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The Short Bus of Social Interactivity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the phenomenon of social retardation. That is, the inability for many people I know (mostly nerds and geeks) to observe basic manners and, well, interact well with others. This is a long post, and I write it with self-awareness of my own shortcomings (historical and otherwise).

A long time ago, those of us working at Organic in the content engineering department (CE-SF Forever, Foo!) were a very tight-knit bunch. We were also complete and utter failures at interacting with each other – not to mention anyone outside of our circle. We were (are) a bunch of nerds, and (like most nerds) want to think of the world from a pragmatist perspective.

A guy I worked with (his name is Huff) was probably the least socially retarded among us, and he said this once, in all seriousness:

“I work with you guys, and you’re all brilliant motherfuckers, but you’re all socially retarded.”

And he was right. We were (still are, to a great extent).

That comment was very, very important to me, and I’ll explain why.

To me, it was a shocking eye-opener. To realize that someone I whose opinion I cared about perceived me in that way. It sometimes takes a friend to tell you the bad things about yourself. I like to think I’m independent and self-aware, but the fact is that we all have blinders on when it comes to our weaknesses – especially in the arena of social interaction.

The first lesson in becoming competent at anything is being able to recognize your own incompetency.

So, I am saying this to you, my friends reading this, those I care about:

You are socially retarded.

Now, your first emotional response upon hearing that phrase is likely a defensive one. Quite possibly you are thinking to yourself, “Hey, fuuuuuuck you. What the fuck do you know?”

This is a normal reaction. I’ll allow you a moment to work through it. People will not usually tell you when you are fucking up so it is up to you to be open to the possibility that you have a flaw. If you truly are a pragmatist you’ll stop for a moment and rethink your history and actions and realize that I’m right. At that point, we can continue the conversation.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

o/~ da da da, i’ve got soul but i’m not a soldier… o/~

You okay? Good. Let’s move on.

Everyone is on the Short Bus of Social Interaction to some degree or another. Everyone. $DEITY knows I am – though I like to think I’ve come a long way in the opposite direction over the past decade since he said that to me. I can list off a shit-ton of things I do poorly.

(For example, for the past year I have been keeping a great deal of people who like me at arm’s length simply because I’m afraid that they won’t like the person I am if they really get to know me. That’s socially retarded. It implies that I know more about their feelings about me than they do.)

Here are some things I have learned about this. Things that I have personally been guilty of (and/or still struggle with). Not all of them may apply to you; I am speaking very broadly. However, do not take that statement to mean that you should not hold yourself up to a microscope with regards to any one particular issue: failure to do so is being dishonest to yourself.

Let’s do a list.

1) When someone gives you a compliment, the correct response is “Thank you.” Do not think that you should respond with a level of humility and downplay the compliment: that insults both you and the person who complimented you (you are basically telling them that they have bad taste). Feigned humility smells like three-day fish.

2) When you ask someone for advice, and they give it to you, the correct response is “Thank you.” Even if you think the advice is bad, or unwarranted, or coming from a position of ignorance. Someone else has taken time out of their lives to respond to your request, regardless of its value. Certainly do not downplay their contribution.

This also goes for people doing you favors of any degree. Someone has put themselves out on a limb for you, whether it is as simple as a ride to the doctor, bringing you chicken soup when you’re sick, or even as heavy as getting you a job.

Don’t think that because someone is a good friend that you can get away without saying these things, either. Taking someone’s help for granted is a totally retarded thing to do.

3) When someone offers to buy you a drink, the correct response is “Thank you.” (You may also say “cheers”.) You are not obligated to accept the drink, but you must decline with taste (see below). You are not obligated to buy them a drink in return: people do this because they like you and enjoy your company.

It may seem weird – that someone may want to spend time with you – but that’s why.

4) When someone offers to buy you a drink, and you must decline, do so with grace and thanks. You can say anything: “Thank you, but I need to drive, so I’m on water for now,” or “Thanks, but I’ve had too much,” or “Thanks, but I have to get back to work.”

There are a ton of excuses, and the only one that doesn’t work is “I think you’re an asshole.”

5) You do not always have to be right, even in your own field, even when you are. It can be irritating when someone talks out of their ass about something you know a great deal about and the first impulse for many people (myself included) is to crush, maim, and destroy. That’s testosterone talking.

It is okay not to argue with people, especially if it may put a strain on a friendship.

This is a trap I fall into a lot.

6) Further, you do not always have to be right. Seriously, there are many, many people who know more about the things you think you know than you.

Back when I was a crazy anarcho-leftist in college earning my FBI file, my crew and I attended a speech given by William F. Buckley, Jr. at my school. We were there to raise trouble. During the question and answer period, one of the women I was with stood up and made some stupid accusatory comment or other about conservative economic policies.

Buckley took a beat, a breathe, and then, in less then ten words, annihilated everything she said, everything she would ever say on the subject, and totally destroyed our cause. We had walked into his House, and our arrogance in thinking we knew more about it than him was telling.

This one can also be summed up as “Don’t talk about shit you don’t know about.”

7) Few people wish to hear about your level 17 Paladin. Sad, but true. There are people who do. These people will make themselves known to you. This applies to everything nerdy, not just games: consider the last time you got in a conversation with someone about SMTP headers and their eyes glazed over.

Nerdism finds nerdism. Your braggadocio about your World of Warcraft accomplishments can wait until you’re talking with other Warcraft players.

8) Don’t make excuses for being a social retard. This just makes you look more socially retarded because it says, effectively, that you do not believe yourself to be bound by the polite rules of society.

There is a difference between a reason and an excuse. With reasons, you take responsibility for your actions; with excuses you do not. “I was drunk,” “I have OCD,” “I have low-grade Asperger’s” – these can be used in either vein.

No one will tell you when you are doing it wrong, so it’s better not to bring up a reason or excuse.

9) If you make plans with someone, and then must cancel, let them know. Further, offer to reschedule. Any reason will do except “I decided that I don’t like you.” Be serious about rescheduling, even if you don’t want to do anything. This is just being polite.

There is a further point here: if you are going to be late, let your appointment know.

10) If you decline every invitation from someone, they will eventually stop sending you invites. At some point, you may be stuck wondering why no one invites you to anything and get all wound up and depressed. Well, that’s why.

(There is a solution, though: invite people to do stuff.)

11) Be aware that what you do impacts other people. This can be taken very broadly, but I mean it in a more minute sense.

When you light up a cigarette, are there people around? Is the smoke drifting into their eyes? When you leave a building, and let the door swing shut, did you just smack someone in the face with it? When you leave a building, did you just step into someone’s way without looking? When you play music in your apartment loudly at two a.m., are your neighbors being forced to rock out with you?

Before you throw ten gangster rap tracks onto the jukebox, see what people are listening to. You can listen to your own music at home; forcing it on a populace just drives people away and makes you an asshole.

12) Everyone wants to be the center of attention. You do not have to be. Seriously. Some people have a “performer” personality (I do) and that’s fine, but if you get more than one person like this in a group, what follows is a series of one-up-manships that just irritate people. If you really are as cool as you think you are, you can let someone else take the spotlight for a while.

13) When in a conversation, listen to your friend instead of simply waiting for your turn to speak. This is an art. It takes a lot of practice (lord knows I trip up on it a lot). Over time, though, it becomes easier, and you will derive empathy towards people and learn social cues better.

14) If you are angry with someone, or they have hurt you, and they seem oblivious to this fact, you must tell them. Fact: socially retarded people are not good at giving cues. Fact: socially retarded people are poor at reading cues. Fact: most people are socially retarded.

A week or so ago, I was involved in a conversation with a couple people, and one of them was pretty drunk. In response to something I said about some sort of political thing, he called me “un-American.” It was a pretty hefty insult, given the situation, and it pissed me off. At the time, I let it go: he was deep in the sauce.

The next time I saw him, I said, calmly, “the last time we spoke, you called me un-American. And frankly, that pissed me off a great deal.” He got this totally surprised look in his eyes, apologized profusely, and bought me beers for the rest of the evening. Things are cool with us now, but if I hadn’t said anything it would just have festered for weeks, poisoning our relationship.

People are not able to read minds, even people like me with Batman-level perceptive abilities.

15) Don’t be “that guy” who sits in a corner and doesn’t talk to anybody. You know exactly what I’m talking about, too. Maybe you’re at a party and you really only know one person there. Maybe you’re in a bad mood. Whatever.

When you do this – sit in a corner – you exude a passive aggressive hostility. What you’re saying is that you are waiting for someone else to come and talk to you – that you are too important to make the first social move. Well, guess what? You’re not.

Remember, everyone is socially retarded. Here is the big secret to making friends: 90% of the work is simply introducing yourself. That may seem like a high wall, but it doesn’t take much. “Hi, my name is Brandon. I overheard you talking about foobar earlier, and I like foobar.” Bam! Heavy lifting done.

16) No one wants to be disliked. Everyone wants to make friends. This is the third tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It is present in every human. With that in mind, it is usually a good practice to assume “good intentions.”

Socially retarded people will make dumbass comments. Well intended, but dumbass comments – they’ll sound like backhand compliments, for instance. What you do here is take it in stride, recognize it for being a socially retarded comment, and move on.

If they really are trying to be hostile to you, well. That’s their problem, and you can safely ignore them. Just back out of the conversation and find something else to do.

17) When you yell at a customer service representative, you are being an asshole. Seriously, you’re being a total fucking douchebag. Not just to the person on the other end of the line, but also to everyone within earshot. They’re just doing a job, my friend – they are not personally trying to fuck you over.

Shit happens; how you deal with it says a lot about you as a person.

18) Be a good customer. Calculating an exact tip makes you an asshole. Tip well and tip often. The people who work in restaurants and coffee shops? They have shitty jobs. They deal with assholes yelling at them all the time. Don’t be the asshole.

When you do tip math, you look like you are unwilling to give them a tip, which makes you an asshole. If the service is horrible, leave a small amount, but if it’s even mediocre, go at least 15% (higher for excellent service).

If you have a coffee shop or restaurant you are a regular at, drop a hundred bucks in the tip jar at Christmastime – you’ll find that you get more than a hundred dollars value out of that gesture over the course of a year.

Be the good customer – the one they want to come back. The one they smile at when you walk in.

19) Iconoclasts do not get invited to prom. Sure, sure, angst and intentional non-conformity was cool and all when you were 19, but welcome to your thirties. When you rock the boat just to rock the boat, you piss people off and create headaches.

This can be especially fucked up in a job situation: your manager is going to catch hell for your actions and may have to go out on a limb for you (maybe he already has). Now you’ve made him look like an asshole: someone who was looking out for you. When you create one too many problems, you’ll stop getting invitations (or perhaps be forcibly dis-invited from somewhere).

Again: what you do affects other people.

20) Terse replies do not foster communication. Sure, sure. TCIP headers are compressed, and a lot of information can be displayed in a few simple words.

We live in a world of Twitter, txtmsgs, and Facebook updates so we are used to short communication bursts. However, most of the time people like elaboration. Email and the internet are horrible methods of communication because so much subtext is lost. Be aware that terse replies come across as passive-aggressive or even hostile.

In face-to-face communication, terse replies make you come across as a cold fish. Leave openings for questions. Elaborate.

If someone asks you, “Do you like Battlestar Galactica?” they’re really asking you why or why you do not like it. Simply saying “yes” or “no” ends the conversation. Even a simple, “yes, I like it because Number Six is smoking hot,” will do.

There. That’s twenty, which is a nice round number. Many of these overlap but like similar tools in a toolset have subtle differences and applications.

Now, I have to get back to being a surly iconoclast.

Posted in Creative. Tagged with , .

98 Responses

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  1. water_of_fire says

    I’m an asshole. I’m also working on it — I’m less of an asshole now than I was a month ago.

    Somewhere in here should probably be added that the only person who finds your children and/or cat fascinating is you — everyone else is just humoring you by letting you go on and on about how adorable your spawn or furchild is. Ditto, no one cares how much you love your significant other. I have been guilty of two out of three and now wince when people do it to me.

    And hey, I DO TOO need to be right.

    • jorm says

      The cat thing is, I think, covered with the “No one wants to hear about your level 17 Paladin.”

      I agree with you. I love my cats to death, and I revel in them, but I know that few others (if any) care when they are being cute. People will care when they are sick – but that’s a different thing entirely.

      • water_of_fire says

        Ah you’re right, that is covered with the level 17 Paladin. (I had to Google that, incidentally.)

        But wait, let me tell you about how Aramis loves to play in the shower!!!! … Yes, people do care when they’re sick because they care about how deeply it affects us, the helpless humans. As for the rest, I swear I SWEAR I am trying to keep it to a dull roar.

        In other news, I start getting inked a week from tomorrow. I am freaking right out.

        • jorm says

          Are you ready for it? This is your first ink, non?

          • water_of_fire says

            This is my first ink, oui, and non, I don’t think I’ll ever be ready. I’ve been having some nice wacky dreams about it, though.

          • jorm says

            No one is ever ready for the first one. Just remember what I told you about it (earlier) and you’ll be fine.

          • water_of_fire says

            Aye, I was just thinking about that, actually.

            (In my dreams it hasn’t hurt yet. Yeesh.)

          • jorm says

            It’s not the needles, it’s the wipe-down. It is *OKAY* to ask for a break. It is *OKAY* to “tap out” and schedule another appointment.

            Even though you’re just sitting there, it’s a tiring process. Don’t bother bringing something to read: you’ll just be stuck reading the same sentence over and over for two or three hours.

          • water_of_fire says

            Eek, the wipe-down. I had forgotten. Now I’m wincing in anticipation. I still can’t believe I’m doing this. I keep having this wonderful paranoid thought that I’m starting too big — maybe I ought to have my first piece be a little weenie piece of shit on my wrist or something. Or not.

            I’m bringing a friend to hold my hand and talk to me. I’m also told I should bring chocolate.

          • jorm says

            Dunno about the chocolate, but make sure to have a hearty lunch beforehand. Or breakfast, or whatever.

    • futureboy says

      I often wonder if that 5-10 minutes spent validating their existence can be used on spending extra time with that person or pet that they adore so much or even better to let them know they love them.

      The old saying goes, “A rich man doesn’t need to tell people he is rich.”

  2. phreddiva says

    Too true.
    And I’m also reminded of something that went out on one of the VD lists – after 25, no one wants the brooding deep thinking pouter. We want someone who knows how to have fun. People who are smiling and having a good time are approachable.

    • jorm says

      Too right. Sitting in the corner alone does not make you mysterious.

  3. psymbiotic says

    Bravo, sir! Very well written! :D


  4. futureboy says

    I could say a lot to this, but I won’t because I don’t think it would have much impact broadcasting it to the internet vs. telling the person who’s bullshit I’m calling.

    I do admire your effort in demanding excellence from your friends rather than coddling them into mediocrity. It is a true friend that demands the best of you and calls you out when you aren’t giving your 100%, when you are withdrawing or are posturing. It is a true friend that still loves you just the same when you give it your all and fail.

    • jorm says

      A couple years back a friend of mine sat me down in a room for a serious talk and proceeded to go at my psyche with a surgical precision I thought unthinkable (this is a different person than Huff, a man named Dave). It was a brutal experience (for the both of us) but a necessary one and I was a total wreck about it for weeks after.

      Everything he said was true. I knew it then; I know it now. I have (I hope) managed to make deep strides.

      Since then, I have realized two things:

      1) I’m socially retarded
      2) I sometimes need to be told these things.

      That’s a pragmatist view. It’s one of logic and not of self-loathing. As such, I would dearly love it if my friends called me on my bullshit more often. I know why people *don’t* – they’re afraid of hurting feelings, or creating tension, or whatever – but in the end, if you really care for someone, you’ll make the comment. And who you say it to will be able to recognize the love inherent in actually vocalizing these things.

      Those of you whom I love dearly know this thing. I love you when you succeed and I love you when you fail.

      So it goes.

  5. lunesse says

    Hey, fuuuuuuck you.

  6. eac says

    I suppose that I’m not supposed to respond to the assertion that I’m socially retarded with “Yes, I know,” am I?

    • dd_b says

      Might work if you then add “But I’m working on it, really I am!” Especially if people see signs of progress over time :-).

  7. jgcr says

    a useful manual

    i think about 33% of the above is covered well in this book.

    really, it’s the awesomest.

  8. subtly_modded says

    I actually do find your cats as adorable as you do.

    Clementine told me she wanted to come home with me last week, but I didn’t say anything ’cause I knew you’d say no.

    • mzsa says

      Oh I see how it is; my cats aren’t good enough for you anymore?

    • jorm says

      I disbelieve. Clementine got herself a new game to play here (laser pointer) so she’s happy as hell.

  9. evilheff says


    “4) When someone offers to buy you a drink, and you must decline, do so with grace and thanks. You can say anything: “Thank you, but I need to drive, so I’m on water for now,” or “Thanks, but I’ve had too much,” or “Thanks, but I have to get back to work.”

    There are a ton of excuses, and the only one that doesn’t work is “I think you’re an asshole.””

    See, the problem with accepting social retardation is that you have to accept that everyone else prettymuch sucks at it too, and quite a lot of the time the only way you can get through to people is by being an asshole. they become so used to short bursts of information and bad manners that by simply being polite to them , they can get the wrong impression.

    sometimes, however Miss Manners wrong it is, the correct response to someone who you keep being polit to when you want them to fuck off and die, is “fuck off and die”.

    • twilightrabbit says

      Re: Disagree/caveat.

      I once was told that a person’s morals are set around the age of 20 and nothing new can be truly learned to shake that person’s belief in how the world works. I have met those who are aware they are socially retarded and refuse to do anything about it. They function in the belief that the world barely works socially and they expect people to be as rude and embittered as they are.
      It is impossible to work politely with these people: I have been told to not apologize for things, not to make excuses, that I was too fucking polite. And they were right, I was too polite and the realization of that forced a breakdown and I’ve been rebuilding myself ever since.
      And the list above provided includes a ton of things I have been called on.
      I know I’m socially retarded and I’m working at becoming socially adept. I have to learn to tell people when they hurt me and not apologize for my short comings.
      I am what I am, now deal with it. You only see me for a short time, I have to live with me.
      It gets easier, it has to.
      I know people who says fuck off and die, burn in a fire, or fuck me gently with a chainsaw.
      I also know people who don’t say anything. At least with the enraged I know where we stand. The passive are always a frustrating mystery.

    • sterlingspider says

      Re: Disagree/caveat.

      See, the problem with accepting social retardation is that you have to accept that everyone else prettymuch sucks at it too, and quite a lot of the time the only way you can get through to people is by being an asshole.

      Yeah, but no matter where it goes after that it doesn’t hurt to at least start with “No, thank you”.

  10. valacosa says

    Number 7 also applies in reverse: if people want to talk about something, they will tell you about it. There’s no sense in badgering someone over an exam or date or job interview. Because if it went well, they’ll talk about it, and if it didn’t, they might not want to.

    Also, do you see the irony in calling the internet a horrible form of communication? I think you did a pretty good job of it.

    • tongodeon says

      Number 7 applying in reverse is actually a trick that they teach you in the CIA, according to Valerie Plame. People really want to tell you about their Level 17 Paladin. They would rather tell you about it than ask you delicate or uncomfortable questions about what you do for a living. And if you let them tell you about something they’re interested in – even if you’re not – they will end up being fond of you because you are a “good listener” who cares or appears to care about what they care about.

      (I think you said mostly the same thing – I’m just agreeing with you.)

      • jorm says

        This is a very good point in that if you are wanting to become friends with someone, you should listen to them talk about their level 17 Paladin. I suppose this is also part of “listen instead of waiting for your turn to speak” but it’s a good trick.

        Everyone wants to feel important, as it were.

  11. shunaria says

    Love it. Follow most of them, excepting the ‘not needing to be right’ ones.

    I think this should be c/ped to wired or something. Seriously.

  12. sithbob says

    Hmm, good points.

  13. tongodeon says

    This is awesome. I give you many props here.

  14. glaucon says

    I’d like to add two:

    1a. when declining an invitation, don’t spend more than one or two sentences making your excuses. “I’m sorry – I have other plans” or “no thank you, I’m not very fond of broccoli” is entirely sufficient. “no, I can’t come because I’m going to the movies with so-and-so and he’s been having a really hard time with his divorce and we really need to spend some quality time together ‘cuz I’m trying to get him talking about what went wrong and I think it’ll really do him some good and I can’t bring him to your event because he’s not very social right now and doesn’t really like you anyway and the movie is one we really want to see and it’s at that theater with the really soft seats” is unnecessary and potentially quite annoying. and if your excuse goes on long enough, you’ll often end up saying something insulting eventually.

    1b. when issuing an invitation, don’t be insulted if someone declines. don’t ask them to justify or explain their response.

    2a. if you feel the need to apologize for something, say you’re sorry, explain how you came to realize you were in the wrong, and then leave it alone. don’t blame the person you have wronged for being or feeling wronged. avoid apologies that take the form of “I’m sorry, but” or “I’m sorry that *you* were hurt” if at all possible. if you can’t apologize unreservedly and sincerely and without qualifiers, you’re often better off not apologizing at all.

    2b. if someone makes a sincere apology for wronging you in some way, accept it and move on. if you don’t want to accept it, don’t. if you accept their apology, you don’t get to elaborate on why they are or were a dick for doing whatever it is that you allowed them to apologize for. leave it alone. it’s done.

    • jorm says

      These are very, very good.

      • ashbet says

        There’s a little bit of a caveat to 2a, that being when you AREN’T in the wrong, but you have unintentionally caused someone to react badly (i.e., you didn’t KNOW that they had a phobia of goats or whatever) — it’s okay to say “I didn’t mean to hurt/upset you, and I’m really sorry that it happened.”

        It’s your sovereign right to post pictures of goats to your LJ if you want to, and it’s disingenuous to say that you were in the wrong for doing so, but if you’re sorry that your friend got upset about it, that’s a genuine response.

        And then back it up by putting all future goat photos behind an LJ-cut with a warning.

        (Here via , enjoying this post and the comments thereto.)

        – Andi :)

        • jorm says

          Sure, sure. A person’s journal or blog is, in many ways, their own living room. If you are reading it, you are in effect choosing to listen to someone talk about their Level 17 Paladin. If the content offends or bothers, you can always switch the channel.

          I agree that you don’t need to apologize in an instance similar to the situation you described. Your suggested response is perfect, I think.

        • elisem says

          There’s a little bit of a caveat to 2a, that being when you AREN’T in the wrong, but you have unintentionally caused someone to react badly (i.e., you didn’t KNOW that they had a phobia of goats or whatever) — it’s okay to say “I didn’t mean to hurt/upset you, and I’m really sorry that it happened.”

          I find that that’s the one place where “but” is useful in an apology. When I have needed to apologize for something like that, I have said, “I didn’t mean to hurt/upset you, but I did, and I’m really sorry.”

          I like that apology because it’s true and because it simultaneously acknowledges my intentions and the fact that it sure didn’t turn out like I intended, and that I’m sorry about that — and it does so without employing the “it happened” kind of phrases which in my personal universe tend to make things worse. Not as much worse as “I’m sorry if you were hurt/upset” but still. (As for “I’m sorry if you were,” that one’s worse because there is no “if”; it’s quite clear that the person I’m talking to was indeed hurt/upset, or I wouldn’t be having this conversation with them at all.)

          Sometimes I wonder if there’s a secret but deeply-held belief that admitting things didn’t go as we planned is fatal, and that the “if” construction is the closest such believers can approach the death-trap of acknowledgment.

  15. mmcirvin says

    In face-to-face communication, terse replies make you come across as a cold fish. Leave openings for questions. Elaborate.

    Except maybe when you’re in a round-robin meeting and your bit is at about the 43-minute mark.

  16. Anonymous says

    Part of #15 should be “know your limitations and plan for them.” If you’re an introvert (and many nerdy socially retarded people are), you should know that being outgoing — making small talk, introducing yourself to people, asking to join in activities — is going to be stressful and draining for you. So, before you go to that big party where you will be meeting people, do whatever you have to do to get your energy up for it.

    Maybe that’s taking a nap, or reading a good book, or drinking some coffee, or baking a cake…whatever it is that you do that helps you unwind and recharge your batteries, do it *before* the party. Ideally, do it instead of stressing out over the party. Go in on a high note, and plan on leaving (or on finding your way into a smaller, more comfortable group) before you turn into a pumpkin again.

    Also, learn what coping strategies work for you in large social settings: stuff you can do to keep yourself feeling more comfortable, stuff you can do to pace yourself so that you don’t run out of energy and withdraw into yourself halfway through the party. Try new ones out from time to time to widen your arsenal and make parties less problematic. (For example, right now I’m finding that joining some kind of structured activity — playing a parlor game, helping in the kitchen, watching and discussing a movie, etc. — takes a lot of the stress out of parties for me and makes me feel more comfortable around all those people I don’t know.)

  17. shellefly says

    Fantastic post.

    I would also add, perhaps as 20a) when you are talking to another human, don’t multitask. Reading your email on your blackberry (or clicking keys when you are on the phone) indicates to the person you are talking to that what they are saying isn’t important enough to warrant your full attention.

    20b) If the person you are talking to has a young child present, expect that you will not have all their attention. If you are the person with the young child present, do the best you can to remind your child that you are talking to your friend.

  18. calimac says

    Re customer service representatives, you write, “They’re just doing a job, my friend – they are not personally trying to fuck you over.”

    Alas, the first part of this is not true. (And sometimes the second isn’t true, either.) If their behavior drives customers to yell at them, they are NOT doing their job. I have been both an angry customer and a customer service representative, and my job as the latter is to prevent aggravation in the former. You do it by adopting a helpful rather than a “I don’t care, I just work here” attitude, by responding to concerns instead of rattling off mechanical answers, and by explaining the reasons that unremovable obstacles have been placed there.

    If you can’t do these things because you don’t know enough, you don’t stand stiff behind your rules, you apologize for being poorly trained, because that is what you are.

    And you never, EVER, tell an angry customer to “calm down”. Ever.

    • sonria says

      I have to respectfully disagree. It’s not socially retarded to expect a certain amount of politeness from strangers. When I have a customer at the other end of the line who has started shouting, cursing and similar simply over the fact that I have said “no” (even with an explanation), I will tell them that I’m more than willing to continue working with them provided they address me in a polite manner. I’ve been in three or four situations where I really did end up hanging up on them.

      Some people won’t hear the word “no.” Some cases don’t have any other answer. It’s impossible to make everyone happy, and when the CSR has done everything possible and still has to say no, it’s socially retarded and rude to scream and yell at them. There are lines that can’t be crossed.

      • calimac says

        If the customer service agent hangs up on the customer, that’s an automatic FAIL for the agent. No excuses.

        If the customer stays wrothfully angry no matter what the explanation, either the explanation isn’t clear enough or the agent has behaved so incompetently earlier on that the customer no longer trusts anything that agent says.

  19. holyoutlaw says

    Here via . Great post, thank you for writing it. Is it okay if I link to it?

    • jorm says

      Sure! Feel free.

      • supergee says

        I’m too socially retarded to ask to link to posts. And I don’t expect people to ask to link to mine.

        • jorm says

          I actually operate under the assumption that if I post something in the public that it is fair game for relinking and summation (though, I suppose I’d get irked if someone re-posted something I wrote in its entirety elsewhere).

  20. gryphart says

    Also here from supergee.

    I am most definitely socially retarded. 15 is probably what I’m guilty of the most.

    I would probably add a corollary to 10, 10b) If you only call someone when you want something, it is probably not a friendship where they will help you move, or will not be for long. A few of my friendships got really one-sided, and ended as a result. A good rule of thumb – don’t ask any more of the person than you last offered them.

  21. mama_hogswatch says

    I enjoyed this and am posting around in different places.


    • labelleizzy says

      …and I followed you here.

      YES. I teach teenagers.
      I’m a recovering introvert/low self esteem geekgirl bookworm wallflower.

      and yeah, you could say I know (and love) a few geeks.)

  22. kalmn says

    one minor addition to 1-4: the correct response to “thank you” is: “you’re welcome”. “yeah” is not the correct response. “yeah” is not even in the same timezone as the correct response.

    • criollo says

      Here via tongodeon. Thank you for this post. Piling on here to add that “np” = also particularly unacceptable in my book.

      A lovely read that I believe ties into the post as a whole is “Choosing Civility“. I bought it a few years back and it has helped me (I hope).

      Thanks again!

    • violachic says

      Or “no problem”, or “sure”.

      • beaq says

        Why are these offensive?

        • violachic says

          They’re not offensive. They’re just not the polite way to do it. Either one is pretty dismissive.

          • pir_anha says

            social interaction

            that depends entirely on your {sub}culture. in mine “no problem” isn’t dismissive, it’s reassuring (as in, i didn’t put myself out, it wasn’t a big deal, you don’t owe me anything).

            *waves to original poster*, here via one or another of my flist who linked to this post. there’s some useful stuff in this post, which is why it’s spreading like a wildfire. good start!

            there are two significant problems i have with these rules.

            #1: in an effort to make this humourous, you’ve violated some of your own rules — neither “short bus” nor “retarded” are good social communication, they’re insulting and hurtful to many people who have actual experience with mental retardation. because these rules are not directed at retarded people, they’re directed at people who’re somewhat socially inept, for certain values of “social” that cover at best north-american mainstream culture. hyperbole might often seem funny at first glance, but it’s usually too broad a brush — see your rule about terseness.

            #2: north-american mainstream culture is even too large an umbrella. unfortunately any rules only apply to certain cultural contexts. i learned a lot about that by living in different countries, but it still took me time to recognize that even within the same country there are very different rules for different subcultures, some are regional, some are professional, some are class-based, etc. in my subculture of birth several of the rules you’ve given would not work to your advantage: frex answering a compliment with just “thank you” would mark you as arrogant; those rules say that you must deflect the compliment and put down your own accomplishments.

            i think the most important rule you have is #13: listen to people. really listen. observe them. think about what you see. discuss it with different people. inquire about their thought processes. if you’re an introvert, you probably got a head start on this. if you’re an extravert, you need to read it again and then practice it. a lot. because this is how you learn about the rules of the particular subculture you’re moving in at the time.

            and one hugely important rule is missing: don’t create people’s motivation for them. this is incredibly common and incredibly destructive, and if you can stop doing it, you’ll remove a whole lot of misunderstandings from your communications. for example: people who sit in a corner at a party aren’t necessarily (or even most likely) passive-aggressively hostile. they might be shy. they might be exhausted. they might be hard of hearing. they might _not_ want to be the centre of attention (because honestly, not everyone wants that). you don’t know their story. don’t invent it for them; it’s not your place. if you act from a position of good will it’ll smooth social interaction tremendously. (i know some people don’t deserve that, but let them _prove_ it first, don’t assume.) don’t take random social stuff personally; people’s lives are full, and even if they’re looking right at you in this moment, it’s quite probably not about you.

  23. kibbles says

    The short bus jokes, the ‘retard’ (more than retardation) still shows that when it comes to social graces, you’re still lacking, a bit. (It breaks number eleven, to be precise. When you use that term/tell those jokes, you don’t know who that hurts or offends.)

    Still an interesting list, sad that it needs to be spelled out like that, though. Seeing some of the responses of people who don’t like your very wise advice, really is sad.

    Now, one needs to be made for those of us who excel at social situations offline, but find it very hard to maintain our composure online!

  24. labyrinthman says

    Interesting rules. Worth linking to.

  25. kitwench says

    I expected to know a lot of these – I didn’t (#6 !) and I was mostly pleased to learn that, expect for the getting over myself part. That’s cool though.
    I didn’t agree with 3 and 18 completely though ….
    It’s not always safe to be polite to strangers in a bar. Sorry.
    I don’t tip for poor service. I’ve done the job, it’s a job and I’m not eating at Denny’s to make a social statement and help make up for someone’s bad day at work.
    That still leaves a lot of truth in even those two, and the rest I sure agree with and need to work on several of – great post !

  26. Anonymous says

    Corollary to #13

    “13) When in a conversation, listen to your friend instead of simply waiting for your turn to speak. This is an art. It takes a lot of practice (lord knows I trip up on it a lot). Over time, though, it becomes easier, and you will derive empathy towards people and learn social cues better.”

    13a) When in a conversation, allow the other person to speak. Do not “overtalk” them, stepping on their words with your interruption. It does not matter if you learned to do this at your mother’s knee and that it is your normal mode of conversation, doing this is impolite (makes you an asshole) and will eventually get to the point where no-one wants to speak to you.

    It is impossible to speak and listen at the same time. Active listening means actually letting the other person speak.

  27. wordweaverlynn says

    You may be interested in the discussion of this post in my LJ.

    • jorm says

      Thank you for pointing this out to me.

      I have some thoughts on the issues presented there, as well as a couple comments about tone and the like (to wit: you are correct in your interpretation: I *specifically* avoided using an ADD example because I, personally, am diagnosed with ADD, and I do my best to avoid mentioning it because I do not wish to be seen using it as a crutch).

      However, uh, it appears that I am less than popular with the other people in that thread, so I think I’ll avoid stirring the pot over there and potentially shitting up your journal.

      (I should also point out that my writing tone and style is [or should be] somewhat familiar to those who have been reading my stuff for a long time. I’m a very “ranty” guy. I expect it can be a bit jarring if you’re not used to it.)

      Edit: Urp. I just realized that I attributed a couple comments to you that were someone else’s and that I need to gather more reading comprehension.

  28. zadcat says

    Reminds me a little of the Five Geek Social Fallacies.

  29. firecat says

    Here’s my take on it:

    • jorm says

      I should probably point out that my comment about “leaving a hundred bucks at Christmastime” was targeted at the post’s original audience, most of whom are engineering types in the Bay Area, where a hundred bucks isn’t considered a great sum of money (the equivalent of maybe 20 bucks in the midwest, say: it is *super* expensive here).

      Usually there’s five people who work in places that I go to; that’s 20 bucks per person in an even split as a “Christmas bonus”.

      I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that it’s not a question of privilege. Obviously, the number values have to change based on local and personal economics.

      I’ve done those jobs before. They’re shit jobs.

      • firecat says

        I very much agree with your general point about tipping well and that server jobs are difficult and don’t pay well. And I think it’s a cool idea to leave a christmas bonus. Also, I am part of your target demographic.

        I have lived in the same city for a long time, and I go out to eat a lot, so I am a regular at at least a dozen places, defined as “when I go in, the proprietors/servers recognize me and know what my usual order is.” If I followed your rule, I would be setting aside at least $1200 for the christmas tips. Is that close to the amount of money that you spread around at Christmas and consider to be “not a great sum of money”? “

        • jorm says

          Probably not that much. I am talking about three or four places in my neighborhood (Miraloma Park/Twin Peaks/Diamond Heights) that I frequent several times a week.

  30. copperwise says

    I have been linked here by several people, including dearest . I agree with most of your rules. I do think you need a caveat to the “drink buying” rule. If it’s a guy offering to buy a coworker a beer after work, the rule works fine. If it’s a woman being approached by an insistent man who is clearly trying to buy her a drink with the expectation of getting some sexual rewards, she need not be polite in refusing, nor give him excuses. “Thanks, no” after the first offer is all that is required, and further insistence on his part means the rules of polite social interaction have been thrown out the window and she may then be as rude as necessary. Most women have had to deal with the masher trying to force them to accept a drink, frequently a strange man at that, and it’s often anywhere on the scale from creepy to frightening. We cannot be advised to be polite in the face of obnoxiousness.

    Otherwise, mostly very good.

    • jorm says

      You know, I didn’t write that point with the idea of sleazy types hitting on random women in bars. Not being a random woman in a bar, that doesn’t happen to me very often (people buying me drinks because I have boobs). Further, I don’t buy drinks for random women in bars.

      (Which leads to another rule: don’t hit on the bartender, no matter how much she’s flirting with you).

      I was thinking more in the “mates buying you pints” type of position. Your point is taken, however.

      • perigee says

        Cool to hear. I recommended your post without qualification initially (came to it via a link from ) and was taken to task for the tone and for reading by a general audience.

        I read it keeping my work mates in mind (IT Geeks on the east coast) and it totally fit and I honestly wanted to print it out and post it for some of the younger geeks in my workgroup.

        But when my feminist friends read it, they said, essentially, fuck this, who does this guy think he is, and had reactions like ‘s or even more extreme.

        Which goes to show that framing is everything.

        I also updated my (blog) post to reflect a more sophisticated context and understanding.

        • perigee says

          I should also note that I am also a feminist but I just didn’t consume your post originally with that context in mind.

    • mama_hogswatch says

      The times I’ve been in a bar and a smile and a “No, thank you.” didn’t work, saying, “I don’t want a drink, thanks, and if you offer again I’m going to assume your intentions are less than benign and that I should be defending myself” seems to be sufficiently discouraging.

      ‘Course I’m not hot enough that men are going to carry the torch all that far with me, anyway.

  31. asynja says

    It’s one thing for a social retard to recognize their place, but it’s another thing for non-social retards to be a bit patient. Okay… I’m not all the time, but I’m all about edumacation of the retards so that they can survive in the wild.

    And really, everyone is a bit socially retarded, everyone just has varied degrees.

  32. belgatherial says

    Here via . This is great. I think mostly I aspire to the stuff you say here. I am sure I don’t always do it right, but I do my best.

    Thank you. I’ve linked to this. :)

  33. 762nato says

    Oh sure, where were you 25 years ago when I really needed all these insights? Now that I’ve learned these lessons the hard way here comes the Cliff’s Notes version.

    Come to think of it, I probably wouldn’t have listened then.

  34. dulcinbradbury says

    I wrote a post yesterday linking to & in response to this. Here were my additions:

    Note: Firstly, some people are taking umbrage at jorm’s use of the phrase “socially retarded.” This leads me to my own additions.

    0. Give people the benefit of the doubt. People typically *aren’t* out to hurt you or piss you off. Nor are they typically trying to offend. (Given that jorm’s rule #19 covers “When you rock the boat just to rock the boat, you piss people off and create headaches” somehow, I doubt his *intent* was to piss people off. Not to mention that the list was inspired by someone else using the phrase.)

    0a. Don’t miss the forest for the trees. If you hyperfocus on a small potentially wrong or erroneous detail and use it as an excuse to refute or ignore someone’s entire argument, you’re holding people up to impossible standards. Everyone’s wrong some of the time. Everyone’s right some of the time. We do not live in a binary world. Keep some perspective.

  35. popelizbet says

    I’d like this a lot more if you included “If you offer to buy someone a drink, particularly if you are a man and the other person is a woman, you do not get to get angry or upset if she declines.”

    • miss_s_b says

      You were more polite than me about this…

      • popelizbet says

        I do my best to be gracious even in disagreement.

        • miss_s_b says

          I shall attempt to emulate you in future :D

          • popelizbet says

            It’s its own reward, and I’m certainly no paragon, but ranting at people about how they’re wrongy mcwrongerson rarely, if ever, gets them listening, and jarm does not appear to be intentionally offensive in this unpacking even if it leaves things to be desired in the execution. :D

          • miss_s_b says

            Also, many many other people already made the same point as me before I posted, and it would have been polite to agree with them, rather than making my own thread.

            YAY! I learn!

          • popelizbet says

            Yay, Internets, a magical place where learning occurs!

          • jorm says

            As G.I.Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle.”

            The other half is usually killifying people, though.

          • popelizbet says

            Indeed it is!

  36. medgeek says

    Heh. I feel better about how much of an asshole I am these days simply because I used to be a much bigger asshole in the past. :)

  37. szpress_svo says

    Because “The Bible Tells Me so…” is 21 for most idiots!

    To quote the song “Drops of Jupiter” by Train…”Your best friend always sticking up for you even when I know you’re wrong”
    and the Atlanta News during the child murders “It’s 11 o’clock. Do you know where your children are?”
    Some people are lacking. Thank you for this list!

  38. vikingcarrot says

    Linked from a friend – I like these. I am not as socially retarded as most of my friends, but once upon a time I most certainly was the archetype of a complete social retard.

    I should pass this on to my friends.

  39. rhythmaning says

    Brilliant. Thank you!

  40. miss_s_b says

    Re: 4. Sometimes the “you’re an asshole” response is the only way to get rid of a persistent and unwelcome male. Especially if he says “ooh can I watch!” and grins when you tell him you’re a lesbian…

    • freyaw says

      *shudder* And every time, they seem to think it’s original, even if this is the nth time you’ve heard them say it…

  41. sterlingspider says


    Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

    Not automatically anyway.

    This hits several levels: It is a good thing to remember for oneself in how one reacts to others, and it is a good thing to keep in mind that not everyone is thinking in this mindset. Just because something was accidental doesn’t mean someone didn’t take it the wrong way and its often worth it to make sure someone hasn’t taken umbrage at an imagined slight.

  42. ukoku says

    Robert Anton Wilson called it being a “cosmic schmuck”. I like that one.

Continuing the Discussion

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