The 'Pragmatic Adaptation' Approach To Changing Socially
One broad philosophy toward the question of whether or how to change or improve your social skills is what you could call the Pragmatic Adaptation approach. As some related articles talk about, two other approaches are being true to yourself and not changing, and truly trying to change. None of these are an All-or-Nothing proposition. Depending on their goals and values each person is going to have their own mix of social areas where they stay true to themselves, legitimately try to change their personality, or adopt a practical attitude of going along to get along. This article will go into detail about the last of those three.
The main ideas of the 'Pragmatic Adaptation' approach
The core concept of this approach is that there are aspects of the social world that aren't going to change anytime soon, and that it can just be practical to know a thing or two about handling them. Going against the grain may just cause too much of a hassle. There may be certain social rewards someone feels they can't access if they stay 100% true to themselves.
Some well-known examples are learning to mingle at parties, or getting the hang of making light small talk. A lot of people feel like they don't naturally enjoy these activities, but they've decided it's easier on the whole to learn how to do them. Some other areas where people may be practical are:
- Spending a certain amount of time with friends or co-workers, when they'd naturally want to be alone more often
- Dressing half-decently
- Knowing how to get by in skills that come up a lot in their social life, like dancing, or playing pool
- Knowing a thing or two about popular conversation topics (e.g., having a passing knowledge of pop culture or sports)
- Learning interpersonal skills required by their career, like how to network
Playing along on the surface
Another key piece of this approach is that you're conscious of what you're doing. You're aware you're making a calculated attempt to adapt to the world to make your life easier or get something you want. So a guy may decide to keep up with some basic sports news because he's found it makes it simpler to chat to his co-workers. However, deep down he knows he doesn't care what player got traded where, or who's still out with a concussion. When you're doing the pragmatic adaptation thing you're keeping your inner core preferences and values intact and just choosing to make little external concessions here and there.
Being true to yourself is still the best option if you can manage it
Being practical is a compromise. Yeah, you go in knowing the trade-off you're making, and hopefully you're getting more out of it than it's taking away. Still, if you can somehow figure out how to approach a situation in a way that allows you to be true to your tendencies and not have to change, than that's obviously better.
It's that if that's tricky. It can be hard to tell if you should pragmatically adapt or if you can manage to stay true to yourself. Sometimes someone will take the practical route and then realize later there was a way they could have been true to themselves all along. Two situations may look similar on the surface, but because of various subtle details, they offer different opportunities to stay in line with your default values or not.
Adapting adds new facets to your personality, it doesn't overwrite anything
If someone learns some new conversation skills, or figures out how to handle loud, boisterous groups, or gets into snowboarding so they can meet more people, then they're adding a new 'module' to themselves. All their old interests and traits are still intact. Nothing gets erased or replaced. It's just that the new module gives them a skill they can turn on or turn off when it's required.
For example, someone's natural preference is to spend a lot of time alone reading or walking in nature. They've also decided that even though they're not super-keen about house parties, it's important that they go to them occasionally. The majority of the time they still get to hang out alone, but when they want to, they have the option of switching into 'party mode'.
Someone else's far-and-away main interest may be Russian history. They may decide that that alone isn't enough to help them meet and relate to people, so they take on some other hobbies as well. They still get to be interested in history, and will look for friends who share that passion, but they now have some other topics to turn to to keep a conversation going or connect with others.
Everyone makes at least some social concessions
To a degree we all have to be practical and adjust how we'd like to act by default in order to fit into social norms. It's easy to think of more extreme examples, like how you can't walk around in public naked. It's too idealistic to think that every single person in the world can somehow get everything they want out of the social world without ever having to adjust a single aspect of themselves.
Deciding what to be practical about
Everyone is going to make their own decisions about which areas they're willing to pragmatically adjust, and which ones they won't compromise on. Like one person may feel getting enough time alone is extremely important, and would never think of changing that. Someone else may have no problem cutting down their alone time so they can be seen as more social in the office. There are no right or wrong answers. What makes perfect sense to one person, another may think is ridiculous.
Here are some considerations on whether to be practical about something:
- What's your overall reaction to the idea of being practical and "going along to get along"? Some people really don't like this philosophy and equate it with selling out. They don't have a very high opinion on the idea of fitting in. Other people couldn't care less about making some changes to get what they want.
- Do you perceive the reward that comes from being pragmatic outweighs the benefits of being more true to your natural tendencies? For example, someone may want more friends, and decide gaining that is more important than their desire to never have to talk about pop culture. Another big example is the social things people do to try to advance at their jobs.
- Is making the practical change relatively easy? If it seems it will be hard, it may be more trouble than it's worth. I mean this in the sense of it not seeming overly difficult and frustrating to learn (e.g., someone may not be excited about figuring out how to make small talk, and hardly be able to pick it up overnight, but decide they can acquire basics easily enough if they put their mind to it). I also mean "easy" in the sense of whether it just feels good for your soul. Some practical changes feel off on a core level and will slowly make us miserable. Other ones don't seem to affect us that much.
- Do you particularly care about the area one way or another? It's easier to be practical about something and go the path of least resistance if your feelings about it are pretty neutral. For example, someone may not be too concerned with fashion, and decide if it doesn't matter to them either way, they may as well dress half-decently, since many people partially judge others on their clothing.
Sometimes a side effect of being practical is discovering new things you legitimately like
At times someone will initially approach something with the attitude of, "I don't really like this, but I'm going to learn it because it's important to know", and once they get a little more experience with it they realize they truly enjoy it. Like at first someone may think they don't like loud, crowded parties, but come to decide they're really fun.
The downside of the pragmatic adaptation approach
As I've touched on a bit already, the biggest problem with this approach is that it can make some people unhappy to follow it. They get this unpleasant sense that they're betraying themselves, being fake, and compromising in too many areas. They may also become resentful and think, "The world is so unfair. Why are things like this, where I have to force myself to do something I don't care about?" Again, it's important to pick and choose which issues you want to be practical about and which ones you won't budge on.