Random Encounters: Level Up Your Social Skills

By Daniel Wendler, M.A.

One of the most enduring tropes of RPGs is the random encounter. Want to make your character stronger? Walk outside of town until you run into a random monster, bash the monster over the head until it falls over, and then move on to the next monster.

The implications of random encounters don’t make much sense (how does anyone get anything done when monsters attack them every ten steps?) But the basic logic is sound: If your character does a lot of little fights, they’ll be prepared to handle the big boss fight when it rolls around.

Social Encounters

And the same logic is true when it comes to social interactions. Obviously, there are some differences – please don’t bash random people over the head! But the big idea is the same. If you make the most of all of the little opportunities to be social each day, you’ll feel much more confident in high-stakes social situations.

Unless you never leave the house, you probably have dozens of little opportunities to be social. Whether it’s the cashier at the store, or the person sitting next to you in class, or the coworker you work with, you have the opportunity to connect with several people each week.

The thing is, most people waste these opportunities.

Most people go through life treating others like NPCs, not like real people.

See, when most people interact with strangers and acquaintances, they generally connect with them on a functional level, not a personal level. Connecting with someone on a functional level means you interact with them only enough to accomplish a particular function. For instance, you talk to the cashier just enough to check out. You talk with a coworker just enough to get information on a new project. When you add social pleasantries (like asking “how are you doing?”) you only add enough to accomplish the function of conforming to social norms.

How To Connect With Others

Connecting with someone on a personal level means that you treat them as a person, not an NPC. It means recognizing that they exist outside of their interaction with you, and trying to show some interest in them or a little compassion towards them.

Practically, it might look like telling your cashier you appreciate their hard work. It might look like asking a barista what her favorite coffee is. It might look like asking your coworker about his weekend. It might look like asking a classmate how he did on the last test. It could just mean giving someone eye contact and a genuine smile. It might be looking at a name tag and saying “Thank you, [Name].”

It isn’t that hard to do, but it can make someone else’s day. And it can supercharge your social confidence. Instead of remembering the times you failed socially, you can think about the dozens of little moments of connection you had throughout the week. Instead of relying on rusty skills to connect with a new friend, you can use abilities that you practice constantly. All it takes is a deliberate choice to treat the other person as a human instead of a tool – a fellow player, instead of a disposable NPC.

This might feel a little awkward at first. And you might screw up. You might ask a question that’s a little too personal, or try to start a conversation with someone who wants to be left alone.

But that’s okay. Stick with it, and you’ll find you succeed more than you fail. And I think you’ll also find that these moments of connection feel great, for both you and the other person.

Of course, having a fulfilling social life means more than connecting with random people. But we’re laying the groundwork here. Remember, random encounters prepare RPG heroes for the boss battle.

Every time you deliberately create moments of connection, you’re getting a little more confident socially, and a little bit better at relating to others.

I’ll end with a few specific tips to help you:

Connection Cheat Codes

  • Don’t stop at making moments of connection with strangers and acquaintances — create some with family or friends, too!
  • When someone creates a moment of connection with you, notice what they did that made you feel connected with. Then do that with someone else!
  • Create a few moments of connection online. Send a friend an email just to say hi, or to thank them for something they’ve done for you.

Adapted from the book Level Up Your Social Life: The Gamer’s Guide To Social Success

Daniel Wendler, M.A. is the author of ImproveYourSocialSkills.com and the books Improve Your Social Skills and Level Up Your Social Life. He writes about social skills because he used to be the kid sitting alone in the cafeteria and he wants to help everyone find a place to belong. He is pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology from George Fox University and he wrote a poem about his bed. He fervently believes that Bulbasaur will always be the best starter.