Be Picky About the Conversations You Have

I’m twenty-seven, undoubtedly a millennial. Everywhere I go, I see reminders of the most predominant negative trait of my generation: bad social skills.

Most millennials have few friends, and a quarter have none at all. And there are a number of factors you could point to.

If you’re optimistic, you could say it’s because millennials are idealistic and have trouble compromising and seeing things from other people’s point of view, due to passion for their own points of view.

If you’re cynical, you could say it’s because they’re spoiled and self-centered.

Whatever the reasons behind why my generation behaves the way it does, it leads to little social interaction for its members, and what social interaction is there is both low-quality and not influential on the person’s life.

This is something I’ve come to realize as I try to be more social and stay connected with people. A lot of millennial types just won’t let you do it. They’ll ghost you, or self-sabotage the connection, or even just mistakenly ruin things by being clueless and offensive. They become very comfortable with their current social state and will not let it change, even if the change happens to be for the better.

Now, I’m not saying that other generations can’t be totally, utterly lacking in social grace or intelligence. I meet plenty of older people who lack self-awareness. In my experience, though, I see it a lot with my own generation, and whether you fall into that group or not, here’s a piece of advice that might help you in your own social life.

Be picky with the conversations you have.

What does that mean?

It means that you have strict rules about how you talk about things that might be a negative influence on your life, and if people can’t meet those rules, there are consequences.

Pain and Misery, As Usual

You probably have that one friend who, every time you ask how they’re doing, they use it as a way to complain. Nothing is every going well for them.

Everything is in crisis, they have no opportunity to do anything they want to do, even though they TOTALLY WOULD (sure) otherwise, the world in general is out to get them, and nothing ever happens to be their fault or their responsibility.

I’ve known some people who are master-level complainers. They knew just the right levels of complaining they could reach, and then balance it out with some empty pretend-happy line to save themselves from appearing morose or melodramatic. I spot these people a lot better now that I’m out of college.

Some people will even worm their way into people’s lives, start a friendship or other connection, and slowly destroy it of their own volition before moving on to the next, much like termites consuming one house after another.

Why do people do this? Well, I have a couple ideas, but that’s not the point here. The point is to spot people like this and either:

1: find a way to curtail how you interact with that person or the contexts you meet them, to limit their negativity. Or…

2: cut them out of your life as much as possible.

You want people in your life who you enjoy conversing with, and interacting with in general. If people and their conversations with you are a burden, or totally imbalanced, or not leaving you happy, kick those people to the fucking curb. I give you full permission. It’s the right thing to do.

But how do you know if someone is a source of bad conversations? Here are a few clues.

1: They’re more negative than positive when talking about anything (Especially themselves, which works as a self-deprecating humor shield. Don’t fall for it.)

2: They will stick to anything negative or uncomfortable and mine it out, regardless of whether you prompted it. It’s a sad state, but we live in a world where somebody can take issue with something, say nothing, and then send you an essay in chat or DMs about it. Or they might be upset about something and bring it up passive-aggressively in future conversations.

This kind of stuff is for little kids still figuring out how to express themselves. Do not allow adults to treat you this way. If someone can’t deal with reality and has to send you essays about how some thing you said to them at a party hurt their feelings, maybe it’s time to break the connection.

Speaking of…

3: They mostly communicate with you digitally. No voice, no meeting in person, your connections with this person are pretty much all reading their text and typing out your own. Human beings were not made to communicate this way, and connections built on it can be very unstable if the two people aren’t very similar.

4: If you ever offer them advice, they will not just ignore it or rationalize it away, they will find some reason that it’s the WORST possible advice for them. This is a way for them to discourage ‘criticism’. For people like this, being told “you should try this” is taken as a negative statement, even though it isn’t. Critical suggestions, on their own, are neutral. “Your not working hard enough at your job.” is negative, but “You should try getting up a bit earlier each morning.” is not. People who react defensively to neutral suggestions like this are the worst. People should be willing to hear out each other’s suggestions, and if someone isn’t doing that for you, it’s time to either significantly change how you speak with them, A.K.A. make them stop complaining to you, or drop them.

5: The simplest of the signs, you don’t look forward to your next interaction with this person.

How you choose to deal with these people and these conversations is up to you, but if you aren’t willing or at liberty to cut someone out, it helps to take a more active role in the conversations. Take it as a challenge to steer things in a happier, or at least less negative, direction without it feeling forced.

Finally, this should be obvious, but you have to be someone who likes to have good conversations. This isn’t going to work if YOU are not the type of person you most enjoy talking to. That applies to everything, though. Be the kind of person you want to meet, on a psychological level. Entrepreneurs don’t want to meet people who are lazy or unmotivated. Customers don’t want to hear from salespeople who don’t get their needs and interests.

It’s important to meet people on their own levels, but if someone’s level is the center of the Earth, and they enjoy being the negative part of every conversation, you aren’t obligated to accept that. Find every way you can to be choosier about the conversations you have with people.

I guarantee you’ll have easier, smoother days ahead if you actively try to do this. Most people are not aware of just how much of their lives and what they experience every day are under their own control.

So take that control. You’ll be glad you did.

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