Social Engineering and Interpersonal Relationships
Somehow, I missed the amazing show that was Season 1 of Lie to Me (note: emphasis on Season 1). Let’s blame college and say I was too busy “studying” to prioritize regular TV. Thank goodness I can now binge watch all three seasons. An interesting takeaway from the show that stands out is the emphasis on how Dr. Cal Lightman’s abilities affect his interpersonal relationships. In the show, his devotion to his craft of reading micro-expressions deeply altered his close relationships with his work partner, ex-wife, and daughter. This brought me to consider the question of, how does our work as Social Engineers affect our interpersonal relationships? Can social engineering training strengthen our abilities to interact and build real relationships?
To assess these questions, I began analyzing my own behavior and quickly found multiple situations where I used SE skills with my family and friends. First, my husband was recently driving us to the mountains and we had stopped to grab dinner at Chick-fil-A on our way out of town. A guilty pleasure of ours is their delicious, delicious special “Chick-fil-A sauce.” Driving up the highway, I opened our little side of sauce, dipped a fry, and passed it to my husband who then exclaimed, “oh man! Thanks, babe. I was just thinking how I wanted a fry in special sauce.” My response was, “I know!” To which he gave me some serious side-eye and started laughing.
He had clued into what I next confirmed, which was that I had seen his eyes dart my direction for a split second when I cracked open the sauce, and, knowing what I do about him, I put the pieces of the puzzle together and made him a tasty, saucy fry. I confessed I had used some handy social engineering skills to infer his desires.
Second, my step-daughter’s (from here on referenced as “The Kid’) best friend recently cut her hair extremely short. The Kid’s hair is amazingly long, which can be both fun and a giant pain of tangled knots. She told us that she wants to cut her hair short, EXACTLY like her best friend. Personally, I am biased. When I was little my mother cut all my hair off and age 4 was a truly tragic photo year full of bowl cuts and bright floral patterns. I hate those photos. Also, when I was 17 I chopped all my hair off and it took forever to grow back. I hated this as well. My background screams, “DON’T CHOP ALL YOUR HAIR OFF — THERE ARE NO TAKE BACKSIES!!” Part of me legitimately wanted to show her a whole bunch of hair styles and capitalize on fear and curiosity (standard black-hat social engineering techniques) to push her towards more of a shoulder-length-with-bangs style if she really wants a change. However, ultimately, I really just want her to make good choices for herself and not succumb to peer pressure. We opted for the more solid parenting decision of emphasizing that it is her hair and she can do what she wants while also supplying her with more knowledge of hairstyle options. I decided not to convince her to keep her hair long simply because that may be my preference given my biases.
My awareness of the skills and traits used in these stories has absolutely heightened since becoming a full time SE, and trainings have increased my awareness and finesse when implementing social skills across the board. If you’re looking to grow and strengthen your SE skills, social skills, relationships, or are just fascinated by human interaction, you should check out the following resources for extremely tangible takeaways and ongoing education:
Dr. Paul Ekman’s Micro-Expression Training, is the basis for Cal Lightman’s career in Lie to Me. Dr. Ekman is a leader in studying micro-expressions, which are the universal expressions humans make for 1/125th of a second when reacting to something;
It’s not all About “ME”: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Rapport with Anyone, is an amazing and brief read that provides straightforward instructions on how to improve conversational styles and rapport building. I’ve recommended this book to friends in a variety of fields, from sales to surgery, and, anecdotally, they have all stated this book gave them a beneficial new skill;
Vanessa Van Edwards’ “You are Contagious,” TedX talk in London is a great presentation on how your behavior affects others. She also has a book called Captivate, the Science of Succeeding with People;
The Social-Engineer Podcast, has monthly conversations with guests about how social-engineering is applied, how social engineering skills are used in industries, and how you can grow and improve your skills; and
Self-study, observe people, study yourself, watch others and their interactions. If you enjoy sports analogies, watch game tape. Have a friend film you meeting someone new in a public venue, analyze how you felt the interaction went, and then watch the video to critically examine your actions and countenance throughout the interaction. Ask yourself, what did your face say? What did your hands say? What did their face say? What did their hands say?
It is absolutely possible to curate stronger social skills and social engineering tools. However, as you work to build these strengths, be sure to continue asking yourself how to leave others better for having met you. This concept extends to leaving our interpersonal relationships stronger for our being a part of them. As you strengthen your SE skills, use them to be increasingly empathetic and kind. Avoid, for the sake of our close relationships, manipulating those close to us into agreeing with us, especially if a choice may not be in their best interest, and/or if their decision would not affect us, and we are simply forcing our opinion. You can use your SE skills to be great at your job and also forge stronger bonds with those close to you.
As social engineers we curate extremely powerful social tools. It’s our responsibility to commit to using them wisely in all aspects of our lives. Leave everyone better for having met you, especially those you love and cherish.
TL;DR: Dear social engineers, share your fries but don’t force your opinions.
Take care and be kind.
Written By: Cat Murdock