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.”
By Fayette Fox, Jaunty's writer
“When you push yourself outside your comfort zone you really learn who you are as a person,” says Christine Fleming, who recently graduated from Jaunty’s six-week course on social intelligence. A Bay Area native, she’s an administrative assistant at a law firm in San Francisco. “I’ve always been a very very shy person.” She thought of herself as a “homebody”. Before Jaunty, she says, “I wanted to talk or open up to people but it was like there was a block there. I never really went out that much. I hung out at home a lot.” When she did socialize it tended to be, “One-on-one time with the few friends I had.”
“Really I was just too anxious to try and go out and meet new people.”
Last year, Christine was in a relationship she describes as “pretty unhealthy” and destructive to her self-esteem. “My ex-girlfriend had an idea of how things are supposed to be and she was very intense about it. It got to a point where I wasn’t asserting myself and kind of lost my voice.” When she got out of the relationship, she decided it was time for a change. Jaunty was part of that process to work through things and find herself.
She started going to Meetups as a way to get out there and surround herself with positive people and ideas. She did Jaunty’s free workshop on social skills and felt the six-week course could help her become more comfortable in social environments and be herself without feeling anxious.
“I’ve made a lot of really great friends through Jaunty.” Christine says, her classmates, Jaunty’s Founder Eric, and Head Instructor Craig were “amazing”. “It was an amazing experience and I’m really happy I did it.” But she admits, “The homework was definitely hard.” Especially challenging was the direct approach where you strike up a conversation with a stranger. Jaunty teaches specific techniques for the entire flow from approach and openers, to building rapport and keeping the conversation going, and finally the contact exchange.
By end of class Christine had done a few approaches but no contact exchanges. “I loved all the tools I was learning in the class. [And] I knew I had to go at my pace.”
September, two months after the course ended, Christine was at Bawdy Storytelling talking with a guy — something that would have made her “hella nervous” and anxious before Jaunty. She used her new conversational agility skills and humor techniques that had become very natural for her. “Out of nowhere I just blurted out, ‘Want to hang out sometime? I’d love to get your number.’” Before, she would have been in her head worrying about how he might respond. They’ve hung out now and are getting together again next Tuesday.
Christine says, “I am super comfortable with approaching guys now and [doing] contact exchanges. Now the next step is women. They can actually reject me and it might hurt.” She’s planning on practicing at the next Bawdy Storytelling.
“It’s definitely getting easier. Jaunty really did give me the tools to go for it and to make connections with people.” Christine has used her new social intelligence skills to get closer to her co-workers and have more in-depth conversations. Before it was all small talk about the weather. “I feel so much more comfortable opening up to people now.”
Thanks to Jaunty, “My social life basically blew up. With our class being so close, we’re constantly planning things. I’ve gotten super into karaoke. I just love singing. I’m constantly meeting people. I talk to people all the time, everywhere now. I went to a concert by myself last month because my friend got sick.” In the past she never would have gone on her own. But she did and it was great. She met all these people.
“I think really everyone can benefit from Jaunty. Not only does it help with social skills, but I think it can really help with finding who you are. When I got out there and started exploring the social side of me, I learned all this stuff about me that I didn’t know before. I used to be very introverted. I didn’t go out much. I stayed at home. I didn’t like that part of me. I just didn’t know how to change it. Now I have the tools. I go out and meet people. Wow, okay now I know I really like going to bars and hanging out with friends and just talking. I really like hanging out in big groups. Meeting people from diverse backgrounds and learning things about them. I never knew that about myself.”