A Programmer’s Guide: How to Talk to Anyone
He packed up his laptop earlier than usual and hopped on the New York City subway avoiding the foot traffic.
After climbing up his 5th-floor walk-up building, he took off his headphones, washed his hands, and warmed up last night’s leftovers.
What he did next is something 1.15 billion people do every single day.
He went on Facebook.
Except for him, it made him feel down. You see, he saw pictures of many people from work at a happy hour event laughing, talking, and having a good time.
“I wish I could talk to anyone without worrying about awkward silences or saying the right thing.”
His inner voice told himself this for the millionth time.
I remember being like that. I was socially awkward in my late teens and was afraid to approach new people.
I had a tough time adapting and would say all the wrong things at exactly the wrong times. People would just stare at me in silence, and I’d burn with embarrassment.
But, once I got over the hump and confronted my fears, my life took a turn for the better. I can’t imagine ever going back. My happiness and personal growth are correlated by the people I surround myself with.
Facing your fears is part of life and look, I’m not going to lie to you. What I’m about to tell you may seriously scare some of you if you haven’t attempted to get out of your comfort zone.
There, I said it. I gave you fair warning, cool? Cool.
I’m not a fan of sugar-coated advice either. Nope. Not me. Not gonna happen. I’m here to give you straight up, actionable, advice on how to talk to anyone, anytime, anywhere.
We’re programmers. You. Me. The people we work with.
As a programmer, one of the single most important skills you need to have is rigidity. You have to be able to understand certain distinctions between complex systems, which have no wiggle room and have clear, distinct, absolute answers.
A system can have firm requirements, and you have to be able to understand what those requirements are and how to satisfy them in order to get it to work.
This way of thinking is what makes programmers awesome at what they do, but it causes us to overthink and not be adaptable, which is precisely what is needed to improve your social skills.
This is the problem:
Our work requires us to be stiff, but social skills require us to be flexible.
Programmers tend to think in a dual world while working. If scenario A happens, then scenario B must follow. It’s one of the first core concepts you learn in computer science.
If I drink Pepsi before bed, then I will not sleep very much.
If I share this article, then I will make Payam’s day.
Even if you aren’t a programmer or in tech, you know that technology has indirectly, not just made us more isolated, but it’s made us not use our head from time to time.
When we need to do something, what do we do?
Pull out our phone, tap on the reminder app, write it down, put it back in our pocket and we’re done. Or we talk to a speaker in the corner of our room and ask it to remind us of things.
“Hey Alexa, remind me in 5 minutes to use the bathroom.”
Our brains have taken a back seat and the problem is only getting worse.
There’s so much information, that we just rely on our devices now. It’s stupid and what’s even stupider is that we forget how to do the basic things in life.
Like, talk to someone new.
“Talk to the person in the elevator? Are you nuts, I don’t know them!”
No, what do you do instead? You tilt your head down about forty-five degrees and stare at some girl’s tits on Instagram, like a statue.
Who knows who that person was.
Maybe it could have been your next girlfriend/boyfriend, a great connection, someone who said something that made your day.
But instead, you cared about what Sara on Instagram was doing (some girl you met once and haven’t seen in five years, but are following her anyways because unfollowing her is totally weird).
Listen… fuck Sara.
Here’s the thing: I’m not a jackass, I’m just upfront and blunt in this article because I believe it’s the recipe to change.
My intuition is telling me that this is a real problem that many of you want to fix, but aren’t sure how because of how you are looking at the world.
Level 1: Do the Opposite
There’s a famous episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza gets the woman of his dreams by doing the opposite of what he really wants to do.
Instead of sitting at the cafe booth doing nothing, he decides to get up and say one of the most memorable lines in the show.
“My name is George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.”
This is what you need to do.
When you see someone new you want to engage with, you have to do it within three seconds. If you wait longer, you will give yourself just enough time for the inner you (your enemy), to stop you from taking action.
If… you are afraid of what others may think about you, then remember that they may be afraid of what you think of them. “Why is this nerd with the backpack looking at me? Am I dressed funny? Does my breath smell?” There are over 7 billion people on this planet, what makes you so think that they are only thinking about you?
If… you think people will think you are weird, then ask yourself what good is it to be normal? Some of the biggest improvements in our civilization have been due to people that think differently.
What is normal anyways? As far as I’m concerned, it’s a word that was defined by someone no better than you and I. Be you.
If… you fear that the majority of people think you’re awkward already, then remember that the majority of the world thought that the earth was flat. The majority means nothing.
If… you are worried about them rejecting you, then know that with every attempt you make, that feeling will subside. It’s just biology. You become immune to it. This is exactly what happened to Batman (Yes, I just used a fictional superhero as an example).
If… you have come off awkward in the past, then the only way to learn is to go out there and make mistakes. You learn to ride a bicycle by falling and making mistakes. You learn your job by making mistakes. This is just a normal part of the process.
If… you believe that everyone will be looking at you strange, then remember no one will remember you or what you did a few days from now. What did you have for dinner on this day a week ago?
Level 2: Eye Contact + Smile + Hello
Look at the person, smile, and say hello. It’s simple when you think about it. They may say hi back or they may just kind of nod. This is all acceptable.
Remember, everyone communicates differently. The goal here isn’t to have a long conversation, it’s just to say hi to someone new.
If… you are afraid to make eye contact, then remember a time in your life when you did something amazing. A time when your friends looked at you in awe.
Maybe you just solved a problem at work that the senior engineer couldn’t figure out.
Maybe you scored a goal your teammates are still talking about till this day.
Whatever it is that you do, remember a time when you just did something awesome and remember that high feeling and your confidence level. Then make eye contact.
If… you are wondering why you would just come out of nowhere and say hello, then remember anyone you ever met started with a hello.
If… they don’t share as much enthusiasm, then that’s OK. Maybe they are having a bad day or they just broke up with their partner. Or maybe they just spilled coffee on themselves.
Do your best not to assume the worst when things don’t work out as intended and think you suck. You gain nothing by beating yourself up.
In fact, the reality is that you may suck at this in the beginning, but so what?
Sucking at something is the first sorta sign that you are starting to get good.
If… you feel that this isn’t the real you and you aren’t sure if this is genuine, then fake it till you make it. Since no one can tell how you feel or what you are thinking, but only what you decide to show them.
Which means you are in full control.
Level 3: Those Irresistible Words
Do you know what people love to talk about the most? Themselves.
When you give someone a compliment, you are filling this desire for them. This is where anything you said before doesn’t even matter. The more you talk about them the more appealing you become. If it’s a guy, tell him you like his shirt. If it’s a girl, tell her you like her hair.
If… you are wondering why you would give someone random you don’t know a compliment, then ask yourself, why not? Should we all just walk around this planet and not talk to each other?
You might as well be Will Smith from the movie I Am Legend.
If… you believe it’s weird to just say something nice to someone who hasn’t done any good for you, then remember that if you are constantly putting pride as your barrier, you won’t make progress.
My way or the highway is the lonely way.
Level 4: The Escape (Optional)
If… there’s a scenario where you have done all of this, then need to end the conversation, that’s ok. Just tell them, “Hey, it was nice talking to you, but I have to run. Let’s catch up later.” That is totally acceptable. Depending on your relationship with them it’s cool to exchange contact information or simply just say, “See you next time!”
There’s no right or wrong time to leave a conversation. When you need to go you can, you shouldn’t feel bad about it.
If… you are still worried after all of this or think you can’t do it, then remember that a hundred years from now, everyone you know (including yourself) will be dead.
Nothing you did yesterday, will do today, or plan to do tomorrow will matter or stop you from dying. Every day you come up with nonsense in your mind and postpone improving yourself, you are getting older.
Let me tell you something you probably already know. No one cares about your pity or your past, so stop looking in the rearview mirror. People are too busy worrying about themselves and their future.
The harsh reality is that no one gives a shit about you as much as you think.
The only thing predictable in life is how unpredictable this life is.
With that in mind, take a chance on something new and challenge yourself. See life from a different perspective and make sure to feel the ground beneath your feet through it all, because one day…you won’t be able to anymore.