Learning Social Skills From An Engineer

Man, I love it when people prove me wrong about who I think they are.  In a good way at least.  It doesn’t happen nearly often enough, but it did happen the other day.

I was standing outside the dressing room waiting for my girlfriend.  That’s every guy’s favorite place in the world, right?  They always put the dressing room right next to the underwear section so you look like a pervert.  And with nowhere to sit.  No bench, no chair, not even an apple crate.  Because these stores apparently don’t realize that if the guy is comfortable he’s not going to rush his girlfriend to leave the store as fast.

Anyway, I’m standing there, reading an ebook on my phone and trying to look as disinterested as possible int he stack of panties next to me.  A guy holding his baby boy walks up to me and says, “You waiting for someone too?”  Luckily I was, because it would have been extra awkward if I wasn’t.

I told him I was, and we exchanged a few comments about waiting for women in dressing rooms and the lack of places to rest our weary feet.  A normal guy conversation probably would have ended there.  So I went back to me ebook.

The guy says, “Are you from around here?”  And this thing goes off in my brain.  He has continued talking to someone he doesn’t know.  Now, to you ladies this is a common occurrence.  But men do it way less often.  And when a man does it, there is often an ulterior motive.  I immediately thought he wanted to sell me something.  I’m in for an Amway spiel.  Or maybe some Jesus talk.  His next question will be “Is your life fulfilling?  Have you accepted Jesus in your life?”

Ok, he was Indian, so he might have asked if I’d accepted Ganesh into my life.

This was one of those times where I had trouble fighting past experience.  I was immediately on the defense when he kept talking because 9 times out of 10 I do end up getting the Jesus/Amway pitch.

“Yeah, I’m from here in Milpitas”  I said.

He said he and his wife lived over in Sunnyvale, but he’d seen my shirt that said “Hawaii” and thought maybe I was from there.  Lord help me if I lived in Hawaii and decided to vacation in Milpitas at the Great Mall.

With each passing moment part of my brain started trusting the guy a little more.  The other part of my brain (admittedly, the ‘marketing’ part) was thinking, “This guy is really good.  He must read Zig Ziglar or something.”

He asked what I do for a living.  A seemingly normal question, but a great intro into whatever his business is since I have to ask back. And then it’s a downward spiral of me half listening while willing my girlfriend out of the dressing room.

“I’m a comedian”, I said.  He told me he and his wife like comedy a lot and asked about places I play and such.  He said it was nice to meet someone in Silicon Valley that isn’t an engineer.

I sucked it up, ready to dive into his pitch, and asked what he does.  “I’m an engineer.”  Can’t break all the stereotypes, I guess.  “But I’ve started my own business.”  Oh yeah, here we go.

I asked him what kind of business, because that’s what you do.  He says, “I consult with corporations on their internet and social media campaigns.”

Huh… That threw me for a loop.  That’s not a business he’d try to sell me because the last thing I am is corporate.  I nearly apologized right there.  He was just a friendly guy chatting with someone.  And here I was all defensive.  Not outwardly.  But I’m sure I had that vibe a little bit.

I applaud the guy for powering through my biases to just be cool.  His wife came out and he introduced us.  Then he asked for my card and said they’d like to see my show sometime.  Off they went.  A little bit later (his wife back in the dressing room), I saw him talking with the dressing room attendant about where she goes to school.

Eventually my girlfriend emerged from the dressing cocoon and said, “You made a new friend?”  I told her about the encounter and how the guy just wanted to chat and not try to sell me on something.  She said, “Oh, I figured you initiated the conversation so you could give him a sample CD or something.”  BAM!  Called out, right there…Yeesh.

Here’s the thing… I want to be that guy.  He was genuine.  And I’m sure his new business will do great because of it.  For an engineer his social skills are tops.  Just a little clue that I have my own learning to do still.

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