The Importance Of Simplicity And The Basics In Social Interactions...

...Or why it's okay to be a normal, "boring" person

Here's a quick article. An easy mistake to make is to assume that to do well socially you have to be incredibly funny, unique, colorful, and interesting. Some people think they can't just have a pleasant, run-of-the-mill conversation with someone. They feel they have to make all kinds of zany jokes, or tell a gripping story about a time they escaped from kidnapers on a trip to Brazil, or blow everyone's minds with a profound insight on the nature of hope.

Sure it's nice if you can occasionally pull out a hilarious one-liner or weave together a sparkling anecdote, but a lot of the time you can be effective in social situations by keeping things simple and following the proven basics. I also find that a lot of people's most pleasant social interactions don't look like anything special on paper. They're just having a relaxed, enjoyable discussion, and talking about fairly standard topics. For example, someone could meet a friend for coffee and catch up on what each other's families are up to. Put into a transcript the conversation may look like boilerplate small talk, but it wasn't experienced that way at time.

Don't feel you have to reinvent the wheel. People sometimes shoot themselves in the foot when they believe they always have to be really intriguing and memorable. They can go over the top and try too hard. They could be having a perfectly adequate, though generic-seeming, interaction, and then derail it by trying to make a ton of wacky observations. By trying to be exceptional and messing up, they do more to hurt their cause than they would have by being too 'boring' and 'average'.

This isn't to say you should be painfully dry or unoriginal, more to be aware that you can often do just fine following well-worn patterns. I'm not saying, "Talk about dull things and everyone will like you", more, "Don't feel you have to pull off a million tricks in order to make a lasting impression." And even when you follow more typical guidelines or styles, your personality can't help but shine through.

Doing well socially can be as much about not making blatant mistakes up as being ultra-charismatic

Like in a lot of areas, I think you can often do just fine for yourself socially if you follow the fundamentals and avoid any big blunders (and by 'blunder' I don't mean minor things that most people are forgiving off like briefly not knowing what to say). You can more or less interact in the same manner as everyone else. It works for them, so it should work for you. You don't necessarily need to learn all kinds of secret, super original ways of talking to people. A bigger priority would be to work on any weaknesses or bad habits that may cause you to actively blow any chances you have.

People often don't have overly picky standards about what they want in others

A related misconception is to assume that other people have super strict requirements about what they want in a friend, and that if you don't totally stand out in some way, they'll have no desire to have you around. Assuming you already have some things in common with someone, I think a lot of the time if you can just be good company and an all-around okay person, then you're good to go.

Social savvy is often about doing the basics just a little better than most, not in doing things in an entirely different way

When I think back to people I've met who impressed me as being confident and personable they were usually someone who had the social basics down, but in a particularly solid, refined way. It wasn't that they were a completely different animal from regular folk. I could chit-chat to them like I would with anyone else, about standard topics, but their interpersonal skills came across as subtly better-than-average. They were a little bit sharper and funnier. They seemed more tuned in and attentive. Their body language was that much more friendly and relaxed. They hardly looked like they stepped out of a catalog, but their outfit was just well put together. They were normal people, but maybe 20% more polished.


Of course, you've got to know what the basics are before you can apply them. I also think you need a certain level of social experience before you get the hang of telling what's overly basic or simple, what's just right, and what's complicating things too much. That all comes with practice.