Making Plans and Reading Socials Cues

Maybe these guys didn't even WANT to go to Vegas.

Maybe these guys didn’t even WANT to go to Vegas.

One of the key points of etiquette is about making people comfortable. Unfortunately, people won’t always flat out say that you are making them uncomfortable or they aren’t interested. Oftentimes we all feel the pressure to be “polite” and not say no and hurt people’s feelings. Of course, it is absolutely polite and fine to say no to things, but it is hard!

So, if you practice reading the social cues people are giving you, you will be better able to interpret whether they are truly interested or whether they are just too shy to say no.

This is especially true when it comes to making plans. Sometimes you meet a new person and think you really click. You say “hey, we should hang out!” They say “omg that would be amazing, want to try this new ice cream place with me on Friday after work?” Then, you have a very enthusiastic person and that’s great. If you conversation goes more like this: “hey, we should hang out!” They say, “oh, yeah, definitely sometime!” You says “how about getting drinks Friday after work.” They say, “oh, I’d have to check my calendar…” There is a lot less enthusiasm there. If you don’t hear back, you should certainly follow up with them because yeah, maybe they do have to check their calendar. But if they are busy that night and all the other nights you suggest, you should probably give up on them.

This kind of thing is especially true for dating. If someone is barely responding to your messages/calls/etc or does a lot of one word answers, chances are they are just not that into you and it’s probably time you move on.

You especially need to be sensitive to the cues people are giving you when it comes to things that are going to cost a lot of money. Like trying to plan a big trip with your group of friends, like a bachelor/ette party. I just saw this example on A Practical Wedding where the bride is upset that her groom’s friends don’t seem that interested in doing a big weekend bachelor party for the groom that has a lot of subtle social cues going on. If someone is saying- “hey, let’s whisk Jimmy away to Vegas for a big crazy weekend- penthouse suite, strippers, bottle service, the works!” and everyone is emailing back things like, “oh, well we just bought a house and money is really tight right now” or “I only have one vacation day I can spare right now,” or “hey, my parents have a cabin at [nearby lake], let’s do a fishing weekend there,” or “maybe we could do a night out a couple of days before the wedding” then maybe it’s time to think about whether a trip like this is really going to work for this group of people at this time. If people are making excuses, it’s usually because they are not really into the general idea (and often those excuses are very valid!). But if people aren’t picking up the things you are putting down, you need to step back, scale down, and not push. (Hey Ladies is the not-quite-totally-satire version of this. It’s great, check it out.)

However, it can sometimes be difficult to tell if the cues people are giving you are because they aren’t interested or that they are interested but they just aren’t interested in doing any planning themselves. Take a long chain email about a plan to go hiking. A few people are debating dates, locations, times, train vs carpool etc. The rest of the group gives the dates they are available and then are silent for the rest of the conversation. These folks are likely still interested in going, but they just want to be told when and where to show up. A good way to figure this out is do a roll call after the details have been hammered out- send around an email giving the date, time, place, and relevant details and ask that everyone respond if they are going.

All of this is so very subtle and it can be very complicated. Is there anything I left out? Got totally wrong? Let me know in the comments!

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How to Read Social Cues

This is not the way to behave.

So by now I hope everyone has had a chance to see this excellent street harassment video which shows how many catcalls and looks a woman gets walking around New York City for 10 hours. While there has been much *ahem* debate over whether these were catcalls or just guys “being polite” (um no this is not polite), an interesting thing that cropped up (in my mind) was the complaint by many men that “what, we aren’t ever allowed to talk to a women in public?!?!?!?!” Congratulations, but no, of course you can talk to women (and men and whoever) in public, but only as long as you get social cues that they are also interested in talking to YOU!

The thing about people is that your desire to talk to me does not trump my desire to NOT talk to you (or anyone else). And okay, I get it, maybe that girl who is running to catch the train is clearly your soulmate, but honestly, that is just too bad and you really need to let it go. So here is a nice handy, fun primer on how to read social cues to tell if someone is interested in talking to you (also most people do this intuitively, by what? age 15? It’s not that hard).

Signs Someone is Not Interested in Talking to You:

  • They are reading (caveat, if they keep looking up over their book and making eye contact with you and only you and smiling, etc).
  • Walking fast- clearly on their way somewhere in a hurry.
  • It’s the morning commute (personally I think morning subways should be absolute quiet zones, but I certainly do not want to chat)
  • Sunglasses on, earbuds in.
  • They are actively avoiding making eye contact with you.
  • If you do speak to them and they give one word answers or mmhmms.
  • They shake their head at you (okay this is more for sidewalk canvassers than people wanting to make small talk, but hey, it applies)
  • They are crying (being able to cry in public without anyone questioning it is a New Yorker’s right)

Signs Someone is Interested in Talking to You:

  • They keep trying to make eye contact with you.
  • They smile at you a lot.
  • You say something benign and friendly (see below) and they are pretty chatty in their answers.

Things You Can Say to A Stranger in Public:

  • The train hasn’t come for 15 minutes= “The G train, amirite?”
  • “Excuse me, you dropped this.”
  • “Does this train stop at Canal street?” (I actually had a great chat on a subway with a guy once where the conductor was saying the wrong station name and we were trying to reassure each other that we were in fact on the right train.)
  • Compliments…cautiously- if they really are wearing a stunning dress or whatever, then that’s probably okay? As long as they aren’t exhibiting any of the “seriously, do NOT talk to me signs.”
  • “Hi” “Hello” “Good Morning” BUT and this is seriously important, if you are the friendly type of person who likes to say hi to people, make sure you say it to a WIDE range of people and not JUST people you are attacted to, that makes it more predatory than friendly. Suffice to say, “heeeeeey baby” is not the same thing as a chipper “hi.” And again, don’t do it if it’s pretty clear they aren’t interested in human interaction at the moment.

Things You Cannot Say to A Stranger in Public:

  • Honestly, it’s too long to list.

It’s also really important, especially if you are a man talking to a woman to not use words or talk in a tone that you wouldn’t use to speak to a man.

And please, just be realistic. If you are a kind of average slumpy joe, and you really, really want to talk to that amazing supermodel looking girl who is a good 10 years younger than you, do you REALLY think she is going to be that interested in talking to you? I mean, sure, maybe, but statistically it’s just not that likely