Even though being a nerd is becoming mainstream, it doesn’t mean that it’s getting easier. While the basement-dwelling mouth-breather stereotype clearly represents the minority of nerds, we still fall into a spectrum when it comes to social skills. This is not limited to nerds, but the effects are amplified when you cram a large number of nerds into a (relatively) small space -- such as at conventions, parties and the like.
Social skills, like all skills, require practice, patience and repetition. I used to be the slightly obsessive overbearing nerd that was desperate to make friends; as a result, I made very few. My intense need for people to be my friend made them feel very awkward. I was burned enough times that I ended up in the opposite side of the spectrum and then my hostility ensured that I was unapproachable. I’ve mellowed in the last decade, but I still suffer occasionally from a desire to disappear into the background. I have to make a conscious effort to be sociable. This isn’t true for everyone, of course, but some people are naturally talented.
Here are some things to keep in mind for your next social event:
1.) It’s not always about you
This is a broad statement, but it’s a good place to start. You are not the center of the universe and if you go unnoticed, you have to take at least some responsibility for that. While some people do gravitate towards wallflowers, it is up to you to make an effort if that doesn’t happen.
Remember that others may be as socially awkward as you, or worse. While it may sound harsh, you are not entitled to anyone’s attention -- expecting someone to make extreme efforts to be friendly to you is not reasonable.
Take away: Show some tolerance and be patient.
2.) Self-absorption is not attractive
There are two sides to this: If you spend your time feeling sorry for yourself, the self-pity becomes almost tangible. No one wants to spend time with someone that feels the world is against them. Self-pity also tends to breed hostility -- if you assume that things will go wrong, you are less likely to respond positively. It’s one of the most devastating self-fulfilling prophecies, but if you spend your time moping about how people don’t like you... they won’t like you.
On the other hand, if you go on about how wonderful you are, people are going to lose interest in the conversation very quickly. Self-aggrandizing is only slightly less annoying than self-pity.
Take away: Find a balance in your life; take pride in your abilities, but don’t put yourself on a pedestal. Try not to focus on the negative, and don’t judge your future encounters based on bad ones in your past. Be open to possibilities.
3.) Take an interest
This ties in with number 1 -- if it’s not about you, the easiest way to engage with others is to make it about them. When it comes to discussing interests, nerds have the easiest time of it. More often than not, nerds will proudly display their interests in their costume, or T-shirts, or accessories. You instantly have something to talk to them about. It doesn’t matter if it’s a section of fandom that you’re interested in -- be open to learn about the other person’s interests and you may just gain a new one of your own.
Take away: Ask people about their interests, their costumes or the last episode of Battlestar Galactica. The important thing is that you engage people, and don’t just wait for someone to pay attention to you.
4.) Don’t pick fights
As much as Star Trek vs Star Wars conversations can be entertaining, it’s not a good idea to antagonize people about the things they love. Keep the spirited debates to known friends, or you’ll risk alienating potential new ones.
That said, rational, respectful discussions are always a good thing! You can say which Doctor was the best without attacking the other person’s opinion.
Take away: Opinions are good; attacks are bad.
5.) Recognize comfort zones
Some people have physical space issues, others can only tolerate a limited amount of interaction. Still others may just not be connecting with you. Recognize the signs of withdrawal and respect them. You won’t always get along with every person, and that’s fine -- it’s not a reflection on either of you. Accept and move on.
Take away: Don’t take it personally when someone withdraws or displays avoidance.
6.) Don’t come on too strong, but don’t be too meek either
This is a tough balance, and it’s going to be different for every person that you encounter. It’s much easier interacting with outgoing people, but introverts are a different story. You may have to try a little harder with an introvert, but make sure you don’t become overbearing. This is a skill that you’ll have to learn, but if you practice recognizing comfort zones, you’ll know when you’ve crossed the line and need to pull back.
Take away: Put on your empathy hat, put in some effort, but don’t go overboard.
Next time: Specific socializing strategies