September 18, 2014

Why aren't you talking? And other ridiculous questions people ask developers

As computer programmers, we must improve our social skills. Years of solitary confinement in front of a keyboard have hampered our social skills.

There's life away from the IDE!

There's good news. You can do it.

There's better news. I'll show you how.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT

Social connection is important for life. UCLA neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman's book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect shows why social interaction is just as important as food and shelter.

Lieberman's TED Talk shows WHY social skills will make us smarter, happier, and more productive.

GO HOME

The first step is to get away from your computer. Pam Selle has a great Ignite talk about the dangers of working late and strategies to make sure you leave work.

GET OUT

Once you've left work, you need to find other activities to occupy your time. Instead of racing home just to sit in-front of another computer, find other interests that get you around people.

Did you play in band in high school and want to get back to playing? There are community bands all over the world. About two years ago, I picked the tuba back up and joined the Gulf Coast Community Band. It's low stress and enjoyable. We play two or three concerts a year and I've met a lot of great people. To find a community band in your area, search the New Horizons Music directory.

Also, I recommend finding a local Toastmasters club. I joined a club a month ago and have learned so much in just a few meetings. Attending Toastmasters will improve your communication, public speaking, and leadership skills. Practice is the only one way to get better at speaking in front of others. Toastmasters gives you a chance speak in front of a non-judgmental group. They also provide excellent feedback to help make the next speech even better.

toastmasters

Want to find people who have similar interests? MeetUp is the tool. Get together and play board games. Find other people who enjoy photography. If MeetUp doesn't have the group you're looking for, create it!

Finally, Find a local user group or professional association to get involved with. IT Gulf Coast has excellent social and professional events in the Pensacola area. Look for similar groups in your area to improve your social skills.

PUT THE PHONE DOWN

We play a game at work when we go to lunch. Everyone puts their phone in the middle of the table before we order. The first person to pick up their phone before the waitress brings the check has to pay for EVERYONE'S meal. We are a talkative group without the game. But even more gregarious when we can't touch our phones.

We all know that person who can't put their phone down. You're telling them a story and they're not listening because they have check Instagram. Don't become that person. Keep the phone in your pocket/purse as much as possible when you're around others. They'll appreciate your 100% attention.

TALK TO PEOPLE

There are two books I recommend for improving social skills. The first one is almost 80 years old and is relevant today. It lays the foundation for you to become the person other people want to be around. The second book is real world application of that foundation.

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie shapes the way I live every day. Even years after reading, the book has made a big impact with how I approach friends, family, and people I'm meeting for the first time.

how to win friends

It offers simple and practical advice. At times, the advice will seem obvious. This is on purpose. For example, #2 on the ways to make people like you is "smile." Take note of the next 10 people you meet and see how many of them smile when they first meet you. I've found doing something so simple opens people up and makes them want to get to know you.

Six Ways to Make People Like You

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person's interest.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

Wikipedia has a breakdown on each item from the book. I recommend starting with the Six Ways to Make People Like You and working down the sections.

The second book provides real world examples to apply these simple steps.

How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships by Leil Lowndes will improve your social skills with each lesson.

how to talk to anyone

Want to know how to avoid a terrible conversation habit? Take a look at technique #33.

Technique #33

Trash the Teasing

A dead giveaway of a little cat is his or her proclivity to tease. An innocent joke at someone else’s expense may get you a cheap laugh. Nevertheless, the big cats will have the last one. Because you’ll bang your head against the glass ceiling they construct to keep little cats from stepping on their paws.

Never, ever, make a joke at anyone else’s expense. You’ll wind up paying for it, dearly

Do you always ask people what they for a living? Leil explains why that question is cheap.

Technique #24

What Do You Do—NOT!

A sure sign you’re a Somebody is the conspicuous absence of the question, “What do you do?” (You determine this, of course, but not with those four dirty words that label you as either a ruthless networker, a social climber, a gold-digging husband or wife hunter, or someone who’s never strolled along Easy Street.)

If you really have to know what someone does, she suggests asking:

“How do you spend most of your time?”

Leil also has a followup to the 92 tricks called How to Instantly Connect with Anyone: 96 All-New Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships. If you read it, let me know what you think.

Reading will only take you so far. You'll need to apply these techniques in the real world.

What things have helped improve your social skills?

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