By Fayette Fox, Jaunty's writer
“I always kind of focused on social improvement,” says recent college graduate, Kaiwen Sun. Born in China he moved to Portland, Oregon with his family when he was five. Growing up he was, “pretty shy and quiet.” He now works as an IT consultant in San Francisco.
“In college I was less shy. But I still hadn’t figured out how to talk to people. I would ask way too many questions. I would try and make other people talk.” He had a tight group of friends who he felt at ease around, but who weren’t interested in meeting new people. Kaiwen did, but found it hard to build rapport. “I never felt like the conversation was really rolling.” On dates, he says, “The hardest thing was knowing how long to make eye contact. I was over thinking it. I think it came off that I was nervous.”
After college Kaiwen went traveling for a year in Asia and Africa. He talked with people all day and became more comfortable approaching strangers and having conversations.
“People expect you to talk about yourself. ‘Why is he here?’ They’re maybe a little suspicious.” He’d explain what he was doing there and they’d feel more comfortable. That’s when he realized you can’t just ask questions. You need to tell them about yourself.
He met a guy from Barcelona, named Octavi, who’d been traveling in Africa for a year. They biked together for three weeks. Kaiwen was impressed how his friend used humor to build rapport with West African border guards, wiggle out of bribes, and get discounts from hotels. Kaiwen learned a lot from him and caught his first glimpse of what’s possible socially.
But when Kaiwen moved back to the States, he struggled socially and stopped talking with strangers as much. “I found it hard to bring the social skills I had learned while traveling back here.”
“Then I found Jaunty. At first I was a little skeptical. I was in the 1:1 with [Jaunty’s Founder] Eric and he said, ‘Just play. It’s about playing with the situation. Don’t worry about what to say.’ That was the exact same thing Octavi said.”
Kaiwen signed up for Jaunty’s six-week course on social intelligence. His class developed a tight bond which motivated him to work hard practicing social skills with strangers outside of class. “We created this mindset that it’s okay to do this. All my friends are doing this. Hearing their stories, I thought I can do this too.”
“Before I had this [class] I thought that I only connected well with certain types of people. I thought I was stuck in that trap forever. This is why I was kind of uncomfortable to approach people.” Indeed, initially Kaiwen only talked with some of the people in his class. As the class went on he realized everyone had such different personalities but he found a way to connect and talk with all of them.
“I improved so much in the period after Jaunty. Before I would have never dreamed of approaching people on the street. It’s still a bit hard for me but I know I can do it.”
“That traveling period and Jaunty were the two most important things to happen to me socially in my whole life. I feel pretty happy about where I’m going. “Before I was [uncomfortable] approaching people at the party, even friends of friends. Now because I can approach strangers too, friends of friends feel pretty easy.” Kaiwen approaches lots of people and say, “Even if I can’t make a connection, I can at least talk with them.” He appreciates the conversational agility techniques he learned at Jaunty and now knows how to always have something to say and build rapport. He goes out a lot with Jaunty classmates and everyone brings their friends. He likes discovering new bars and places with people.
As for dating, Kaiwen feels he still needs to work on the “contact close” — a technique to casually and confidently ask for someone’s phone number. “Before, I thought I wasn’t afraid of rejection. Now I realize I am.” So he’s been practicing the direct approach with strangers to keep honing his social intelligence skills. He’s getting into the mindset that it’s normal to exchange contact info.
“I feel like my personal anxiety has definitely gone down a lot since Jaunty. It’s kind of amazing how it happened. For me the goal was to talk to a few people at a party. Not to be the life of the party because I’m not that person. The thing with Jaunty is it’s pretty simple. Your mindset grows along with the skills. You really do become a person who everyone wants to talk to. There’s really not that much difference between the guy who's the life party and the guy in the corner. It’s just a few skills. The guy who’s the life of the party just sees things a little differently and says what’s on his mind. Sometimes I feel like that guy. I’m like wow, I’m just standing here and people keep coming up to me and talking with me. I’m this person today who I would have thought it was impossible for me to be. You do these little things that add up. In the end you see the social situation in a different way.”