Kenny's Blog

01 Feb 2015

On Social Anxiety

This is kind of a follow up post to my previous entry - Don’t Work Alone. Engineers are notorious for being socially awkward. This stereotype has it’s roots in reality - many engineers are those nerds who spent large amounts of time tinkering with things during their childhood, and may have lost interest in social activities that other children may have enjoyed.

To be really successful, however, a professional engineer needs to be able to communicate and interact with others effectively.

I was definitely the awkward type in the past - I spent a lot of my time doing the following things:

  • Playing video games
  • Looking for software
  • “Obtaining” said software/media
  • Lurking around chatrooms
  • Taking apart my computer

Needless to say, I might have missed out on some of the more important parts of social development since I was so intrigued. My parents too, were very busy working; I didn’t have the most privileged childhood, but I definitely do not blame my parents for my troubles. I worked with what I had, my fueled interests and passionately pursued them.

One of my very good friends, who I value for his honesty, once said to me that I was an extremely odd and somewhat annoying person to be around in the beginning of high school. He also said that I did grow out of that and become much more tolerable at the end. My development continued through college and now I’m the president of an engineering club that has over 200 members on it’s mailing list; members that I need to communicate to properly.

My point is this: learning to communicate and interact with others is a learned skill. Most people become pretty decent at it without any concious effort because they’ve picked it up earlier. They were girl scouts and got lots of social interaction through their troop or they were involved in plays during their early years. This doesn’t mean that you can’t pick up these skills (as with any other skill) later on in life.

Anxiety can be a huge issue when talking to other people - I actually have issues depending on the social situation. For those who have this anxiety, developing your skills in a methodical manner can help to relieve it. Once you have a little more experience, you’ll find you’ve acquired your own set of social tools that gives you a little more confidence.

Here are a few tips that I’ve found that helps me:

  • Relax, take a few breaths.
  • If you don’t know anything about someone else’s topic of interest, ASK them about it! People love to talk.
  • Fake it until you make it - projecting confidence will often contribute to a positive feedback loop.
  • Define yourself; use the values that you find important and use them to drive your decisions and interactions

Discovering that I could work on these skills was a very liberating experience for me. I hope that if you’re reading this and you’re thinking that you’re in the same place that I was before that some of my insight helps. If you’re looking for someone to talk to, feel free to email me at luong97@hawaii.edu