When we were kids growing up on the North side of Chicago, my friends and I hung out on the Farnsworth School steps. As we became teens, we hung out at the nearby Habetler Bowl. We bowled, sat on the ball racks, ate at the deli counter and played arcade games. We made loitering an art. I’m sure we were viewed as delinquents at times, but we had fun. It sure beats tweeting alone at home in your underwear and socks.
We also hung out at Fine’s Confectionary, the candy store a few blocks from school. It was a place to meet, decide on our next activity, buy a pop (Chicago-speak for soda) and penny (yes, one cent) candy. That is, if we had money. If we didn’t (sorry to admit this), we also stole some candy. It was part of the initiation into the unspoken club of boys hanging out. Male bonding, if you will. There was also the thrill, the fear and then the Catholic guilt. I knew I could go to confession on Saturday and be forgiven. My guess is that store owner Joe Fine knew what we were up to. If not, I hope I don’t burn in hell for those misdeeds of my youth.
Walking into Fine’s, or any setting where there were a lot of kids, was intimidating. It was important to learn to walk in with our heads up, smiling and greeting people. That was a huge lesson learned, as we have now had to do this a zillion times in our lives and in business. This is a basic social skill. It’s learned by practice and getting out, not by Facebook messaging or texting.
We also learned that we could always talk about something we have in common with someone else to get a conversation going. I heard a speaker a few years ago state the obvious: “The fact that you are gathered in the same place with others—for example, at a conference or reception—means that you have something in common.” So don’t be afraid to at least ask people what brought them there.
My friends and I all learned early to be friendly, funny and sociable. Otherwise, we would be home alone or just get beaten up. Today, too many folks get by way too easily by staying home and playing electronic games or browsing the Internet. There’s not much social interaction that way, which is sad.
But not us. We were out and about, and had to be sociable, assertive and positive. The point is we played—won and lost—without our parents around. If we lost a game, we practiced more. We didn’t go home to our parents telling us, “Good try. Don’t worry about it.”
Perhaps the best indication of how you were faring in the social world came during a game of dodgeball. If you were friendly and a good person, odds were you would last longer in the game. Not a good person or having issues with someone? Chances were high you would be one of the first to go. If a lot of people didn’t like you, you’d probably be hit by a lot of balls at one time. After being eliminated, you would sit on the sidelines, watch the action and repent, or plan on getting even.
No matter what the game or social situation, we were creative and fearless. Failure was an option. Boredom was not.
Being sociable was as vital to success then, as it is today. So put your smartphone down and go talk to someone.
Al Maag is the principal of MaagComm+, a communications consultancy delivering uncommon solutions to internal and external branding and communications challenges. He is the author of the soon-to-be-published book, Social Media IS NOT Social. For more information click here.
Follow him @almaagavnet