Posts Tagged ‘social skills’

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the art of conversation.

May 20, 2012

On Thursday evening I was waiting to meet Toby and Said in Starbucks in Westfield after work. I had my frappuccino, my copy of L’Officiel Hommes Italia (I had bought the Italian version rather than my usual French version in order to practise my Italian – I have been doing my Italian course for 3 weeks and I feel it’s going well, although I am still finding it hard to avoid thinking and speaking in Spanish) and my iPod in. I had serendipitously commandeered three comfy armchairs around a table, and was settling in to read. However, the cafe was getting busy and Toby and Said were running late due to traffic and transport. A pretty Asian lady in a blue coat came up to me and asked if anyone was sitting with me. Now, I could hardly say “I’m sorry, my friends are coming” because I didn’t know when they would arrive – as it happened, I ended up waiting for another half an hour before they arrived. So I said “No, go ahead and take the chairs.” The woman flopped down in the seat and exhaled loudly, before exclaiming “They should make places in here (i.e. Westfield) where you can sleep for half an hour!” I smiled and agreed, and soon she was joined by her equally pretty friend, who sat in the other vacant armchair. For a while, we didn’t converse, but somehow we eventually started talking. About shopping, about London (the first lady maintained that London used to have “quiet areas, but now there are so many people everywhere, you can’t escape them!”) and about iPhone apps. We even talked about finances and relationships, and somehow we passed the time amiably chatting. Their friend showed up and they introduced her to me, and although I didn’t know these women, I felt included and comfortable. It was an unusual situation, and when Toby and Said finally arrived, they wore slightly amused and surprised expressions on their faces as I bade the women farewell.

I explained how we had ended up talking, and I realised that while it was cute that “I had made Starbucks friends”, in the past this kind of situation probably wasn’t so uncommon. When you’re on a plane or on a bus and someone sits next to you, in the past we didn’t have iPods and other devices with headphones to cut ourselves off so effectively from the rest of the world. Ok, we might have been reading a book and people might have interpreted that as someone not particularly wanting to engage in conversation, but it didn’t render us incommunicado from the world outside in the same way – and we probably didn’t regard someone new wanting to talk to us as an entirely unreasonable intrusion on our privacy. Although a lot of people harp on about the youth of today communicating so wholly via social media that they no longer have (or necessarily need) conversational skills in the real world, I don’t think that I hold with that anti-technology, anti-modern view. People are either socially confident and equipped with skills to handle face-to-face interactions, or they’re not. Me and my friends use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. – but we also enjoy talking face to face and venturing out into the big wide world.

As someone who has always been good at learning languages, the hardest and most nerve-wracking aspect of studying a new language is always speaking and listening – being able to successfully navigate a real-time, real-life interaction and find the words and sentences to express my needs and opinions. It takes practice, perseverance and a certain acceptance of making mistakes and learning from them. We can’t be afraid that we’re going to mess up from time to time – because that is definitely going to happen, and when we ask for help, correct ourselves and re-establish our confidence is when we learn. In much the same way, people can’t be afraid of making a social blunder even in their first / only language – it’s a totally understandable fear, but if we acquiesce to that fear, then we end up staying in hiding behind that array of screens never to conquer our social unease. The art of conversation is something that some people have much stronger skills in than others – but everyone can practise and hone those skills. We are all human, and at the end of the day physically being with one another isn’t the only way, but it is the ultimate one.

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stay in bed day.

February 20, 2012

I am at home off work today. My voice has dropped an octave (I have the sexy Barry White thing going on) and my throat glands are swollen; I need to be 100% tomorrow as work is full of appointments, so I am hoping today will do the trick. I have bought Warrior off iTunes and it is currently downloading, so Tom Hardy can soothe me this afternoon!

I said in my previous entry that I have lately been on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I’ve gone from being irritable to being insecure and I think that I have been suffering from hypersensitivity again, but it just feels like I can’t seem to do anything right. At work I still keep making minor mistakes that people seem to delight in pointing out; I am trying my best and I feel that I have learned a lot and that I do a good job, but apparently it just isn’t enough. I don’t know if my contract will get renewed in September at this rate… I really hope so, but I am just having a crisis of confidence. I guess that in March, I have my 6-month review and I can ask my boss frankly whether she already knows anything about the future of my role, and when I will find out whether I am staying on. I should be reassured by the fact that my boss seems keen for me to go to curriculum training events and for me to learn things that will serve me well in the future of the job; but I also seem to be living in the shadow of the person that I have replaced, and it’s been a hard job to get people to be genuinely nice to me. Some are just determined not to be; others have slowly begun to smile at me and get to know me a little. But it’s just so wearing, and I wonder what is wrong with me that I can’t be poised and charismatic as I usually am. I’ve never really had trouble making friends in the workplace. But my nerves are getting to me – we had a party on Friday night in Camden and I was trying to be friendly and introduce myself to some people I didn’t recognise, but because I felt like a deer caught in headlights, my opening salvo ended up being “Um, do you know who I am?” Now as soon as the words tumbled out of my mouth, I knew that it sounded conceited – and I laughed and followed it with “Oh, that sounds awful!” – but it was too late because it is likely that every single thing that I say and do is monitored, recorded and gossiped about. If I sound paranoid, it’s only because I know that it happens with other people there… These people were staring at me like I was an alien, and it made me uncharacteristically nervous and clumsy.

And then, at Toby’s flat I managed to put the washing machine on a really long cycle by accident, and I inconvenienced other people in the flat. Now, the atmosphere there is already fraught with tension, but I didn’t want to be responsible for adding to that – especially as I don’t live there. I pay to do my laundry there, but I don’t want to cause any problems or become a burden to anyone. Again, making such basic mistakes is not like me. I apologised and explained it was a mistake, and I think everything ended up fine; but I know once again that this mistake can be stored up and can be used as ammunition later on. I just don’t understand why I’m feeling so awkward lately, and my awkwardness is compounded by my awareness that other people are constantly searching for a weakness, for something to use against me, and for something to boost their own egos. Now normally I wouldn’t care, but I need to keep this job and I need to be able to go and visit Toby’s flat to spend time with him.

This sense of malaise even made me misjudge the most basic of social situations; I was introduced to a couple of Toby’s family’s neighbours on Saturday evening. I went to shake hands, and it didn’t happen – a point was made and eventually my gesture was reciprocated, but it was kind of embarrassing by that point. My timing is off and my judgement is off, and however much Toby reassures me that I am fixating on miniscule details and that I shouldn’t worry, I just want to get away from everything, rest and recharge. I am not surprised that I have come down with a chest cold and sore throat, as it seems to be a physical manifestation of all the stress I have been under at the moment (although I was also admittedly ill-prepared for the cold Peterborough wind this weekend). Hopefully staying in bed today and taking it easy, my trip to Paris with Toby on Friday, and my week at home in Bristol next week will give me the relaxation I so desperately need (a big issue for me is learning exactly how to relax) and the positivity I need to snap out of this funk.

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successful.

October 28, 2010

Today I took my driving test for the first time in over 6 years, and I didn’t pass. I am a bit gutted, but at the same time I knew that in my heart of hearts, I was capable of passing, but I was unlikely to do it this time. I did better than I thought I would and it’s a nagging annoyance that I only made one big mistake – my approach speed to junctions, which was too fast because of my nerves – and the rest was good. Knowing that I’m capable of passing my driving test and I can drive pretty well makes it infuriating that my nerves get the better of me in an examined situation, but I am nearly there and next time I will do it – this test was the nearest I’ve come to passing. As long as I don’t rush myself, I’ll be fine! I’m a bit nervous about how I’m going to be travelling to work for the next 6 weeks, but I have a work colleague who lives around the corner from me and has already kindly offered her services. I just don’t like to impose.

 

I am disappointed that I couldn’t tie in a driving success to the other high points of this year (although if I get a cancellation, it might still be possible!), but I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I do put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve, and I fervently wish that I had not stopped taking tests when I was 18. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! But I just have to keep my head to the sky and live up to my stubborn / determined nature. I won’t give up! The positive is that I now have more time to save up for a car, and I made myself feel better by paying off some money from my credit card and from my student bank account. Doing sensible things with my money seemed like the best way to make light of an unfortunate situation. I thought I would indulge in some retail therapy, but I arrived in the centre of town and the urge had left me; which is a good thing for my bank account! I am seeing Toby for his birthday tomorrow (wish him a happy birthday here!) and I knew that whatever the outcome of today’s test, I would have that to look forward to. We are going to Thorpe Park this weekend for Fright Night, and I’m looking forward to seeing the Saw maze and going on the rides; I haven’t been to a theme park since I visited Alton Towers when I was 18. So I’m determined to put this little failure behind me (which I will redress – I have come too far now to give up again! If I’m not meant to drive – and this has occurred to me in low moments, including today – then a big sign is literally going to have to come down from the sky and smack me upside the head) and enjoy the rest of my week off before I return to work on Monday.

 

I guess this is what people mean when they say that you sometimes have to fight hard for what you believe in. I have fought hard and worked hard, but hard work comes easy to me in a way; I was raised with an intense work ethic. I have been blessed with a good brain for achieving academically, and I put in the work to back it up; it was never really difficult for me, but I took no prisoners just so that I could be lucky enough to have an educational career that puts most to shame. I learned to sing from Mariah Carey albums (and a variety of others, but she will always be the ultimate for me) and I never questioned that I would be able to have a voice like that; lo and behold, my whistle register is not as good as hers (owing to my Y chromosome) but other than that I’m pretty much there. I have always loved singing, playing the piano and guitar, and writing and producing my own songs – I have an innate musicality, I suppose, and although mastering software and songwriting structures alike has required perseverance, I’ve never found it particularly difficult to make progress. Once I found the right man (and he is truly amazing!), the troubles I had in my previous dating life more or less melted away and now I find it easy to be in love. The aspects of relationships that I found challenging, I have worked to resolve and they are mainly down to my own insecurities and upbringing. I have many good friends (communicating and social skills have been a strong point of my personality, hence my current vocation working with young people in a college), and I learned some hard lessons during my school life which has enabled me to judge someone’s character and thus gather a tight circle of very good people to whom I am indebted for my sanity, among other things! (I appreciate y’all and I enjoy y’all – never forget it! 😉 ) I am often complimented on my sense of fashion and style, and that has always come effortlessly to me (because, in part, I am a potent combination of vain and fussy); I observe the latest trends and fashions, and then cast aside 90% of it, retain the things I like and add them to a style I hope is elegant, classic, timeless and most importantly, me.

 

The two things in my life that I have found most difficult are: losing weight in order to attain a body that I am happy with; and learning to drive. I am more or less happy with the way that I look now, although it’s always a work in progress, and I could do more exercise than I currently do! I will work on it. But I have taken 20 years to get to a point where I am not repulsed by what I see in the mirror, and that is a very positive thing. Passing my driving test will hopefully not take me 20 years! But I have to take pride in the fact that I have a good work ethic and am willing to put in the work to achieve my goals. Success is an uphill struggle but I need to learn to appreciate the things that have come easily to me, because there are a hell of a lot of them and I should be thankful for them. I’m a lucky person, and I’m not a complacent person. I just have to keep going a little bit longer, and never give up.