| 1049 words

There are a lot of tips and tricks when it comes to being social. People proudly proclaim to have solved interpersonal interactions, whether it's through shady pickup artist techniques or a guru who will teach the secrets of making friends and influencing people. I don't think there's much value in these "get social quick" techniques, on anything more than a superficial level. However I too have a secret trick that seems to work for me.

You see, I think I have a surprising amount of social success despite generally preferring solitude. I know enough people, or perhaps I should say that enough people know me, that I can start to be overwhelmed by the number of people who want to meet me when I don't have a lot of time. A decent part of this is probably due to having an extended family that's both quite large and also quite close, but that's not all of it.

I have my own, unique approach when it comes to talking to people. I don't always pay very close attention to customs or greetings. There is a type of person who will take care to host events and ensure every guest is tended to and feels special; I am the opposite of that. However my one saving grace and the trait that has carried me this far is a healthy heap of curiosity.

I've expressed the value of living a curious life before, and I find that once again, it proves to be quite valuable in this situation. In fact in my opinion it may be one of the most valuable "social skills" that you can cultivate. A genuine curiosity and interest in other people's lives, work, hobbies, and history can overcome almost any other social barriers.

I've noticed this when I'm on my own and around strangers, often while traveling. I don't ever approach people just to talk to them - I'm not that quite that social. I'd imagine I'd seem relatively unapproachable too. However, when people do chat to me I ask a lot of questions about them. If they share something interesting or have a unique and fun story then I can't help but be very invested in what they're saying.

This happened recently at a restaurant I was at, alone while traveling. Some friendly people approached me small talk and I responded politely enough. Then, suddenly, I found out that one of them was (in my opinion) an expert on local history as well as a schoolteacher. She seemed more than happy to tell her stories and I kept asking questions about different facets of life from 100 years ago. It's always wonderful to meet a fellow nerd, and this ended up being a delightful chance encounter.

I see this play out at work as well. In my workplace, having some idea of what other people are doing is very useful. There are some people who are social butterflies; they're friends with everyone and never forget people's names or faces. Admittedly having a better memory for that kind of stuff might serve me well; however that's not my strategy (although at least a know a handful of these very social people as consolation).

Instead, I'm quite good at being curious not necessarily just in people but also what they're working on. When I spot something interesting it doesn't matter too much how well I know someone or how strange it otherwise feels. Asking some "what's that?" or "how does that work?" comes quite naturally to me, and I always make sure to listen fully. I think there's a level of genuineness that comes across and makes people happy to chat and explain what's going on. I guess you can't fake real interest in something. Luckily this has proven to be quite a benefit when working with large amounts of other people, and I'm usually on first name terms with someone who's able to help me out.

Now that I think about it, I think there something more than curiosity there. Something in addition that's hard to articulate. Or maybe it's just a deeper kind of curiosity than I usually think of.

When I'm curious about something I really want to understand it, on a deep fundamental level. When people describe what they're working on I want to fully wrap my head around it. And when people describe themselves, I won't stop until I've done the same. It's so fascinating to get a sense of people's motivations, their desires, what drives them and what doesn't. When I run into someone who doesn't really make sense to me (which to be honest can be said about almost everybody) talking to them and asking piercing never ceases to be entertaining.

To some degree I think this explains why I get along so well with children as well. Curiosity is something that can't be faked, and imagine how rarely most children get a chance to gush about their interests and hobbies to someone who listens. I especially love it when they share their schoolyard drama, and they seem to love sharing.

I heard advice once, that everybody loves to talk about where they're from. Asking someone where they're from or where their family is from almost always gets a positive reaction, and lets you learn a whole lot about them as well. I also heard advice that being a good listener is the fastest way to make friends. It's ironic that I often barely talk about myself because listening is so much more fun.

In my opinion cultivating this sense of curiosity can go a long way to make up for social hesitancy or awkwardness. In fact I think directly asking these kinds of questions is often what would be considered awkward, but I like to think awkwardness doesn't truly exist until it's acknowledged. As long as what you're doing feels right, there won't be any room for awkward feelings to slink in and make themselves known.