Tag Archives: awkward

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

So I do a lot of thinking about my social skills. I think about where they are now, I think about where they were in the past, I think about what I want to learn and where I hope I’ll be in the future.

One thing I notice when I look back is that I seem to have been subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect rather a lot.

So before I go further, let’s talk a little bit about what that actually is. Basically, it’s a form of cognitive bias where a person is both really terrible at something, while simultaneously being unaware of how terrible they are at that thing, even to the point of thinking they are good at it.

Apparently there are four main points in play here. Basically, someone who is really incompetent at something will often:

  1. fail to recognize their own lack of skill
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own lack of skill, IF they have been exposed to training for that skill

And… yep. That’s me in a nutshell, at least when it comes to social skills. In the past, I honestly had no idea I was so clueless in my ability to socialize, related to others, make conversation, etc. I even, at times, thought I was good at it (I wasn’t. oh gods, I really really wasn’t). I am increasingly finding that the more I learn, the more aware I become of being so utterly clueless, at least of anything beyond the basics.

I am sufficiently clueless that I don’t even know what good social skills actually look like. I mean, I can see some people are obviously socially successful, but I don’t know how to learn from their example or apply whatever they are doing to my own life. I cannot differentiate between good advice and bad advice. Socially speaking, I am extremely vulnerable and I always have been, just because of how much I don’t know. Sometimes I worry about being taken advantage of, because as soon as I am criticized in a social arena I will back off and apologize, no matter what. Because often, I did fuck up somehow and I just don’t know how. But it means that there could be times where I don’t fuck up, where someone else fucked up, and they can blame me anyways because I don’t know the difference. This is something that worries me, because I cannot make myself any less vulnerable than I am.

That it is so possible, so probable, so be so clueless of my own lack of skill really does worry me. So now I try to offset this effect by being as aware as possible of my own incompetence. It’s a lot easier to learn when I know I have a lot to learn and can remain open to said learning.

I’m honestly hoping at least a few of you will be able to relate to all this. And if you can’t, remember that this Dunning-Kruger effect is actually a thing. Which is to say, try to be patient with me, and maybe with others who are like me. I am trying, but it’s super hard.


Filed under issue, personal

On Giving Advice

This post comes from a combination of my own slow, painful learning process complete with countless mistakes and people getting angry with me, and what I’ve found I like best from other people who want to give me advice.

When it comes right down to it, advice-giving is fraught with danger. I’ve seen plenty of neurotypicals mess this one up too, and I often see people cite it as a reason for friction between men and women – with men wanting to give advice, but women wanting sympathy or emotional support. So just to be clear, I am coming at this from the perspective of someone who is, more or less, a woman.

Now, onwards to my advice regarding giving advice! Let’s say a friend or someone you care about is talking about something craptastic in their life that is giving them trouble. And let’s say you think you have ideas that might help that you want to express. What is a good way to go about doing so?

  • Don’t.

Yep, that’s step one. Always always always start by holding back. There are circumstances and things you might be able to say that would help, but you need to make really sure that you are in those circumstances BEFORE shooting your mouth off with whatever advice you have going on.

  1. You don’t get it. Period.

Whatever is happening with your friend, however much it seems you know about what is going on, you don’t really get it. There may be nuance to the situation that you don’t know about or understand. There may be details that they are keeping private that change what the right thing to do is. They may have different capabilities than you, they may be experiencing the situation in a different way than you imagine you would. No matter how much you think that you understand, always remember that you don’t. Not really. Not completely.

  1. Stick to what you know.

SOOO many people mess this one up. Let’s say Joe’s friend Amy just got diagnosed with cooties. Joe just read an article saying that people with cooties need to cross their legs, dance the polka, and cough three times. “Wow!” says Joe. “I should tell this to Amy!” NO JOE, DON’T DO THAT. Amy probably already knows. Amy is probably doing lots of research about cooties on her own, and is talking to lots of doctors, and has plenty of cooties experts in her life. Joe is not a cooties expert, and should not attempt to dispense medical advice on cooties.

On the other hand, maybe Amy is REALLY ANGRY about having cooties, and along with dealing with the cooties, she’s dealing with all this anger. And maybe Joe has had experience in the past with being REALLY ANGRY about something and learned techniques for dealing with that anger. In that case, Joe definitely has something that might be useful. So, should he go ahead and give Amy his advice? Well, that depends…

  1. Did they ask?

Sometimes, if a person is open to advice, they will just say so. Maybe they’re open to advice in general, and maybe they state that only specific kinds of advice are welcome. In those cases, if your advice fits what they are looking for, then hey! You can give your advice! Woo hoo!

4a. Check first.

Of course, maybe they did not ask for advice. In that case, if you have something you think would be super, super useful, and it comes from things you really do know about, it is permissible to ask the person if they are open to advice. A few ways to ask might include “are you open to advice?” or “May I talk to you about anger?” or “I had cooties in the past, would it be ok if I shared what I learned from my experience?” If they say yes, hurrah! You get to give advice! If they say no, accept it. Keep your thoughts to yourself.

  1. Remember step 2.

I am so, so very serious about step two. Even if you are sticking to what you know, it is absolutely vital to remember that your experience is just that – your experience. It isn’t your friend’s experience, and what worked for you, even if it was amazing, may not work for your friend. Be aware of your limitations.

  1. Try to talk about yourself, rather than saying “you should do x.”

On top of being aware of your limitations, openly express them! I’ve noticed that some people put their advice in absolute terms, but I strongly recommend against that. Say things like “Spinning to the left on one foot really helped me with my cooties, so I think you could try that” and NOT NOT NOT “Spin to the left on one foot. It will cure you!” Go ahead and share your experience, what worked for you, what you think is worth trying, and anything else that might be helpful, and refrain from putting on some front of Knowing All The Answers. Because you don’t. Be ok with that.

  1. Never, EVER invalidate.

If your friend says “that won’t work for me,” just believe them. Yeah, maybe they’re feeling really down and depressed and see everything as hopeless. Maybe your advice really would help. If that is the case – you cannot fix that. All you can do is accept what they say as their truth.

Also, it is incredibly important to remember step two, once again. It is also very possible that your advice really wouldn’t work, or that they’ve already tried it, or whatever else. Remember that their experience is not your experience, and there are probably factors that you just do not understand. Just because something worked great for you, that doesn’t mean it will work great for them.

  1. Other things that can help.

You don’t actually have to give advice in order to be helpful to a person who is dealing with ickiness in their lives. I think often bad advice-giving is a misguided attempt to help. However, there ARE other things you can do.

  • offer hugs. Even in text, a *hug* conveys that you are thinking of them and you care. It may seem like a small, silly thing, but to a person who is struggling with awful and feels alone, a page full of *hugs* just for them can be incredibly nice.
  • offer sympathy. “I’m so sorry you are dealing with this” is also a very nice thing to see or hear when you feel alone.
  • be a cheerleader. “You can do it!” “I believe in you!” “You are strong!”
  • Want to do something more substantial? Offer your services, in whatever capacity you can manage. If your friend’s life is all taken up with dealing with cooties, small things like cooking dinner and doing the laundry can become overwhelming tasks. You can help with that! An open-ended “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” is common, but I do not recommend it. Instead, offer, or even ask, to do specific things. Or, if you don’t know what you can do but you really want to do something, try “what can I do to help?”
  • Ask questions. Actively listen, asking open-ended questions for further detail, asking for explanations if you do not understand something, and generally encouraging the person to lay it out there. IF, of course, they actually want to. Don’t push it if they indicate they’d rather not go into detail.
  • Finally, just listen. Sometimes people just need to bitch and moan for a while, and the best thing you can do is listen. Sometimes the choicest commentary is simply “wow, that sucks!”

So that’s what I’ve learned in my life about giving, and not giving, advice. What sorts of things have you learned?


Filed under social skills


Let’s talk about awkward moments.

They happen to everyone, as far as I know. (wait, that’s an assumption on my part. If you or anyone you know never has awkward moments, I want to get to know you! How do you do it?) Ok, aside from possibly-mythical, never awkward people, everyone has awkward moments. Some of us are lucky enough to have LOTS of awkward moments, or to even feel awkward all the bleeping time in certain social contexts.

In the first half of my life, awkwardness permeated more or less all of my social interactions. Good ones, bad ones, indifferent ones, all had SO MUCH of the awkward. Fixing my social skills to the point of not having so much awkwardness was a never-ending journey (still is, really), so eventually I went and found a way to deal with the awkward directly. It goes something like this:

*awkward moment happens*

“Boy, that was awkward!”

*move on to something else*

Simple as that.

I think ending here might make for an awkwardly short blog post. I know! I’ll make more words!

Ok, you know what is NOT in my script? Dwelling on how awkward that awkward moment was. My old script used to be more like this:

*awkward moment happens*

“Boy, that was awkward!”


“So… uhh…”

*awkward face*

Ack, what do I do now?! This is so awkward!

Ad infinitum.

Let me tell you, from way more experience than I’d like to have, that doesn’t work. Not at all. Now I think that awkwardness is some kind of cannibalistic monster that feeds on itself. Dwelling on the awkward just feeds that monster and makes it grow to ridiculous proportions. But a small awkward monster can even be cute, provided we make sure it stays small.

Thing is, awkwardness does not have to be horrible. Feeling shame about feeling awkward does not actually help me learn to not be awkward. It just helps me to feel SO AWKWARD in ways that get progressively more difficult to deal with.

So basically I have decided that:

1. awkwardness is ok and

2. it does not actually need very much of my attention

So far this method is working really well for me.

How do you deal with those moments of awkwardness?


Filed under issue

On being analytical

This can be great, but maybe only if you know you’re doing it and it’s on purpose.

Story time!

So once in a while I travel, most recently by train. One of the things I enjoy about travelling is that it very nearly guarantees conversation with a complete stranger, while stuck inside some form of metal tube that is going fast. Oddly enough I tend to really like this sort of thing (or maybe it’s not so odd. I do crave connection with people and get it only rarely). On my last train trip I wound up sitting next to a Lutheran pastor and having a most enjoyable conversation. One thing that we wound up talking about more than a little bit was autism and Asperger’s. What also came up was my tendency to be analytical. Apparently it shows through, even to a complete stranger in the middle of the night whilst in a metal tube that was going fast.

He commented on this fact. A type of comment I have gotten from many people throughout my life, who typically mean well but don’t get it.

That is, he said that maybe sometimes I’m too analytical. That there are times when it’s best to just go with the flow and stop analyzing for a while.

Now, this can be true for me if I’m doing a solo thing. If I’m doodling or making yarn or crocheting, it can help to relax my brain and let my hands do what they do. Of course, I am able to relax and let my hands do the work because I’ve already put time into making sure my hands know what to do, and my brain is still always sitting ready to jump in if my hands get confused. And sometimes, like when I’m writing, my hands seem to know what’s going on better than the talking part of my brain, but in a way that’s just thinking with a different part of my brain. Still, I can stop being analytical in those types of situations.

However, people don’t tend to mean it that way. They mean it in social situations. Even worse, they mean it in group social situations. People really believe that my constant analysis must get in my way, and I’d be better off if I would stop and just “go with it.” The problem is, while this might be true for them, and might even be true for most people (I wouldn’t know), it most definitely is not true for me.

Telling me to go with the flow assumes that I can somehow naturally detect the flow, the same way a person detects the flow of water while standing in a stream. I can’t. It does not work that way for me. Telling me to go with the flow assumes that I already know what to do and how to respond to that flow that I’m supposed to detect, the same way my hands know how to hold a hook or spin my spindle. Except I don’t know what to do or how to respond to that flow that people keep insisting is there.

So instead I engage my brain. I watch what people are doing and saying, I watch what I am doing and saying, I watch how people respond to what I do and say, and how they respond to each other, and how I respond to them. I analyze. I work it out as best I can, and I do it all very consciously. It’s not intuitive at all.

This does mean that I respond and adapt more slowly than other people. So they see that I’m doing all of this analysis and assume it must be slowing me down and tell me to stop. What they don’t see is that if I were not analyzing the way I do, I would simply be at a standstill. Or maybe I’d be going off in some other direction entirely, unaware of this “flow” that’s supposed to be taking me along with everyone else. Or I’d just go in circles, or flail, or whatever else.

I do this in most social situations. It’s one reason (of oh-so-many) why groups are so much more difficult than one-on-one. Groups have far more variables and the social dance is far more complex than one-on-one socializing. Even in groups, I strongly prefer to find one or two people who are sufficiently similar to me to just sit in a corner with and talk to. I really dislike the social butterfly dance and have no desire to participate in it. It’s stressful and even my analytical self can’t keep up with all the cues and subtle shifts and changes that keep happening.

So yes, I’m analytical, and I’m not going to apologize for it. In fact, I’m proud of it. My ability to analyze and logically work my way through things has carried me further than I’d have gotten without it. Even in this post while I was using metaphors, I was thinking about the metaphors and both visualizing their literal meaning along with thinking about the figurative interpretation that I was intending and seeing how well they matched up. Because that’s what I do.

I very much doubt I’m the only one.

And to people who want to tell me to stop being so analytical and just go with the flow – you’re not helping. Please listen to me when I say I don’t work like that. Don’t try to tell me that I must be wrong because surely I work the same way you do. Recognize that I’m different. And to the Lutheran Pastor whose name I don’t remember who conversed with me in the metal tube that was going fast, thank you for listening. You were awesome.


Filed under that's not helping