person, and one major positive source of value is enough to make someone want to be your friend. Even the most sought after people like to have someone around who's funny, or tells good stories, or organizes cool events.

And no one is as good as their image suggests. Everyone has their weaknesses and insecurities. So even if someone seems like they're perfect, you can safely assume that they're not. They're probably an impressive person with a lot going for them, but no one is better than you in every way. You always have something to offer.

Treat everyone as an equal, not because they are, but because they can be.

Three undervalued positive attributes are doing what you say, being honest, and being on time. There are many others, but these are three that you can begin immediately and will never go unnoticed.

A leader has one main function: to further the interests of the group.

Furthering the interests of the group comes in many flavors. The basic building block of furthering interests is creating opportunities for the group to spend time together and to bond. That could be inviting everyone to play boardgames at your house, planning parties, setting up a weekly tradition, organizing trips, or anything else that brings people together.

The more you appreciate and respect your friends, the better the relationship will work in general. John Gottman, a researcher at the University of Washington, studies couples to figure out what causes divorce. The biggest factor is contempt, which sounds a lot like the opposite of appreciation.