Social Awareness Fog – When You’re Out of the Zone

by Dan on August 6, 2011

On the personal development path, one of the areas that people want to improve, but doesn’t get much attention, is the actual skill in creating new social contacts and developing acquaintances into true friendships.

In terms of improving social skills, there have generally been two schools of thought.  The first is the idea that all you have to do is “be yourself.”  It’s the thought that within you is the perfect conversationalist who can be witty, likeable, and fit in wherever he or she goes.  All you have to do is relax and let your inner being do its thing.  Once you love yourself and develop confidence, everything is taken care of.

Another school of thought is that social skills are similar to learning kickboxing or salesmanship.  There are people naturally good at fighting and selling, but there’s no shame in learning from professionals how to do it.  Therefore, go take a class or read a book on meeting people, and treat it like any other ability in life.

I’m more inclined to agree with the first school of thought, though I can understand why someone would feel the need for something more structured.

What I want to go into today is the idea of Social Awareness Fog.  This is when your ability to read people and situations is muddled and everything goes wrong.

•    You misinterpret jokes as insults.
•    You tell a story, but the rhythm is all off.
•    Any physical touching is awkward and makes other people uncomfortable.
•    It just feels like you can’t connect and are stumbling.

For some reason, psychologists have generally treated social ability as a steady line that can go up or down over time, but doesn’t change much day to day.

In truth, I think the line fluctuates quite a bit both during the week and during the day.  If you’ve ever felt completely out of the zone, you know what I mean.

We really shouldn’t be surprised.  There are times of the day where we’re concentrated, relaxed, or energetic; and other times where we’re fatigued, jittery, or daydreamy.  If there are times when we’d be terrible in a tennis game, why would that not extend to social situations?

Now you’re probably wondering how you get out of a fog like this.

When you’re lucky, something in the environment can snap you out of it.

Your favorite song might come on the radio.  Someone might give you a great compliment.  A quick burst of external approval usually does the trick.

However, I’ve found that you can’t intentionally make these things happen to break out of social awareness fog.  In fact, the more you force it, the more you’re resisting the situation and getting frustrated.

Instead, once you’re noticing you’re off-rhythm with the social surroundings, just acknowledge, “I’m in a fog,” and act more conservatively.

This means that if you have a joke or story that’s relevant to the conversation, just let it go instead of saying it.  Just listen and enjoy what other people are saying in the group.  If someone asks you a question, answer it fully and without restraint, but don’t worry about piping in too much.

It’s kind of how you would act if you had drank a lot of alcohol and then had a surprise meeting with your boss and his top associates.  You’d keep as much focus as you could, talk when you needed to, but not get too creative with your speech.

Most people struggling socially are dramatically over-estimating how much they have to speak. In fact, you’d have to be extraordinarily mute for anyone to even notice.

This concept will help you with understanding other people as well.  Next time someone is oddly offended by something you said or acting strange or rude, consider that they might be in a fog at the moment.  When that happens, it’s a lot easier to instantly forgive the person and not over-think what’s going on.

You may find that accepting the fog in the moment and being ok with it will often lift it up almost immediately.  However, it’s perfectly ok if the fog stays around for your whole night out.  Just keep your awareness as finely tuned as possible.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Kelly August 26, 2011 at 4:33 pm

This is so true! It’s funny that people don’t realize their social skills can be affected by their mental state just like any other skill. The tips and advice given in this post are very pragmatic. Love it, keep up the good work!

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