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November 30, 2003

Social Ineptitude

Before the now time, I had always seen myself as socially inept. That is to say, I didn't know how to act in social settings. There were always those around me that just had it. They were alive in social settings. People wanted to be with them, laugh at their jokes, listen intently to their musings. It always seemed that the more I tried, the less successful I was. This was such a big issue to me it caused me to adopt certain habits like rehearsing my conversations before AND after. I am a logical person and as such looked for logical answers. I tried desperately to pinpoint what these people had that I didn't that made them so socially adept.

Recently, I've begun to change my thinking on these matters. What does it mean to be socially adept vs. socially inept? Coming up with a label like social adeptness implies some possible learning or training like one would with a sport. Climbing, for example, is something one can be inept or adept at. Someone who is inept can train and become adept. There are those who are naturally more adept than others, though all climbers were inept at one point, for some amount of time. Is the art of social interaction really like this?

No. At least not as I see it. There ARE those who seem to be naturally better in social situations, but it has nothing to do with being 'better' at anything in particular. My observation is that those who seem more socially adept are merely more confident in social situations. Those who seem to fare the BEST in social situations are those that are both confident and genuine. You can correctly read that to mean one can be confident and fake at the same time. Confidence and genuineness can be measured in degrees. To believe in the above is a bit of a problem since it is so different from what I had previously thought. Its like playing chess against someone who always wins only to find out your opponent was playing a different game the whole time where the better you tried to become at chess the worse you played at the game your opponent was playing. It's also like arguing a point with someone who isn't arguing back. The harder you 'try' the more you lose. The more I believed being adept socially was something that could be learned, the more I tried to learn, the worse I got.

So, if social adeptness isn't something one can 'get better at' (ie. practice), what can be done? It seems as though just being yourself and not caring about social adeptness makes one 'better' in social settings. Logically, I don't know why this is. I can speculate that, like how dogs can sense their master's emotion, people can sense when someone is 'trying'. That act of 'trying' reveals ones lack of confidence. My memories of social situations that went well back up this hypothesis. Those positive experiences were usually with people I was comfortable with where I have no memory of rehearsing, preparing, or trying to make it a better experience. Like any attempt at changing a personal moor, it is a slow process. Frustrating too, finding oneself racing as fast as you can in the wrong direction.

It didn't take much to test the theory. It was easier to test on strangers though, where it didn't matter. I just acted confident. I convinced myself it didn't matter how I acted so I should just act however. These conversations with strangers went exceedingly well. It's another matter to transfer this knowledge to my everyday life. I try, and thus fail. I forget to try, and succeed. Its hard to try and not try. Seems self defeating. Especially since I've grown to accept the 3rd person voice in my heard that provides subtext to everything my first person is thinking. I'll have to cover that in another entry.

Just be yourself. It makes me angry whenever I hear that phrase. Probably because it was so pummeled into me when I was young to where it lost all meaning. It is too overly simplistic to be true. What does it even mean?! A severe weakness of the intelligent is the assumption that problems that seem complex must have a complex answer. Most often, when trying to find a hypothesis, the simple ones are never even considered. Just as often when the simple answers to complex problems are presented, they are dismissed as overly simplistic. Especially when they infer some commonality between oneself and others. My situation is unique! It is!. No I mean it, I'm not being sarcastic, it is! Of course, believing my situation to be unique does not mean there are no commonalities. Our perception of those commonalities often differ though. In as far as perception is our reality, our experience is unique. We need to see past our perceived differences of our commonalities in order to find answers. Easier said than done.

Humans scream for identity. The mere thought of being 'like everyone else' is repulsive. When I was young, my parents told me everyone else in school had the same problems I did. Nothing made me more angry. Yet we also crave acceptance, and often rely on emulation to gain that acceptance. This paradox of desires is likely one of the root causes of our confused personal identity. This confusion manifests itself in our social ineptness. We are caught somewhere between trying to be ourselves and trying to be accepted. It is all self-defeating and quickly turns into a negative feedback loop. We lack confidence in social settings not knowing who to be. That lack of confidence causes us to 'try' in social settings. Others perceive our lack of confidence, which makes us less socially desirable. We pick up on their judgment and use it as proof of our believed social ineptitude, causing us to 'try' that much harder. And the cycle begins again. Different night, different people, same result. How many times have I asked myself, "What should I say?" The only break to the cycle is when we are surrounded by those we trust intimately. They already know who we are, so there is no need to try to be anything else. What can be particularly damning is when we go from spending lots of time with those we trust, to spending little time with those we know that well. It doesn't make sense why things were going so well before, but are going so badly now. It is even more difficult when we find ourselves surrounded by others who know each other intimately, but do not that share that relationship with us. All of the members seem so socially adept. They all know what to say at just the right time. They all seem so confident, while we struggle to interject into the conversation without it sounding contrived. It is their intimacy with each other that lets them 'be themselves' and not 'try', thus making them successful. It is our lack of intimacy, combined with our lack of confidence that betrays us.

Final thoughts. So what am I going to do with this information? The first step is to acknowledge, repeat and solidify the idea that social adeptness is an illusion. The second step is to believe myself to be more self confident and act on that belief. This last point may seem like circular reasoning, but I will explain myself in a followup post entitled, "Feedback Loops" that has already been written. Just be yourself may be overly simplistic, but it may also be more right than wrong. Of course, if I'm right, knowing oneself is a crucial element to success.

Posted by wonko at November 30, 2003 11:30 PM

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» Social Ineptitude from Intangibles in Decrescendo
I wanted to post this here because Wonko has a very interesting discussion going on about social adeptness vs. social ineptness. I'm sure there are many of you out there that have fought the same battle and your experiences and your ideas on this issue... [Read More]

Tracked on December 2, 2003 04:29 PM


I'm not sure if I totally agree with you that social adeptness is something that is not a learned skill. Although I do agree that some people are better (seemingly naturally) at it than others. I just think that the skill set is learned in very early childhood, along with language, walking, hot/cold. It's something that we don't remember learning, so it's that much harder to try to improve upon. There's no easy place to start.

I recently read an article about party dynamics (maybe in the LA Times?), and if I can find it, I'll pass it along. The author approached it from an evolutionary biology point of view. Basically stating that group interactions follow patterns, rhythmns, waves, and that the most socially adept people are good at tuning into these rhythmns - they are better at reading body language, choosing when to jump into a conversation or leave one, matching their speech and body movement patterns to the group. It's something that it so automatic to them, that they aren't aware that they are doing it. The author then tied this into how early man and other pack animals needed to have those skills for survival.
Still, if social adeptness is so basic, then in order to get it would be like learning how to walk again. Something that takes months or years of concentrated directed effort.

Posted by: cycl1sta at December 1, 2003 02:31 PM

That would more appropriately be termed a feed-forward loop.

I'm not entirely convinced by your argument here. Yet I'm also of the opinion that these are inherently non-public issues. It's a mistake to think it's as simple as "be yourself" based on personal experience. I fear this isn't something that can be explained and rationalized, but must come from within.

Posted by: kasei at December 1, 2003 04:38 PM

Obviously these are questions that are very difficult to answer and even more difficult to prove. I am merely giving my observations. I agree with cycl1sta that one learns from an early age how to act in social situations, I still believe in my original hypothesis. I don't think they are mutually exclusive, but its less about learning how to act in social situations than getting positive reenforcement from an early age that when you are yourself and do not 'try' you do better. There may very well be truth to the idea that there are undetectable or at least uneasily identifiable patterns and waves to social interactions, but it may also be true that only by letting the subconscious work without interference can we react to and ride these waves. In this way, trying to detect them might be self defeating. Similar situations where the subconscious is more affective can be seen in sports. If you TRY too hard to hit the ball, you are less likely to hit it. It all happens to quick for the conscious mind to react to. I even notice this in snowboarding and climbing. If I over-think things, it becomes difficult, but if I let myself react it feels natural. In these situations it is confidence that allows you to fully let go and just react. In snowboarding, for example, if you are unsure of yourself, you will be more likely to consciously anticipate and react, which usually leads to overreaction and overcorrection. Of course, my analogy disagrees with my original hypothesis in that sports CAN be learned. However, in my experience, practice is the most important part. Just trying things and seeing the outcome. Eventually, you must learn to just be confident and listen to your subconscious. It is also possible to practice continuously, but never learn to let go and thus never progress beyond a certain point. So perhaps we can learn from the analogy. Thoughts?

Posted by: Wonko at December 1, 2003 06:05 PM

I think you've solved the problem already. It's the people that worry about being socially adept that consider themselves socially inept. It's hard for you to hear "Just be yourself" because you want to over complicate it with reason. There is no reason in this, societies have come and gone over hundred of centuries. People have suffered in the same way in social situations as we do today. This is because we get so wrapped up in what people will think. I say who cares what they think. I don't just say this, I mean this....and there's nothing to back it up. More importantly, there's no REASON to back it up. If I fight to try to understand what makes people more socially inept than someone else, I'm going to grow tired and fail in being myself. I know you (wonko) personally and I can say that I've never seen you have a problem communicating with people. He's been around friends of mine that he's never met and I've never seen him have any problem in socializing with them. That goes to show that the problem is not in reality, rather the problem is in the thoughts of yourself or in your head. You'll not accept this because it means you have to accept that the problem is merely created by yourself rather than how other see you. That's it....it's that simple. Quit trying so hard....give yourself a break and just be. Don't ask questions (at least on this particular issue) Just quit worrying about it.

Posted by: obigabu at December 1, 2003 06:41 PM

One of the most important aspects of being socially adept is empathy. We are born with a degree
of empathy. It takes a real desire to become proficient at it. Since we are by nature self-centered.
Everyone desires to be socially adept, that doesn’t require repeating, it is a fact. Our desire for
intimacy is universal. Without empathy, we will never have intimacy. Until you master
This skill, it is certainly expectable to act as if.
When we encounter people who seem to be familiar with each other, we may feel out of place but it is presumptuous to think that they have intimate relationships. It only means it’s not the first time they have been together. Intimacy requires the believe that another understands you. The ability to walk in another’s shoes. This requires effort, and practice. Some people are Better at it than others, but everyone can develop this skill. It is easy to spot these people. They will have the best friends, not always the most. This is just my opinion. Being yourself not trying to be someone you are not is good. But. There is always a But. Social skills still require practice. It is certainly something we should not dwell on. Although I believe progress in the area is a worthy desire. When is comes to social skills stagnation is not an option. We will progress or regress. Don’t you think?

Posted by: largess at December 3, 2003 11:52 AM

The ideas brought forward about the two requirements to social adeptness ring true to me. That for one to be confident and genuine is for him to be socially adept. And although people may argue that social prowess is a learned skill, one that could possibly be learned at an early age, I would say that what they learn is in fact the ability to be confident in a social situation, (to be genuine I dont believe is more personal). I know that I went through an incredible change one summer in junior high, when I first went to work at a summer camp. I spent my summer working as a lifeguard/water sports instructor, and though I found the job challenging, I noticed that many of my co-workers werent up to the challenge. And even though I had the edge in school of being very bright I had never seen this as a particular advantage, It wasnt until that summer that I realized that even If I wasnt as socially powerful as my peers I still had an amazing ability that made me important. I ran the area that summer, I was in charge of a whole team of people who worked for me, and it wasnt like I sat down and decided that I was going to get better at being social, but when I returned to school the next year I had a reason to carry my head high. I had always been very genuine, but people found it awkward and usually shied away from the blunt truth I liked to give. So, all I needed was confidence, and I had found something that gave me strength and something that I could rely on. That year I finally exited this very tight shell I had built around myself, and although people didnt understand my sense of humor right away, and people didnt understand me right away, I had that confidence to back me up. I think that year changed a lot for me, and that summer was key in altering how I saw other people around me, not as something to fear, but as people who had never done the kind of work I had done, people that werent worth being afraid of. It was that confidence that allowed me to escape the walls I had built to protect myself from the shame of being different, and allowed to see my differences as powerfull.

excelent post

Posted by: Anders at December 3, 2003 08:14 PM

I don't buy into the "by nature we are self-centered" argument. It seems to me just as easy to describe that as a tought behaviour.

Posted by: kasei at December 4, 2003 09:48 AM

Kasei, if you don’t believe we are by nature “self-centered” you live in a really wonderful world. Self- preservation is considered one of the strongest drives humans have. Sacrifice is always a decision. We never give up anything or do anything without considering the consequences to ourselves. Those who do what might me considered heroic things, have to always overcome that human trait of self-preservation. That is what is so wonderful about some amazing acts of heroism. If you still don’t believe, find a 2 year old that doesn’t think the world revolves around him.

Posted by: largess at December 9, 2003 02:38 PM

I've suggested that being self-centered is taught through socialization. As such, arguing against me with examples of heroism and considerations of consequence to self only begs the question. This is not a subject you can easily argue with examples; You mostly either believe it or you don't.

Posted by: kasei at December 9, 2003 04:45 PM

Humans like all creatures of the wild have an enormous will to survive. This manages to manifest itself in two different ways however (much like in the wild), the will towards individual survival, and the will towards survival of the species, or genetic line. You see both cases in the wild; I believe it would be folly to suggest that humans dont act at least in some ways, on both sides. Though I tend to side with kasei on the idea that most of what we consider egoistical (self filled) acts are given to us (ha ha just like rand suggests) from capitalism/private property. However, since there havent been any experiments in anarchy since pre history its hard to back up my statement with any hard or empirical facts. I can only suggest that much like a chimp society, where a balance of individual needs and collective needs is met, a balance also exists for humans. A place where our (quote) rugged (quote), individuality is no longer compromised by the callings of coercive states. A place where we are free to have the power to control our own destinies, is also a place of gentle social interaction as we as humans need associations, and would be willing to sacrifice the some freedoms (of our own free will) to do so.

Posted by: Anders at December 9, 2003 09:08 PM

Human Like all creatures are built to survive, but like most creatures this manifests itself in two ways. Both in the individuals will to survive and in the individuals will for its genetic material to survive, or that of its species/genetic line. You see altruism (a loose definition) occur in the wild in a variety of social insects, and also within many more intelligent mammals (I would mention mole rats, but what I really mean is things like dogs, monkeys, apes, etc.). I would suggest that humans, like many of the species of apes, (chimps, gorillas) exist in such a way that there can exist a balance of individual will to survive, and will to have one social peers survive as well. I do tend to end up on kasseri’s side of this in that I believe most of what we perceive as egotistical(self filled) actions are handed down to us from private property/capitalism. A balance where individual and social needs are met. Although there hasn’t been an experiment in anarchy since pre history, so I can’t base any of this on hard/empirical evidence I can offer up the idea. That where one would find that balance is a place outside of the coercive social demands of a state.

Posted by: Anders at December 9, 2003 09:20 PM

DAR! well both are okay and different, but oh well, I thought it had lost my post.

(hangs head in shame)


Posted by: anders at December 9, 2003 09:21 PM

This post responds to the earlier part of this discussion:
I'm coming out of nowhere and jumping into this conversation really late, but I'd like to put this on the table: cultural capital.
I grew up in an Asian country where my having an American accent was an instant, unearned passport to being the center of attention-- "People wanted to be with [me], laugh at [my] jokes, listen intently to [my] musings."
I've always been rather shy and I still am, but I was always invited to parties and people forgave me when I stumbled. In fact, I'm told I had an allure, a perception I found amusing even then.
Without getting too much into race issues, I would like to mention that I am Asian and this I believe puts me automatically in a different part of the social hierarchy here in America.
Though my personality has not changed much, people treat me differently. People do not pay much attention to me and when they do, I am usually appraised via a stereotype.
When I first moved to California, I was not clued into the way people treat each other here. I didn't know the catchprases people used to greet each other and I didn't know many pop culture references people would use in conversation.
So, while I definitely agree that personal confidence is important, I want to point out that communication is not only about individuals, but also larger (social, political, economic) schemas. I found the post about "party dynamics" very intriguing, but I also wonder if the amount of power a person had determines conversation rhythms that other less powerful people have to attune themselves to. E.g. if Paris Hilton walked into the room, I don't doubt that people would fall over themselves to talk to her, even if she burped/ farted/ cut you off/ committed every social faux pas known to humankind.
I stumbled on this site and don't usually post here, but this topic interests me so I thought I throw all this out there.

Posted by: Poco at February 1, 2004 08:56 PM

hey this is MOnK of SOCIALLY INEPT a band from elkton MD any who i just learned about being socially inept and i am doin a reshearch paper on it so if any one has any info. for me please e-mail me at bassplayer460@yahoo.com o and we r a heavy meatle band not some pussy rock band

peace MOnK

Posted by: MOnK at April 21, 2004 11:13 AM

Social Inepteness as writers and readers would agree is very crippling. I believe that this comes from practice, ie early childhood and the willingness to talk about things from A to Z. For the person that is higher in intelectual capacity and easily gets bored by the nothingness that SOME people talk about it is very hard to participate in others prattling. I believe that overthinking does play a huge role in the long-term effects of ineptness but I also support that in A LOT of situations people don't talk about anything of substance. It is hard for me to get excited about ... when someone is working, what they have ate, the weather, ect. So to conclude if people would talk about more interesting topics, a cure for some of the socially inept might be manifested, but even on a more subtle note, for me, impressionism and foolish ranting and ravings are annoying and paralyzing in progressing towards social excitement and even participating.


Posted by: TJ Boekhoff at May 10, 2004 01:07 PM

The issue of most people not wanting to talk about anything of substance seems pandemic. What I've found is that anytime I try and bring up an issue of politics, religion, or philosophy, I get accused of either 'overthinking' and/or conspiracy theory. I do not know if its true, but my experience with European foreigners suggests there isn't the same negative social stigma to 'deep' discsussion there as there is here. Its almost like it is uncool, ie viewed as social ineptitude, to think on any deeper level. Where did this come from? I see parallels between this behavior and various Orwellian stories. People are more likely to go along without complaining if they do not question their lives or what they are doing. This is just the kind of thing people would label conspiracy theory. But our unbridled consumerism without doubt or question lends credability to the notion that companies, marketers and governments WANT us not to think.

Specifically, there are completely off-limit issues, like religion. Though, I have recently seen public debate of religion increase, which gives me hope.

What does it mean to overthink? Is it really bad? Or is it just that it leads to social ineptitude in the ways I describe above?

Posted by: Wonko at May 10, 2004 01:47 PM

A major part of what we may call social 'ineptness' comes from the fact that socially successful people tend to want to talk about day to day social issues which affect them, but do not affect their mental security and self beliefs. The socially inept as it were tend to be more questioning of these things in themselves and others.
Socially successful people are like effective modems, reading each others wavelengths and agreeing on the right frequency, where as the people who struggle socially tend to misread important emotional signals. It is best though, not dwell on the negative things, and just try and think about the times you've made people laugh, or achieved something, or simply felt good about you're positive interactions.

Posted by: Markus at May 10, 2004 03:41 PM

Wow, Markus, that is a good geek analogy. It does seem like socially adept people are more aware of the subconscious subtleties of social interaction. Here is where I think we can define overthinking. Entering 'the zone' where you are reading and adapting to subtle social cues requires letting go to some degree. When we TRY and read others and social wavelengths consciously, we are either too slow, or too wrong. We'd talked about this issue further up in the conversation.

Posted by: Wonko at May 10, 2004 09:04 PM

My comment has to due with social ineptness and interaction.

I believe, to SOME degree and during certain times that both life and social situations with say an upwards of 4 to 5 people can be looked at like..... a movie. a scene in a play, there are interjections, often loud often ment for the reason to be noticed and often over dramatized. It seems to me that people comment on things and talk in a way to get attention.

But now back to the movie analogy. People can be looked at as characters, just little persons buzzing around trying to fit in. There are different levels of abilities and thus different levels of satisfaction. To those that can notice what I am talking about the willingness to participate in this maze is not something that is fun.

Movie or no movie... interjections and impressionism is evident anywhere and everywhere, let the pain continue

I NEED COMMENTS...talk about the movie part

Posted by: Ryan Christensen at May 12, 2004 12:26 PM

I agree with wonko on the movie analogy, but think about when your stepping out to watch this "scene", are you being socially inept or adept, you've stopped concerning YOURself with what others think instead your obsessing over how everyone else is striving for social normalcy, either way your a functioning part of society no matter which viewpoint your metaphorical camera is set to. whoa I just blew my own mind

Posted by: boss at January 12, 2005 04:24 PM

A more positive view on this would be that, if you consider yourself socially inept, and your ineptitude seems to be plaguing those around you then you can consider yourself socially adept for those moments because you are now part of an inept society meaning that you are adept in that society.any views, im not even sure if that makes sense.It does to me but im socially inept so...

Posted by: hormoneica at January 14, 2005 04:45 PM

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