Ground-Level Social Skill: Don't Have Poor Hygiene Or Do Gross Things
One of the most basic social skills is to not do little things that physically gross people out, like having body odor or picking food out of your teeth in front of everyone.
...And now you might be thinking, "Come on, don't be so condescending. Everyone already knows to shower and wear deodorant. Why aren't you giving your readers any credit? Why are you acting as if everyone who wants to work on their people skills fits the stereotype of the smelly guy at a comic book store?"
I realize this article doesn't apply to most people. Even if they're shy or want to get better at making conversation, their basic hygiene and manners are in order. However, a small subset of, usually younger, people who struggle socially aren't aware enough of their hygiene and unintentionally put others off. It doesn't make them bad people. That stuff just isn't on their radar yet. A few easy corrections can make everyone look at them in a much more positive light. To be extremely trite, if this article can help just one person become more tuned into their grooming and manners, then it will have been worth writing.
Why is having decent hygiene so important? For one, people respond to a lack of cleanliness on a more visceral level than they do to social mistakes. If someone cuts you off in a conversation it's irksome in an abstract sense. But if their clothes smell like sweat, that's a literal physical smell driving others away. Humans also have a built-in aversion to dirt and other people's body secretions. Second, because most people know to stay on top of their hygiene, anyone who doesn't comes across as especially oblivious. It raises the question of, "If they don't even know to trim their fingernails, what else are they clueless about?"
A bunch of habits and behaviors that can gross people out
If your social skills and presentation are otherwise average, and you occasionally, absent-mindedly do one or two of these things it won't hurt you that much. Everyone's habits slip from time to time. If you do a bunch of these on a regular basis it makes a poor impression.
Once more, I realize these will be obvious to most people, but maybe a few readers will go through the list, realize they've unintentionally been doing one or two of them, and know to make a change.
General lack of attention to hygiene and grooming
- Not showering often enough
- Not wearing deodorant
- Noticeably greasy, unwashed hair
- Noticeably messy, unkempt hair
- Not trimming your ear or nose hair
- Stray long hairs, like a single hair growing out of a mole on your cheek
- Bad breath
- Food in your teeth
- Food on your face
- Food in your facial hair
- For men, still having lots of dried blood on your face hours after shaving
- Dirt under your fingernails, in a context where they should be clean
- Letting your fingernails grow too long, because you don't think about cutting them
- Generally smelly, unwashed clothes
- Food stains on your clothes
- Sweat stains on your clothes
- Wiping stuff on your clothes
- Holes in your clothes, and not in a deliberate, fashionable way
- Clothes covered in tons of pet fur
- Very smudged, dirty glasses
Inappropriate self-grooming in front of other people
- Picking food out of your teeth
- Picking your nose
- Digging in your eye
- Digging around in your ear
- Picking at pimples on your face or arms
- Picking at scabs
- Picking at your dried, chapped lips
- Picking at dried or peeling skin
- Scratching yourself excessively
- Scratching or adjusting your crotch
Of course, it's fine to do these things behind closed doors. Everyone acts disgusting when they're alone. It's just that if you have some wax in your ear, no one wants to watch you root around in there with your finger.
Expelling nasty stuff from your body in front of other people
- Horking up phlegm
- Burping or farting (I know sometimes you can burp and fart around your friends as a joke, but even then it's possible to go overboard)
- If your nose is runny, sniffling endlessly instead of blowing it
- Blowing snot from your nostril onto the ground
Unappealing eating habits
- Shoveling food into your face
- Chewing with your mouth open
- Chewing loudly
- Slurping liquids
A reasonable response to learning you've been making a hygiene mistake or two
If you find out you've been doing something considered unhygienic, the best response is to simply stop doing it going forward. It's okay if you feel sheepish, but don't beat yourself up too much for not knowing better. Again, you didn't ignore the rule because you're a horrible person. You just didn't know any better. Maybe no one taught you it wasn't polite, or someone explained it when you were a kid, but you were too young to absorb the message. Most children have to be nagged plenty of times before they even do basic tasks like brush their teeth every day. At least now you know what to do, and better late than never.
Less-useful responses to being told your hygiene could be better
First, don't casually dismiss the feedback. Some people are politely told they need to, say, floss more often, and they brush the suggestion off. Their unconscious attitude is, "I don't think that's gross or a big deal, so it's actually not." The thing is, while ignoring certain practices might not bother you, they can really bug other people. If you learn you're making a standard cleanliness or grooming error, please take that feedback seriously.
Second, even if you feel embarrassed or attacked, try not to get defensive. Some people feel touchy when you suggest they work on their hygiene or stop an off-putting behavior. They'll argue and refuse to change. There are a few reasons they react this way:
- They're younger, and see anyone who critiques their manners as a nagging authority figure. Their first instinct is to get annoyed, shut down, or rebel.
- They've been bullied and insulted a lot growing up, including over their grooming and manners. They see working on their hygiene as letting those jerks win.
- They're sensitive to criticism in general. They may see a critique of one tiny habit as denouncing them as a whole. Their knee jerk response to it is to fight back, even if the other person has a point.
- They have an all-or-nothing view of change. They believe that if they adjust this one thing about themselves then they'll be selling out everything about who they are.
One argument people sometimes make when you call attention to their grooming or hygiene is that these things are subjective social constructs. They'll point to countries where people don't wear deodorant, or where it's acceptable to spit in public, or where burping loudly is a way to compliment someone's cooking. They'll claim that no one cared about bad breath before mouthwash ads convinced everyone to worry about it.
Technically they're right. Social guidelines are subjective behaviors we've all just agreed to follow. Things that are considered gross in one society may not bother anyone in another. If you really, really want to, you can choose to not follow most of your culture's basic hygiene or grooming practices. However, you'll also really, really be swimming upstream. Hygiene guidelines are technically subjective, but they're a hair away from being objective. Like I said, most people are instinctively put off by a lack of a cleanliness. For all but the most headstrong, independent types, it's more trouble than it's worth not to follow those rules.
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