Many smart individuals are a little shy and apprehensive of social interactions. They may be perfectly well-adjusted in society, have a good job and a circle of friends, but still wish for a richer social life. See if you can recognize yourself in those descriptions:
- you dislike bars, parties and other large gatherings. You are not quite sure who are the people who do go there; they probably have nothing better to do with their time.
- you can spend years going to the same fitness class or volunteering for the same charity and not make a single friend. You are puzzled and a little jealous when someone else joins the same group and has three new friends at the end of the first day.
- you never complain about politics at work. There is no gossip at your workplace, and your boss is never playing favorites. You cannot help but wonder: what if all those things do exist, but you are just oblivious to those dynamics?
- you have seen people go for what they really want: starting a business, asking for a date or for a promotion, inviting 50 guests to their birthday. Such directness is not in your character, but it is painful to see that it often gets rewarded!
We think those experiences come from a mix of shyness (social fear) and underdeveloped social skills. If you have recognized yourself, you are in good company. According to Stanford-based researchers Philip Zimbardo and Lynne Henderson, more than 40% of Americans consider themselves shy, and millions have crippling social anxiety formally classified as a psychological disorder. What counts as social anxiety? If a trip to a store or an ordinary work meeting are a challenge for you, consider consulting a mental health professional. You can also google "Stanford shyness project" for a start.
Doing OK but want to get better? You came to the right place!
The paradigm our training is based on is that cool, charismatic, confident, extroverted people are simply at a higher social skill level than uncool, uncharismatic, shy, introverted folks. Improve your skills enough, and you will learn how to be perceived as cool and charismatic. Improve your skills enough, and shyness will go away after repeated social successes. Improve your skills enough, and you will become an extrovert through and through.
Our simplified formula socially skilled = not shy = extrovert is not entirely accurate: extroverts since birth can be socially unskilled, and some people are confident in one environment but not another. Scholars would be right to scold us for misuse of accepted terminology. However, we focus on practical outcomes. Just as excessive focus on technique can hurt the performance of a tennis player, just as deep knowledge of anatomy is counterproductive for a dancer, excessive theorizing is detrimental to the development of social skills. As a wise yoga teacher once said, "the best defense against learning is knowing". Therefore if you want to study with us, forget your Myers-Briggs personality type. Forget whether you are a highly sensitive person or whether introverts need to "recharge their batteries". If you are a programmer, chances are you have already tried applying this kind of abstract thinking to understanding people. Assuming you are not happy with your results to date, would it not be wise to try something new? The only mindset that you will embrace from now on is "I am working on my social skills".
Philosophically speaking, being an extrovert is not "better" than being an introvert. And being an elite athlete is not "better" than being a casual exerciser or a couch potato. These are different ways of living and investing your time. So long as you meet a basic fitness level, people will not judge you for not exercising more, even though it has amazing benefits. And so long as you meet a basic social fitness level, people will not judge you for not becoming more social, even though it has amazing benefits as well.
Let us now take a closer look at some of those benefits.
Why improve social skills?
Mediocre social skills, somewhat shy
Strong social skills, somewhat confident
Special considerations for programmers
There is a set of unique challenges to being not very social and smart at the same time. First, if you are a programmer, you are professionally successful. You have reliable income; even if you were laid off during COVID-19, you know that you will find a job, sooner or later. Your introverted character and social peculiarities are accepted as part of being a programmer and you don't really need to change. Surely, your life may not be that great, but it is not that bad either. So your motivation to change would be rather low.
Second, all humans like to rationalize their failures away, that is, to invent plausible explanations for why they are not as successful as they would like to be. Programmers and others with high IQ can go very far in their rationalizations and create enormously complex theories, mental edifices of sorts, for why they are not very social, from the opportunity cost of spending time on social gatherings to the ethics of not bothering other people to the time "never being right" to meet, call, or text someone. Rationalizations get you nowhere; change is only possible for those who face reality and admit, "I am not good with people."
The third and most difficult challenge is unique to programmers and those successful in other intellectual fields: they unconsciously assume their analytical way of approaching problems is "correct". When a given way of thinking keeps bringing you benefits, including money, intellectual pleasure, social recognition, it is natural to start believing that this way is the only one. This mindset is especially challenging for men, though women are not wholly immune from it either.
Have you ever interviewed an incompetent C++ newbie or a newly minted data scientists from a bootcamp? When they try to apply common-sense thinking to pointer arithmetic or model cross-validation, it is easy to laugh at the silliness of their mistakes. But join the interviewee at a neighborhood bar and they may well get the last laugh: technical thinking applied to people problems looks just as silly to a savvy observer.
Financial reasons to learn social skills
Many business celebrities have praised the value of "soft skills" or "communication skills":
If you want to get ahead, focus on your communication skills.
Warren Buffett, billionaire investor, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
Perhaps Warren Buffett is talking about executives or company founders whose success is directly determined by the effectiveness of their communication. Yet ordinary employers hiring orindary college grads are also increasingly interested in those elusive humans who have soft skills:
The survey of more than 650 employers and more than 1,500 current and former college students was conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of Cengage, the largest U.S.-based education and technology company serving the higher education market.
The survey revealed soft skills are most in demand by employers (by at least 65 percent), while quantitative skills and computer and technical skills were less so (47 percent and 50 percent, respectively).
Cengage. (2019, January 16). New Survey: Demand for "Uniquely Human Skills" Increases Even as Technology and Automation Replace Some Jobs [Press Release]. Retrieved from https://news.cengage.com/upskilling/new-survey-demand-for-uniquely-human-skills-increases-even-as-technology-and-automation-replace-some-jobs/
This may not wholly apply to programmers whose success is determined by their abilities to create software or train machine learning models. If you can code, you can get away with imperfect communication. Granted, and what if you had both? Then, with the right approach, you would create even more value... and get paid more as well! Consider that off-shore development shops in third world countries charge a lot less money, yet many U.S.-based companies still prefer U.S.-based developers. The difficulty of explaining what you want to a foreigner, then actually getting the desired result after all the back-and-forth can be so great that paying 3-4 times more to U.S.-based developer starts to seem like a bargain. This is the premium paid for soft skills!
Consider also that technologies will keep changing. So long as you are betting on your hard skills, you will have to keep learning new frameworks, new software packages, even new prorgramming languages. However, soft skills are timeless. If you can effectively negotiate with a business stakeholder, inspire a team or impress a customer, twenty years from now those abilities will be just as much in demand.
And your programming skills? Eventually the market will get saturated with skilled programmers, and the Golden Age will pass:
I personally think there's going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering.
Mark Cuban, billionaire investor on ABC's "Shark Tank" and the owner of Dallas Mavericks
Introducing Social Nerd™ 101
Our solution is a multi-week group training "course" that includes interactive group sessions, homework assignments, one-on-one calls with Sergey, the Founder of Social Nerd, and much, much more. The course will give you the tools, the direction and the conceptual framework to pursue social skills improvement as a long-term personal project. We will teach you what to do after the course is over to ensure that you keep growing.
The course will also give you lifelong access to Social Nerd™ Alumni, a community of like-minded individuals including your classmates taking the course with you.
Whenever you find yourself in need of advice, for example
- I have a difficult situation at work. How do I resolve it?
- My new friend does not seem trustworthy. What do I do?
- How do I meet people at a tech conference if I feel shy?
you will know exactly what to do: reach out to the community and ask for any input.
And if you are willing to give back to the community and help others navigate their life situations, this will strengthen your social intuition and grow your social network as well.
We also provide you with a certificate of completion signed by Sergey Orshanskiy, Ph.D., the Founder of Social Nerd. If desired, we can also provide you with a personalized recommendation letter describing your performance in the course and your commitment to self-improvement.
The course is offered in two durations: you can either take the full 8 weeks or only the first 5 weeks, if cost is a concern. The last three weeks contain more advanced material. You can also reserve your place by placing a deposit; the full amount will be due before the beginning of the training.
We believe our training will add great value to your life. However, should you discover that it is not for you, we will gladly issue a refund for the unused part of the training.
If you do not like our training for any reason, you can quit during the first week and receive a full refund. You can also quit any time after the first week and receive a pro-rated refund for the remaining full calendar weekls., minus the $99 deposit.
Curriculum of the Social Nerd™ 101 course
Belief systems. Subjective / Objective.
Few truths can be agreed upon by all people; those are facts. Most statements are subjective; those are opinions. Students of social skills have to become increasingly sensitive to the distinction and learn to distinguish their own beliefs from objective truths. Some of your most cherished beliefs may be far from being universally accepted.
People are different.
You may have heard that there are different personality types. While it can be debated which classification system is more accurate, radical differences between human are undeniable. Some enjoy luxuries, others are austere and pragmatic. Some get anxious for the slightest reasons, others cannot be disturbed by anything. The underlying motivations of individuals vary. Students of social skills have to become increasingly sensitivie to differences between different people's behaviors, perceptions, and motivations.
Since Sheherezade had enchanted the king for one thousand and one night, humanity has cherished the power of storytelling. Telling a story remains one of the easiest ways to connect with other humans, and yet ask someone what they have done over the weekend, and you are likely to hear "Nothing". Students of social skills have to cultivate their ability to convert ordinary life events into captivating stories, then deliver those stories at just the right time and in an engaging way.
The art of the conversation.
Probably the single most important social skill in existence is the skill of having an interesting conversation. Even bright, creative individuals living amazing lives can sound boring and awkward when chatting in an informal chat. Students of social skills study the principles underlying all interesting conversations and the practical techniques increasing your chances of having one.
Group conversations are a special animal. There are all those people interrupting each other, changing topics, telling jokes or offering plans for the rest of the day at a seemingly frantic pace. Yet you will never be truly considered "social" until you learn to feel comfortable in a group. We will explore different strategies, from being a passive listener to interrupting everyone and telling a story. Students of social skills are reflecting on the dynamics of different groups and are frequently seeking new groups to be a part of.
The art of the phone and the email.
In the XXI-st century effective communicators must be fluent across several mediums, including phone calls, emails, instant messages and conference calls. Yet few people ever pause to reflect on the way they conduct phone calls or send emails. Students of social skills study each of those arts in great detail, understanding that a single phone call or email can transform a relationship or alter your entire life trajectory.
Framing and reframing.
Reality is subjective. People use language to select and often impose a particular interpretation of reality, and this operation is often called "framing". Politicians, attorneys, and marketers do it for a living. Behavioral economists Kahneman and Tversky have brought the concept into the mainstream by demonstrating that humans can make irrational economic choices if the options to choose from have been framed in a particular way. Social skills students are constantly raising their awareness of the frames used by others and are always ready to frame or reframe the issue at hand to redirect the conversation in a desirable direction.
Relationships. Course debrief.
The ultimate goal of highly developed social skills is building and sustaining relationships with the peope you want in your life. Relationships come in all shapes and sizes, including those with your parents, your boss, your spouse or significant other. The ability to analyze a relationship and learn from it is critical for long-term social success. Relationships that will have formed between the participants of the course Social Nerd™ 101 will be studied to illustrate the practice of debriefing (retrospective analysis). Students of social skills regularly debrief and learn from important social events in their lives. The best students make it a lifelong habit.
If you are still reading, our training may be right for you.
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