The uncomfortable truth: why social skills matter more than being a good person
There have been many moments in my life when I’ve been faced with inconvenient truths.
The first inconvenient truth I understood when I was a young munchkin was that not all families are created equal. I remember looking at my hard working single mom, and then at all my other friend’s married-forever parents and thinking: Hm…is something wrong?
The second inconvenient truth I understood in junior high and high school was that being a people pleaser gets people to like you…but never respect you. (While most traditional social skills advice falls into the ‘watering yourself down and making other people feel good’ category, I believe there is a serious balance. And I only know this because I’ve lived through the pain of it)
And the third inconvenient truth is that you can be one brilliant motherfucker and the world can step all over you if you don’t know how to communicate your ideas or present yourself.
First (hilarious) case in point:
I was reading The Oatmeal–probably the only comic that will get you to actually exclaim ‘I CAN’T STOP CRYING BECAUSE I’M LAUGHING TOO MUCH’ within a minute of reading–and it tells the story of how Thomas Edison ripped off of Nikolas Tesla’s ideas and made millions off of it, all the while Tesla was the mind behind the magic.
You start to understand that the reason people regurgitate stories about Thomas Edison is because they don’t know any better (just like I didn’t). It isn’t until someone is bold enough to question what they’re being told over and over and ask: Was it all Edison? The truth is, it wasn’t. The problem was that Tesla had no idea how to sell or make a business out of his ideas. That was Edison’s brilliance — yet Tesla got none of the credit.
Brilliance is not equal to getting noticed or standing out. Which is why crappy books can hit a NYT Bestseller List and why an artist as talented as Picasso can barely make enough money to live off of.
Second (more sobering) case in point:
I was recently hanging out with a few people who work at a top consulting firm, and heard the story about how one of our friends got fired. What’s worse than getting fired are the reasons why.
What happened was that our friend was actually standing up for a few of his co-workers who he felt were being mistreated. The problem was that he complained to the wrong person–someone above his manager–and their solution was to get him out of there. It didn’t matter how long he had worked at the company, it didn’t matter all the value he had provided. What mattered is that he made a misstep in the thorny jungle of humans and they punished him for it.
For me, this is the hardest part of what I do
A part of me hates that these truths exist. It goes against so much of how I’d love the world to be, where we’re not stomping our egos around like 3000 pound elephants, forcing people to think we’re right, and eschewing our responsibility to do the right thing for the sake of appearing a certain way to other people.
But I can get mad about it, or I can do something about it
Which is showing you:
What the game is
What are its rules
How to play it
How to win it
And how to transcend it so the rules don’t matter anymore
Because it’s so easy to think that Tesla got the short end of the stick. It’s so EASY to think that what happened to our friend is unfair and how stupid the world is for being so...stupid.
But when we take a closer look…
It’s kind of on Tesla to have taken responsibility for learning how to communicate and share his ideas…instead of expecting Edison to ‘do the right thing’. ← That’s living in the world of ‘I wish this person would change’ …which could effectively take a lifetime vs. changing YOUR response.
And it’s kind of on our friend to have sought advice for how to handle a thorny situation that would let him do the right thing, but also without getting him fucked six ways to Sunday.
Because the one thing I DO believe in is taking responsibility for 100% of our lives
And when it comes to being able to navigate the world of social skills, ‘dirty players’ like Edison or my friend’s boss can be your greatest teachers.
Because these people challenge you to step up your game and learn how to win. They teach you how to handle difficult people with huge egos, and how to handle morals and ethics so you can have an impact on people’s lives instead of being seen as a nuisance and getting fired–or worse, someone no one wants to listen to.
Even Ben Franklin couldn’t understand why his brother seethed with jealousy towards him, or his bosses would try to undermine him and get him thrown out of the companies he worked for. But he got smart and took a step back, learned to read people and their intentions, and learned to handle them so they he could go through life peacefully without any thorns in his sides.
This is why it’s so important to remember that social skills? ARE SKILLS.
There’s no way as a young pup you can anticipate a person being a schmuck to you and knowing exactly the right thing to say to handle it. You learn through experience, and these skills can be taught. Some of us learn the hard way, like me. But now I can handle extremely difficult people and high-pressure situations without throwing my morning eggs at the wall.
Because the only reason ‘social skills’ seems so abstract and vague to learn is because when we hear platitudes like “Just talk to people!” we don’t have an analysis of the specific mindsets, actions, and small decisions that a person who seems ‘natural’ makes every day that makes what they do look so effortless. That’s my job, and I love breaking down for you what seems unrealistic and showing you that with small steps and positive reinforcement, you can actually change how people respond to and interact with you–without changing anything about your personality.
Which is why next week, I’m going to be showing you how you can have a ‘magnetic personality’ –no matter how far off into fantasy land that sounds to you — and the exact steps you can do to talk to anyone with grace, charm, and confidence. It is a skill that can be learned.
And next week, we’re going to practice and learn together.