Social Situation Diary 6

People always say ‘follow your passion and turn it into your career.’ But what are your passions really? I think your passions are the things that you care a lot about, but no one else generally cares about. – Tom Roberts

Two good, recent situations for the diary. The first situation at work occurred between me and a coworker who we’ll refer to as P. Essentially, a controversy arose in one of P’s investments, causing its stock to fall. An unfortunate and unlucky event caused things to turn south, but P was also larger in the investment than typical prudence would have warranted. I viewed his sizing as greedy.

With a controversy now brewing, P had to answer several key questions quickly about whether the stock drop was warranted. To start with, because I know his skillset, I didn’t feel that he was up to the task. In addition, pressure was a factor given that the investment was large enough to impact our entire group’s performance.

Working with P (or anyone) in those circumstances can be stressful so I attempted to help from a distance, but P solicited more direct knowledge. I got involved and felt conflict with P almost immediately. I felt a mixture of worry (because I didn’t think P could get to an answer) and somewhat ego- frustration (because I had warned about it and felt that I could answer the question).

I asked him to review what had happened and my boss framed the situation quite helpfully – “You had conflicting approaches – you’re very logical. P was trying to talk out loud, try different answers out and get to answer quickly with a lot of rounding off. While you didn’t want to round off and maybe felt like some of the rounding off got us into the situation in the first place.” I thought that that explained my frustration with P well and asked why P might feel frustrated with me.

My boss answered that it was because P was probably feeling vulnerable while I was coming across as authoritative, pushy and suppressing his thought process. (Which I was because I thought it was flawed.) This was a helpful outside-in perspective and led me to a good self-insight: I feel an extra anxiety in those situations where I have to take control because of my self-image. I don’t think of myself as a leader; I think of myself as an underdog. And if I have to take control, I’m going to be dictatorial because it means things have gone wrong.

In the end, my personal lesson is that leadership is hard and takes a lot of emotional control – over anxieties, self-image, worry and frustration.

The second situation occurred at a baseball game, which I attended with the members of a social club. I am not a member of this club but was invited by someone who is. I was talking with one of my friends when another member, who we’ll call J, decided to approach us and enter our conversation. (Sidebar: one great strategy in group situations is to sit in a high traffic area. this certainly worked on this night).

He said a lot of things that made me realize the club would not be a good fit for me in terms of ideology. That’s fine – if I don’t agree with someone’s ideology, it doesn’t make them a bad person. But one particular thing that I resented was that he quickly attempted to impress us as to what a big deal he was by saying “I just closed a $xM fund blah blah blah.”

I think the first level in my understanding of social skills has been to recognize such behavior as 1) douche-y/pompous and 2) inherently inferior to trying to discuss fun topics of mutual interest or trying to get to know the other person. And trying to avoid such behavior for myself. The next level of social skills though is knowing how to deal with people who still attempt to impress or other negative social behavior.

So previously, I might’ve simply just registered the person as a douche and tried to smile and move on (and this is what I did in the situation live). But with reflection and with the benefit of learning from a few podcasts, I think I understand that I can’t just avoid it when people engage in negative social behavior – I have to recognize and defuse it.

The hierarchy of social behavior, according to what I’ve been learning is 1) supplicative, 2) combative, 3) competitive and 4) cooperative. J was effectively trying to compete by demonstrating his high value. That’s great. The best way to diffuse it would’ve been to 1) not reward him by continuing on in the conversational thread, 2) not compete with him by mentioning that $xM isn’t that much (but not in a supplicative, “oh you’re so great” way or in a combative “that’s not a big deal” way).

Maybe the best approach would’ve been a totally different, neutral followup question like “oh cool – have you enjoyed it?” Regardless of the situation, the guy was an asshat but we have to find the right ways of dealing with many people. Space out.

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