By Fayette Fox, Jaunty's writer
“I like to organize events...parties," said Zubin Dittia, a software engineer at a Silicon Valley startup. "I’m a connector. I like to bring people together. If I like someone, I include people in my circle of friends, trying to grow the group.”
Originally from India, Zubin has been in the U.S. for 25 years. He likes dancing to electronic music, especially psychedelic trance. He enjoys the feeling of meditating in his own thoughts. Health-conscious, Zubin enjoys hiking and reading about nutrition. He's also into solo travel.
Zubin remembers being "pretty introverted" during his first 12 years in the U.S. He was, “Clearly afraid of interacting with anyone other than the people I worked with or the people I already knew very well.” He wasn’t happy with this way of being and, “...didn’t have good friends down in the South Bay.”
“At some point in time I forced myself to change. That’s partly my nature. I want to put myself in uncomfortable situations. I tend to learn more stuff that way.” So Zubin pushed himself outside his comfort zone and found an international activity group on Craigslist. Initially “terrified” because he didn’t know anyone, over time he got increasingly comfortable. Eventually he and a friend became the group’s organizers.
Zubin believes interacting with people who are very different from yourself is key to getting more comfortable in social situations. However, while he was fine interacting with people he knew or was introduced to, he wasn’t comfortable, “...approaching a random stranger on the street. That’s where Jaunty has helped me.”
He signed up for Jaunty's free workshop on social intelligence because it sounded interesting. “I’m interested in anything and everything. If it looks a little unusual and I don’t know much about it I’m curious. The more different it is, the better. I’ve been several times to Burning Man." Zubin did the Jaunty workshop, liked founder Eric Waisman, and signed up for the six-week course on people skills.
His main goal was to learn something new. He ended up learning invaluable, practical skills which boosted his self-confidence, as well as making great friends. He feels Jaunty’s "crazy assignments" helped him “develop a social bond" with people in his class. They took over bars practicing their social intelligence homework. Zubin's class ended in early summer and he still regularly hangs out with everyone. Next month he's renting a house in Tahoe with 10 classmates.
After the course, Zubin went on vacation to Taiwan on his own. He'd driven a scooter along a marble gorge. He stopped for lunch at a roadside cafe with a lot of families. He noticed one woman who was sitting on her own. "Before Jaunty I would have ignored her and gone to my own table. But I went up to her and said, ‘Hi, how are you doing? How’s your day going?’” They hit it off and had a great conversation. If their schedules had been better aligned they might have traveled together.
“How confident do you feel saying, ‘Hi how are you? What’s going on in your life?’” Zubin asked. “The more you do it, the easier it becomes. You don’t even think about it and automatically start to treat everyone as your friend. If you approach the whole thing as 'I love everyone and everyone loves me,' people just start opening up to you. As long as you approach with that thought in your mind everyone is very friendly.”
“Jaunty has even changed the way I walk or I stand." Instead of putting his hands in his pockets, he's gotten into the habit of just hooking his thumbs in his pockets. “It makes you feel more relaxed. You feel more confident. I notice other Jauntyites doing it as well. I even do it as I’m walking around, like I’m king of the world.” Zubin also keeps Jaunty’s techniques on open body language in mind at work. “I just take up a lot more space. I spread out my legs a bit. I put my hands out. It’s a very very open posture. It makes you feel more confident in everything you do.”
Zubin appreciates the listening techniques he learned at Jaunty. “When I’m listening to someone, [I] look them in the eye more, but also listen without moving too much. [I] give occasional indications that I’m listening, as opposed to constantly nodding my head. That gives you more of a feeling of poise. I’ve found it makes people talk with you more sincerely like you’re really listening.”
Who would benefit from Jaunty? “I think almost everyone would benefit. Particularly, I look at the people I work with, especially software engineers. They are not really good with initiating contact with someone who is different from themselves. I think they would benefit tremendously. It’s a good skill for everyone to have. I think everyone should go to Burning Man once, and everyone should take Jaunty classes.”
Here’s how to avoid a barroom brawl (or getting walked all over) from Jaunty’s Head Instructor, Craig Gibbons.
About a year ago, I was with some Jaunty students at a bar for one of our community get-togethers. I had my back against the bar as I sat on a barstool talking to a pair of students. The topic turned to something I was passionate about, and I became animated while I talked to them. We all became very immersed in our conversation, putting blinders on to what was happening around us. Suddenly, our conversational flow was broken.
“Hey!” the woman to my right grumbled. “Can you move away from me?! You keep nudging me with your arm.” I distinctly remember her stabbing tone. She seemed to expect a confrontation. I had a few options of where to go from there.
As a naturally passive person, my first response would have been something like, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’ll move away from you,” while being small, quiet and submissive. But what happens if I don’t stand up up for myself and let someone walk all over me? It could become a habit, hurt my self-esteem and transfer to other relationships. Basically, even if what I was doing wasn’t ill-intentioned and she was being a jerk, by acting passively, I would have taken responsibility for the woman’s feelings.
Another option would have been for me to fight fire with fire. “Why don’t you move?!” I could have snapped back. But that would have exacerbated the issue. A fight in front of my students and a new enemy were not what I was looking for.
But there’s actually a third option beyond fight or flight. Humor. The woman spurted aggressive words at me and I joked with her. After taking a second to process what she was saying and the situation, I looked at her and said something about getting a yardstick from the bartender to make sure we were the appropriate distance from each other. I said it in a light and playful tone. You could say it was a Jaunty tone.
The lady seemed shocked by my unexpected tone. Then she let out a huge laugh of silliness and relief. After that, I went straight into friendly conversation with her. I asked her what she and the man she was with were up to, and we had an amicable conversation for the next minute or so. After that, I scooted over to give her more room, and returned to conversation with my students.
I love the idea of creating the results you want by leading with your mindset. Had I fallen into the mindset that this woman wanted a confrontation, I probably would have done the passive thing and had a negative interaction with her. But since I intentionally responded to her in a positive way, she reacted positively, and that opened the door to a good conversation with her. She was able to get what she wanted, and I was able to get what I wanted. Win win.