Learned Behaviors

Some people are naturally socially adept. Some people have poor social skills their entire lives. And somewhere in the middle are people like me, for whom social skills are learned behaviors.

As a child, I needed to be forced to socialize with my peers, particularly male peers. Without a common interest (typically sports, which I hated) I found it very hard to connect to people, and I found many social rituals confounding.

(Before you ask, I’ve never been diagnosed as Autistic or Asberger’s. It runs in my family, but I test on the high side of neurotypical.)

My social skills were carefully developed during the hell that was elementary school in a fairly scientific manner. I’d try things out, observe reactions, generalize from data, and form strategies. I eventually got good enough at using those strategies that they became second nature.

The thing is, social skills are more like muscles and less like riding a bike. It’s not just a matter of learning the right way to use and practice them. They atrophy if you don’t use them. You can fall back into a specific routine with a specific group of people, but that’s not quite the same.

After eight years of working in a cubicle deliberately screening out people around me and not forming any particular connections with my coworkers, I realized that things that I thought I was good at–that had been second nature in high school and college–now once again take work.

This probably means what people have been telling me for nearly eight years: I need a better job.

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