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How to stop being a loser [Oct. 20th, 2003|10:39 pm]
[Current Mood |geekygeeky]

Once again, Ferrett has written an inspirational post about how the world works, this time on the tender topic of how to get laid. And once again, I am inspired to supplement his comments based on the laments of a reader who wonders how to simply stop being a loser in the first place – because if you can’t get a girl to even talk to you, how are you ever gonna even have a chance to use the suave, “Hey, I’d really like to kiss you” line?

Having watched more than a few guys – and some women – struggle with this issue over the years, I have realized that it’s more complicated than “take a bath and stop being a dork.” If they knew how to stop being a dork, they would have done so already. Telling a dork to stop being a dork is like telling a fat person to just lose weight – duh, asshole. Any constructive suggestions?

Perhaps. Here is the advice I would give if I were suddenly trapped in one of those “modern Cinderella” teen romance flicks I loathe. Pay attention, folks:

The bath, the cleaning up, the updated wardrobe. Yeah, you’ve hear it all before, but you know what: people were right – daily showering, with hair washing, and monthly haircuts are non-negotiable. And then on to the wardrobe. If you have “pocket protector” written all over your style, or “ultra-bohemian,” or “radical dude, man,” or (the greatest sin of all) “I don’t care what I wear,” give it the fuck up. You may think you’re the bomb, but you’re only bombing. This is not a big investment: jeans, a short-sleeved button-down shirt in a solid color (no Hawaii, no jungle) and you’ll be “passin’.” I hear the protests now: there are cool dudes who wear outrageous shit and make it work, so why should you go all wallflower? Well, it’s ‘cuz them cool dudes have the knack for doing it, whereas you clearly do not (experience being all the witness needed), so give it the fuck up. You want your first impression to stop being, “look at the weirdo…”

Okay, once you look the part, you need to learn how to act the part. This is the part all those “ugly duckling” stories sail right past, because it’s the really, really hard part. Millions of angry, frustrated men of all ages know that they’re nice guys, and can’t figure out why women ignore them.

It’s because you act like fuckin’ freaks, dude. You can’t carry on a conversation, and you scare people. But even this can be dealt with. Here are the rules.

Rule One: Your voice is the least important in the room. Geeks seem to have one thing in common: they find their own interests fascinating. So fascinating that people talking about other things bores and irritates them, and they will do anything to turn the attention back to Star Trek or the SCA or Bab 5 or Linux Hacks. They will bulldoze conversation, completely unaware of the glazed eyes of the people around them, as they wax on about their roleplaying character or the true meaning of their deep spirituality or what asswipes people not members of this particular social circle have recently been. And the people to whom they are speaking will quickly be overwhelmed, freaked out, and bored. And find excuses to get the hell away.

Ask people about themselves and listen to their answers. Don’t regard their answers as fodder for your own set of stories/complaints/conspiracy theories. Ask follow up questions, encourage responses, laugh at their jokes – mildly.

Do not underestimate the power of the “uh-huh” and the “so what happened next?” responses. It may feel like filler, but it’s the grease of social intercourse – they know you’re listening and they’re encouraged to keep talking to you.

Rule Two: Stay engaged. Fidgeting and making odd noises when other people are talking is bad and it’s creepy. Being overtly bored and wandering away is even worse. So what if you don’t know anything about what they’re talking about – open your ears and learn. Be cool with being laid back and listening. Stop worrying about when you get a turn; at this point in the training, you don’t get a turn. As you get to know people better, you will be able to add the pertinent or amusing one-liner, but for the time being just observe how other people do it.

Look for things you don’t understand or are unclear on and ask questions. People love that. People love to talk as much as you do – the only difference between you and the erudite is he has also learned the art of listening.

Rule Three: Eye contact is good. Creepy eye contact is not: Something that geeks don’t get is that there is an appropriate level of eye contact, and it is neither nonexistent nor continual. If you never make eye contact with people, start working at it. If you are a starer, start gauging when other people start looking away from you and recognize that as having gone a little too long. You should not be seeking to re-engage out of fear that you’re losing your audience. Back off and be more casual, and you will stop making people uncomfortable.

Rule Four: You are not the expert on the topic – even if you are: Conversation is dialogue, not diatribe. Once you have mastered the art of listening, you can begin interjecting, but avoid “going off.” And avoid sniping – if you make everyone’s favorite guy look like a dope, people aren’t going to admire your superior intellect. They are just going to think you’re an ass.

Rule Five: There’s a great big wonderful world out there. Engage in it: Yeah, I know you think sports are retarded, or that politics are for losers, but these things are the things of daily conversation. Follow the top news, learn a little about the hot topics, so that you can engage in the conversations around you. You will be less bored, and people will interact with you.

Rule Six: Kill your weird personal habits: You may not know you have them, but your mother does. So does your cool sister/brother/cousin. It’s gonna be painful, but find someone in your life who will tell you honestly that you have an annoying nervous laugh, or a weird way of shaking your head, or a habit of clearing your throat, or “people think you’ve got fuckin’ Tourette’s, man.” Then enlist that person to rag the crap out of you every time you do it so you will hear it and realize how annoying it is. Keep it up until you overcome it. Beg them to point out every time you make an ass of yourself, because you know as well as I do that if you already knew when they were you would have already stopped.

Rule Seven: How to find people to talk to at parties: Ferrett and I were at a convention where we knew nobody, and he was hesitant about going down to the reception because we wouldn’t have anyone to talk to. I imparted to him my greatest piece of wisdom: look for someone else who looks lost and introduce yourself. They will be grateful to stop looking like a loser and you will be happily engaged in making a new friend. It works. (Corollary: it does not work if you are trying to score – there’s a vibe that gives off and it ain’t pretty.)

Rule Eight: Here’s the big secret: everyone gets nervous. You think that you are the only one who finds conversation circles suddenly shifting away from you like migrating caribou. It happens to everyone, even the cool kids. One of the biggest revelations of my 20s was talking with a high school friend and finding out that both of us thought that the other was the popular one. Everybody is insecure now and then, even the cockiest bastard at the party. The difference is that they have learned to mask their insecurity and yours still vibrates through the room like a foghorn. When you find yourself shut out or shut down – and you will; this isn’t an overnight success story – just take a deep breath and shift gears. No one’s gonna notice that it happened if you don’t make a fuss, and if you bide your time the herd will flow back toward you.

Okay, that’s a beginning. Anyone have any others to add?

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[User Picture]From: purplkat
2003-10-20 07:55 pm (UTC)
Ooh! Ooh!

I know that I tend to gauge people on how they talk about others. I assume that when my back is turned, they will talk about me in the same way, because that's usually the case. So if someone does nothing but talk shit about people who they are friendly with face to face, I'm likely to decide they're not worth my time.
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[User Picture]From: finding_helena
2003-10-20 10:09 pm (UTC)

Of course, I have a history of ignoring my instincts and making friends with these people because they pay attention to me, and then having it backfire. *sigh*.
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[User Picture]From: alisonian
2004-06-20 01:46 am (UTC)

Re: Some additional rules (or maybe corollaries)

another invaluable word is "sorry".
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[User Picture]From: demetria23
2003-10-20 07:59 pm (UTC)
Excellent. Have you read How to win friends and influence people? A lot of the points you listed are entire chapters in there. I would recommend it to any "dork" or "loser."

Here's more:
1. Remember names. A person's name is the sweetest word in the world to them. Never, ever try to guess someone's, because if you get it wrong you'll immediately lose points.
2. Pay attention. If you can recall old stories people tell you, different interests they have, and where they're from, they'll realize you actually listen to them. However, don't be creepy/stalker-ish about this.
3. Smile. Very few people are confident, but the successful, social ones are good at faking it. A good smile won't just make you feel better, but make other people more likely to enjoy being around.
4. Check your smell. Chances are, even your best friends may not tell you if you have bad breath, ineffective deodorant, or don't shower enough. But strangers certainly won't appreciate it.
5. Mirror other people's movements. When people establish a good rapport, they unconsciously start to imitate each other's actions. A psychological trick is to move the same way subtley, making them feel more comfortable.
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[User Picture]From: elf_inside
2003-10-20 08:54 pm (UTC)
Hehe.... I recommended the same book without having even seen your post. Yes, it has some excellent points in that book. At first it may seem that to do what he recommends is to be a fraud, but it's not. It's advice on what other people like to see when dealing with someone. Doing those things is likely to get people to have a more positive impression from you.
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[User Picture]From: taeme
2003-10-20 08:01 pm (UTC)

Actually go outside!

I've done all eight of those but since I never go anywhere, I'm still so wretchedly lonely I sob myself to sleep every night.

Though my clothes do suck. God, how much they suck. And I do tend to snipe people ... Well, other Magic players anyways.
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[User Picture]From: elf_inside
2003-10-20 08:58 pm (UTC)
Well if you play Magic, then you're all tapped out anyway when it comes to time for social activities... :) (okay bad bad, I know)... Seriously... I gave up gaming for a social life... and still have no social life :P...
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From: genericrick
2003-10-20 08:02 pm (UTC)
I have a definite no-no for those in college- If you're interested in someone, don't leave notes detailing how you stopped by if the person wasn't in on their white board. You'd be surprised at how much it will creep someone out after a while.

This was a very nice post, Gini! I've always had trouble gauging duration of eye contact, myself. :\
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-10-20 08:57 pm (UTC)
Here's a couple of clues:

Never, ever under ANY circumstances engage in "meaningful" eye contact with someone until you are very close. I've been creeped out by Catholic deacons and pagan dudes alike who think that they should read your soul.

Look at people when they are speaking, and then let your gaze shift while you are speaking, to their mouth, forehead, across the room. Don't avoid their eyes completely at that point, but don't bore into them with your eyes and words. You will appear attentive to their words and thoughtful in your response.

Hope that helps!
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[User Picture]From: kibbles
2003-10-20 08:03 pm (UTC)
I know it's cliched but if you can throw in proper handshake protocol or even something about touching, period. Some people pull away like YOU have cooties, or touch you too damn much, or inappropriately. There is also a dork habit of standing too damn close, no concept of personal space.

Know when to back off -- if you ask someone price of house, salary, sex life, and so on, and they laugh it off or change the subject drop it. Dont relent. (Happened last nite when someone kept asking how much the new place is. I said "oh, its in NY, so a more than you are used to for the size" this after I was badgered for sq. footage. Went on and on until I finally said how much. This person asks questions like that all the time and I was too nice and let myself get bulldozed.)

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[User Picture]From: lysana
2003-10-20 08:24 pm (UTC)

Re: I AM a geek. Lord help me.

Personally, I'd say the haircut clause varies by individual. Some folks' hair grows fast enough where monthly matters. Others, not so much.
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[User Picture]From: irishbanshee
2003-10-20 08:09 pm (UTC)
Rule Whatever-number-we're-up-to-now: Personal space. If someone is backing away from you in small increments, that probably means you're too fucking close. You do not have to be close enough to smell what the person had for lunch (unless it was onions or garlic :)) in order to carry on a conversation with them.
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[User Picture]From: i_descend
2003-10-20 09:00 pm (UTC)
Oooo. This is a -really- important one. Nothing creeps people out faster than invading personal space.
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[User Picture]From: lucifers_girl
2003-10-20 08:12 pm (UTC)
Get rid of the unibrow. My stupid geek boyfriend still won't and he'd look like a normal human being and be able to hide his geekness if he got rid of it. I usually forget about it but whenever I remember it's there and look at him I shudder with embarassment.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-10-20 09:00 pm (UTC)

Re: Oh christ

Hey, I am a geek, happily surrounded by geeks, and enjoy geeks. You don't have to give up the things you love. It's just a matter of figuring out what's appropriate for each situation.
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[User Picture]From: erebor
2003-10-20 08:25 pm (UTC)
Rule Whatever: Don't talk endlessly about a technical subject that your listener isn't into (eg, the intricacies of baseball, or the use of circumflexes in Khuzdul) and then when their polite attention momentarily wavers annouce loudly, "Oh, am I BORING you??" Hint: the answer is yes.

Know your audience. And don't embarrass them.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-10-20 08:52 pm (UTC)
Corollary (damn, I knew I'd forget some!): don't dominate a room by carrying on an obscure conversation about a topic that only you and one other person understands. It can wait until later, or you can retreat to a corner.
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[User Picture]From: elf_inside
2003-10-20 08:26 pm (UTC)
Read Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People". Nothing less than the classic will do. While it hasn't made me into a Don Juan, it has helped me at least be able to make and keep acquaintances who have a positive view of me.
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[User Picture]From: snippy
2003-10-20 08:28 pm (UTC)
Learn to like people. Learn to find something about the person sitting with you that is likable, and focus on it. I've always played a game: If I were this person's lover, what would be my favorite thing about them? This helps you relax and you will likely treat the other person better, because you're focusing on something you like about them.
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[User Picture]From: selki
2007-05-27 10:59 pm (UTC)
Learn to like people. Learn to find something about the person sitting with you that is likable, and focus on it.

Yes, yes, yes.
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[User Picture]From: salix_03
2003-10-20 08:36 pm (UTC)
*takes notes* though i might just pass for 'normal' online, im really not!! people are a bit warey of me... but with practice, i can not weird out someone for a short conversaion....
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From: ladytabitha
2003-10-20 08:40 pm (UTC)
This post, coupled with many many endorsements from theferrett, has caused me to friend you.

I blame society.
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[User Picture]From: theferrett
2003-10-20 09:01 pm (UTC)
You can blame me. She's my wife. Of course I'm pimpin' her.
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[User Picture]From: theferrett
2003-10-20 09:02 pm (UTC)
You can actually focus in the middle of their eyes, on the bridge of their nose. They don't really notice. It's weird that way.
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[User Picture]From: lovemonk
2003-10-20 09:02 pm (UTC)

A couple other things...

Small but powerful:

How to place yourself in the room. Speaking to you as a recovering geek, I still catch myself, when I come into a crowded room, slinking off into a corner to feel safer. You don't need to be in the exact center of any gathering, but it really helps to get close. Adjourning to the corner comes later.

I guess the second thing mostly just reinforces what has already been said: the power of silence. Here's an experiment that will astonish you. For one day, insert a pause of one or two seconds before you answer any question. So, say you're at the store and the checker says, "So how are you today?" Stop for a second or two, find that place where you really do feel good, and say, "I'm well, how are you?" Be sure to try this with about ten people before you start to notice just how much more sincere their responses seem to be. There are advanced uses of the principle, as well, but that's a little off-topic.

Very good post. I used to break all those eight rules, and MAN is life better now.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-10-21 03:29 am (UTC)

Re: A couple other things...

Ooo, room placement is an excellent one - wallflowering yourself all the time is a sure way to come across as odd. Especially sine a lot of people who've I've seen do this then get all huffy that no one made the effort to come over to them. Why would they, when there are readier distractins available.
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[User Picture]From: theferrett
2003-10-20 09:08 pm (UTC)
Rule Five Corrolary:
Know enough about sports, movies, and politics to be able to start three neutral conversations on the topic you can pull out of the air. When I started at Waldenbooks, I could not make small talk for shit, but the internet helps. Go to Yahoo! every day and know all of the major headlines.

And here's the important thing: Form an opinion on them. Pick three of the more neutral ones and come up with your own take in order to start a mild debate.

If I was starting at a party now, it'd be:

"Boy, that Cubs fan guy - don't you think everyone went a little overboard?"

"That guy who smuggled the box cutters - I think he did a good thing."

"The Sniper guy, now that's gonna be a trial to watch."

No Iraqi politics, nothing too controversial - just neutral stuff that everyone can throw something into. The box cutters is a little dangerous, since it could lead to a terror debate, but most people are smart enough to realize that it's a danger zone and don't discuss it if it's a hot spot for them.
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[User Picture]From: elf_inside
2003-10-20 10:51 pm (UTC)
Movies and politics I can do. Sports are too damn stupid. Can't go that low. What amazes me though is when women pretend to be interested in sports, or cultivate such an interest, because they assume all guys are interested in sports. Now, I know there are plenty of women who genuinely love sports, but I've seen just as many who cultivate that love to impress the guys.
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[User Picture]From: loralai
2003-10-20 09:20 pm (UTC)

A few more.

Rule X: take care of your nails. it's one of the basic habits of grooming that get neglected a lot. even if they're short, if they're neat and properly taken care of, it shows that you're meticulous about details. also, shaking hands when you meet someone is something that happens quite often, so it's only polite.

Rule X+1: i'm notoriously bad at remembering names, so i tend to use nicknames like "sweetie" and "hon." however, what i'm bad for in names, i make up by remembering details. if you listen to people and remember a few minor details, you can always flatter and impress them later by asking if they got around to buying their dog a new collar.

Rule X+2: THINK! don't just open your mouth and say the first thing that comes to mind. honesty is supposed to be a virtue, but it often makes things awkward. try for tack instead. also, follow other's lead in a conversation. don't try so hard to force things and just go with the flow.

Rule X+3: i think this has already been mentioned before, but smile! people are probably as shy/uncertain as you are and it makes a very good, very simple icebreaker. it's also a nice gesture.
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[User Picture]From: elf_inside
2003-10-20 10:52 pm (UTC)
Addendum to Rule X: For guys, it's a good thing to take care of the nails. Nothing worse than being in a very passionate moment, with "Roman Fingers" and all of a sudden she screams in pain because your fingernails are too long and just injured some "sensitive parts"... ;)

Of course, if you've gotten this far in the first place, you're not doing too badly.
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From: (Anonymous)
2003-10-20 09:22 pm (UTC)
Meh.. All this advice will get you is a woman who thinks you're someone that you aren't.

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[User Picture]From: theferrett
2003-10-20 09:23 pm (UTC)
The point is that maybe you should think about changing so that you're, you know, people friendly.

'Course, if you wanna hide in your basement and eat mold, that's your business. Be well. Just don't bitch at me.
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[User Picture]From: poobah103
2003-10-20 09:44 pm (UTC)
Here are a couple of other things I thought might help:

1.) When first getting to know someone, try keeping the tone of the conversation light. Everybody has problems, and when you're talking to someone you just met, the last thing they want to hear about is how much *your* life sucks. They've got their own difficulties to think about without having to worry about yours, and if all you do is talk about your many woes, they'll probably try to find someone new to talk to.

2.) Some people are just too friendly. Being friendly is good, being *too* friendly is creepy. When meeting someone new, be interested, but not nosy. Be warm and friendly, but not suffocating. Don't get touchy-feely, you have no idea how this person feels about "personal space". And learn to realize when the conversation is over. Just because someone has finished talking to you and starts to walk away doesn't mean they don't like you, and if you follow them around like a lost puppy, you'll probably just end up making them feel uncomfortable.

3.) Don't be too self-conscious. Be self-conscious enough that you can realize when you're being creepy, but don't get overly nervous, either. Then people think you might have something to hide. Like a contagious disease or a severed head.

4.) You know how everyone says "It's the quiet ones you have to watch out for?" Don't be the quiet one. You don't want to be *too* loud and obnoxious, because that's kind of annoying. But standing in the corner by yourself, staring contemptuously at everyone else isn't really going to give off much of a "Hey, come make friends with me!" vibe. Bite the bullet and strike up a conversation with somebody, don't wait for them to do it to you.

5.) Loosen up. Have a good time. People like to hang around someone who's fun and knows how to have fun. Don't worry about how silly you'll look- just go out and start dancing or something. Yeah, you'll probably look silly, but at that's better than being creepy. If you're fun-loving, more people will want to hang around you.

That's all I got.
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[User Picture]From: weepingjester
2003-10-20 10:51 pm (UTC)
As a point, every one looks silly when they dance. People dance because it is fun, not because it looks good.
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From: leftahead
2003-10-20 11:18 pm (UTC)
Rule Two Addendum-

Everyone does eventually need to disengage at some point, to use the restroom, to get another Zima, or whatever. If you must do so, excuse yourself verbally and give some indication of where you're going, but not the gory details. "Hey, my pal Joe just got here, so I'm going to say hello. Nice talking to you!" or "Excuse me, I'll be right back." People appreciate this social lubricant, and it gives some hint of whether the conversation can be picked back up a few minutes later, or should continue without you.

Corollary: Other people will occasionally need to disengage fromyou for whatever reason. Let them, and move on if need be. You're probably not the only person they know there, so don't take their wanting to chat with some other friends as some crushing defeat. Move on with your life and have fun.

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[User Picture]From: theferrett
2003-10-21 05:37 am (UTC)
You know, when I got up this morning, I was going to post this very point. Great minds think alike.
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[User Picture]From: benthecube
2003-10-20 11:27 pm (UTC)
You are a Godsend! Thank you for all the tips on how not to be a social outcast! They will definitely come in handy.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-10-21 06:22 am (UTC)
Glad to have been of service!
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From: silverhand
2003-10-20 11:30 pm (UTC)
Be confident.

This is very difficult when you start because failing to interact socially can be a nasty kick. Just keep going and don't let it bother you. Many people can tell when a person has low self-esttem: the stoop of the shoulders, mumbling instead of talking, failing to make eye contact. This tends to drive people away. Simply acting with more confidence in yourself will do wonders for keeping someone in conversation.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-10-21 06:23 am (UTC)
Case in point: Ferrett is a total geek, and yet because he can carry on conversation he gets on great with everyone. Yet he is by nature extremely shy of strangers.

No one can believe this. He fights his way past it.
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[User Picture]From: kathrynt
2003-10-21 12:47 am (UTC)
Don't pretend not to like things that you do like. Don't pretend to like things that you don't. Don't try to fit yourself into a "type" -- the coolest people are the people who don't worry about that stuff. If your three favorite musical acts are Bauhaus, Lyle Lovett, and Britney Spears, then don't try to be a goth, an alt-country fan, or a tweeny-bopper exclusively. Embrace your contradictions.

This one goes out to the gals in the audience: For lord's sakes, smile at people when they do something nice for you. If someone holds a door for you, you'd be amazed at the response a sincere smile and a pleased / surprised "Thank you!" will get you. If you catch a guy's (or gal's, let's not be heterosexist) eye across the room, and you think zie's hot, smile at hir. Two across-the-room smiles lead nicely into a "Hey, I'm the person who's been staring at you from across the room. I'm Kathryn. What's your name?" Or, more casually, "Hey, I'm the one who -- uh, you know. Anyway. What's your name? I'm Kathryn."

Be enthusiastic about the person you're talking to's interests. This works whether you share them ("Oh, man, I love making my own jam!"), don't share them ("Paleontology has never rung my bell. What am I missing that you're not?") or know nothing about them ("Baseball. . . that has innings, right? Tell me of your Red Sox, Usul.")

Don't try to impress the other person. Give the other person a chance to impress you.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-10-21 06:25 am (UTC)
Absolutely! You don't have to be fake, just not so enthusiastic that you creep people out by overwhelming them.

People love to be paid attention to, and if you do it, you will get it in return.
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