5 Reasons We Need Classes on How to Talk to People

Engineers and Programmers Aren't Off the Hook Either

Fine, you might think. I can see why doctors would need this stuff, and probably business types. But, hey, if you can't talk to people, you can still become a programmer or something.

First, as an aside, apparently business graduates are also becoming incompetent at human interaction, increasingly demonstrating "unacceptable handshakes, inappropriate manners at business meals, improper

introductions and unsuitable lunch behavior as well as some general office errors."

Unsuitable lunch behavior?

Secondly, sure, IT and engineering are magnets for people increasingly desperate to find some kind of job that won't expose their inability to talk to others, as you can see in these somewhat touching forum posts.

If you read the rest of that thread you will see that those poor guys are out of luck. The only job where you don't have to deal with any people at all is probably wilderness explorer, and nowadays, chances are you will attract a camera crew following you around anyway. As an engineer, you don't have to be a super-suave schmoozer, but you do have to have a fairly impressive array of interpersonal skills to really get far.

But there's help! MIT is actually teaching people skills classes to some of its best students, tired of seeing them passed over for promotions in favor of dumbass MBAs with winning smiles. And a lot of IT professionals, tired of getting nowhere because they keep sighing loudly every time someone doesn't understand something, take the initiative to fix things at professional how-to-talk-to-people courses.

Lesson 1.

Because the truth is, the people that move up are the people who understand people. They may not understand the most efficient way to pursue technological developments, or the difference between a hard drive and a memory stick, or what a computer is, but they know "appropriate lunch behavior." So, like many office humorists have observed, many workplaces are full of smart, technical people being managed by smooth talkers who are still amazed by email.

That's kind of horrible. And that's why ...

Smart People Need Social Skills to Revolt Against Dumb Bosses

A lot of us would prefer to work in a corner somewhere and not have to worry about office politics or kissing asses or spending countless hours in meetings. Some of us are even afraid of asking how someone's day was or explaining the project we are working on. Or even asking a teammate on the same project what they are doing.

And sure, you might be happy knowing that you know what you're doing and that you're doing a good job, and you don't care about being promoted. The bosses might be a bunch of buzzword-swapping know-nothings who get all their technical knowledge from Hollywood movies and ask you to try "reversing the polarity" when something goes wrong, but you'll just vent about it to your co-workers later and have a good laugh.

"Then he asked if I couldn't just put on a helmet and hack into the database!"

The thing is that management is steering the ship. At its worst, they could have thousands of brilliant engineers, scientists or programmers studying how to manufacture adamantium or stop time. Or a district full of experienced teachers throwing out their curriculum and copying lesson plans directly from Dangerous Minds and School of Rock. If they don't have enough field expertise to tell who's good and who's incompetent, when layoffs come, they might as well be throwing darts blindfolded at an employee list.

Or the actual employees, why not.

And all this could have been stopped if some knowledgeable but shy employee had stepped up and taken one of them Carnegie interpersonal skill classes or just made himself practice chatting with a different co-worker at lunch every day, or something. That employee could work their way up to a position where they could focus the department on something that's actually physically possible. Also they would have more friends and dates.

Because this isn't just about faking social skills and manipulating people with some stupid "social engineering" tricks. Learning things like empathy and listening puts you in a place where you understand other people a little better, and saves you from living in a paranoid world where you imagine everyone's thinking bad things about you, or everyone you don't get along with is an oversimplified villain or shallow stereotype.

And if you like to be honest and blunt, that's one thing, but it's another thing when half the people you're talking to think you're insulting them just because you don't know what phrases come across as condescending. You'll alienate both the people you meant to rip on, and the people you didn't. Maybe you want to come across as that sarcastic, insulting guy -- but not on accident, right?

"But I said you were PLEASANTLY plump! That's a positive!"

I know a lot of us don't have the energy to socialize with more than a certain number of people every day, and that's no problem. I'm just saying that I see a lot of Internet people express the view that 90 percent of people out there are boring or vapid and they don't need to learn to deal with them. They'll just hang out with the few people that respond positively whenever they blurt out whatever is in their head at the moment, and trying to adapt their manner to get along with anybody else is "being fake" and "not being themselves."

You miss out on a lot of life that way. And if that's fine with you, keep in mind it's that kind of attitude that's going to lead to some company spending millions on developing sentient kangaroos when one employee has an AIDS cure gathering dust or something. You could have stopped that. Just saying.

For classes we need to teach our kids, check out The 10 Most Important Things They Didn't Teach You In School. And then check out things people actually learned about, in Smash Bros Theory: 6 Absurd Classes Taught at Actual Colleges.

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Christina H

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