If you haven’t heard of Stefano Ganddini then you’re missing out. He blogs over at Collegetopia.co and shares some kick ass life improvement strategies. He’s well-known for his preference for cold showers and has shared his work all over the study blog circuit.
This blog has a ton about different strategies students can use to improve their grades. Getting good grades can feel pretty damn good but it’s not (even close) to everything. We regularly get comments and questions for Q/A about how to manage the social aspect of school.
Stefano has his own interesting experiences on the subject that should help get to the bottom of mastering social skills in college. So… to the “black-belt life optimizer” himself…
Hey Stefano! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for us.
A lot of students struggle with personal relationships through college.
Most students are at least a little dissatisfied with their social life.
Despite that, most students don’t end up doing anything about it. You were
one of the few that actually did something. So, what did you do to change
your social life for the better?
Personally, my biggest barrier to improving my social skills was overcoming my bias against people who had great social skills. For a long time, I believed that people who were really social were also less genuine than other people. And so, because I didn’t want to become a less genuine person and start changing the way I talked, I spent years doing nothing to improve my social skills.
Eventually, however, I realized that being social is less about you and more about others. It’s about being able to connect with others by being genuinely interested in them. Once I started thinking about it from that perspective, I realized that you don’t have to be a fake douchebag to become more social.
Secondly, it’s important to understand that the only way to improve your social skills–just like any other skill–is with practice. And the best way to practice, in my opinion, is to put yourself in environments that force you to be social. For example, when I was in college I joined a fraternity, I worked at a call center, and I signed up for an improv class. These were all things that were way out of my comfort zone at first, but eventually became more and more comfortable over time. And because I put myself in these environments where I was forced to become a more social person, I now feel comfortable and confident in just about any type of social situation.
Some students spend a whole lot of time worrying about their grades
while spending almost no time learning to deal with people. I suspect you
might think that’s not the perfect balance. How important do you think
social skills are to a person’s future?
I think social skills are one of the most valuable skills you can possibly have. Coming from an engineering background, I’m used to hearing people justify their lack of social skills to the fact that they’re in a more technical field where they believe that hard skills trump soft skills. Now, there’s no doubt that hard skills are very important, but the way I see it, hard skills are what will get your foot in the door. But once you’ve got your foot in the door, it’s your soft skills that will determine how far you go.
So yes, getting good grades is important. But if you don’t take the time to also develop your soft skills, you are doing yourself a huge disservice. In this day and age, since almost everyone looks the same on paper, it’s ultimately your ability to communicate and build strong relationships with people that will truly separate you from the crowd.
From what I hear, you weren’t the biggest fan of “bro’s” in the past.
Some people close to me have similar slightly critical opinions people.
Naturally though, the clothes someone wears or the way someone talks
doesn’t always define them. How did you start to change your perspective
on people? And, we all have our quirks. Do you still have anything you’re
struggling with in this area?
This goes back to the importance of expressing a genuine interest in getting to know every person that you meet. When I went to USC, I wasn’t planning on joining a fraternity, but the reason I ended up joining the fraternity that I joined is because the guys that I met there didn’t seem to fit the typical frat boy stereotype. They were a lot more down to earth than I expected and I was surprised that I was able to really connect with these guys on a deeper level. We need to remember that every stereotype is simply a generalization, which means that not everyone will fit that generalization.
Even though I didn’t develop super deep relationships with every single “bro” in my fraternity (there were over 100+ members), joining my fraternity really helped open up my eyes to the fact that everyone has a story, and that there’s a reason why everyone behaves the way they do. So whenever I’m meeting someone new, I try my best to really understand where they’re coming from rather than judging them. This is a lot easier said than done, so I’d say this is an area that I’m constantly working on improving. But when you spend the time to think about how everyone’s beliefs, values, and worldviews are shaped by their past experiences, it becomes a lot easier to understand why people do what they do.
What do you think is the biggest mistake people make in dealing with
people and what can they can do about it?
Well, going off the last question, I think a common mistake people make is instinctively to judge without really understanding the full context of another person’s situation. I think the world would be a much better place if more people came from a place of understanding rather than judgement.
Another big mistake people make is that they talk about themselves too much. To me, someone with great social skills is, above all, a great listener. And part of being a great listener is being able to gauge another person’s interest, being able to read their nonverbal cues, and then leading the conversation accordingly. Many people are completely oblivious when they lose your attention, and they just continue to ramble on and on. I’d say a good rule of thumb is to always err on the side of talking less and allowing the other person to ask more questions if they’re truly interested in what you’re saying.
I’m a big fan of The 3 Second Rule you discuss on your site. The 3 Second
Rule is basically just suggesting when you want to talk to someone new,
you should do it in less than 3 seconds. If you don’t do it fast then
you’re likely to never do it.
I’ve recommended the 3 second rule before and the person responded
“It’s just too short a time. I’m never sure if I want to talk. Then I’m
not sure what to say. I’m sure it would work but I just fail to figure it
out in time. Then what?”
The problem isn’t that you don’t know what to say. I remember reading somewhere that even when people with social anxiety are coached on exactly what to say, word for word, they still don’t say anything. People think that “not knowing what to say” is what’s holding them back, but really what’s holding them back is their emotions–fear, anxiety, worry, etc.
Just think about it. I doubt you ever freeze up when you’re talking to a close friend or a family member. And yet, as soon as you want to go over to a stranger to say “Hi,” your brain suddenly shuts down and you start worrying about “what to say.” The reason for this is because once fear and anxiety kicks in, certain parts of your pre-frontal cortex literally shut down and your mind goes blank.
The problem isn’t that you don’t know what to say. It’s that you’re allowing your emotions to prevent you from taking action.
The solution is to focus on mastering your emotions. Learn to acknowledge the fear or anxiety, but then proceed to take action anyway. You won’t always say the “right thing” and not everybody will always love you, but it simply won’t bother you anymore. Because the truth is that it doesn’t matter–it’s impossible to please everyone, and the sooner you accept that, the better off you’ll be.
So… Stefano, what’s your current top priority on your impossible list?
My main focus right now is to continue growing my blog and creating super valuable free content. Anyone reading this right now who found this interview helpful and wants to learn more about how they can improve their social skills, you can subscribe to my blog here. As a bonus, I’ll also send you a free copy of my 35-page eBook, 12 Ways To Be More Successful, which covers all of the most important lessons and strategies I’ve learned from spending 4+ years studying the common traits, habits, and mindsets of the most successful people in the world (people like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Warren Buffet).
Do you have any final advice for students looking to improve their
social life a little?
1. Realize that people don’t think about you as often as you think they do. Everyone is caught up in their own heads, just like you. So take more risks. And if you ever do something embarrassing, just forget about it and move on. You’re the only one that will remember it by tomorrow.
2. Practice when the stakes are low. For example, the next time you have the chance to talk to a cashier, pretend to be the most confident, outgoing person in the world. These types of situations (talking to cashiers, waiters, etc.) are extremely low stake because these people are literally paid to be friendly to you and you’ll most likely never seem them again. The more you practice when the stakes are low, the more it will start to carry over into all other areas of your life, and eventually you won’t be “pretending” anymore.
Stefano Ganddini is a University of Southern California graduate and the author of Collegetopia.co. He writes about unconventional strategies for boosting your productivity, improving your social skills, and figuring out what to do with your life. If you’re ready to start taking action to live the life you truly want to live, click here to join his free newsletter.
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