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'Art of Socializing' Article - RESIDENT May 2003


Exercising Etiquette

A Once-Shy Boy Teaches Others the Social Skills that Make Him the Life of the Party

The Week of May 5, 2003   (212) 993-9410

By Philip I. Rosenbaum
to New York Resident

I recently performed the ultimate act of computer networking. I Googled a long-lost friend.

Jason Grossman and I grew up in the same building in Elmhurst, Queens, in the 70s. Procrastination was my inspiration for making contact with him. Instead of writing my screenplay, I was looking at old photos and saw one of Jason and me from March 17, 1979, the day of my bar mitzvah. The ceremony and party had ended, and we were frolicking with my sports equipment.

On the Web, hits came up for Jasons name because he runs a comedy production group that has a Web site. I e-mailed him and got a response in minutes. Yes, Im the Jason Grossman who grew up in Elmhurst. Whos this?

Six months later, I was sitting in on Jasons Art of Socializing and Net-working class, which he teaches at schools around the city Jason, who is an actor, taps into more than a decade of stage and improvisational experience to teach New Yorkers how to be the dignified life of the party, ace job interviews, and mix well with strangers anywhere.

Sometimes you dont feel social but youre in a social situation, said Jason, who tells his class right off the bat that he is still gradually overcoming a life-time of shyness, even though he seems very outgoing.

You have to act like youre more confident than you are at first. Theres a little bit of pretend in that way.

Jasons class is for anyone who has ever felt unsure or out of place in a social situation and who hasnt? But he cautions that progress takes time and that he has no magic cures for deep-rooted problems.

Its not group therapy and its not psychotherapy, Jason said. He teaches self-confidence, listening, body language, eye contact, and speech to avoid, such as gossip, ridicule, and arguing.

One thing Jason stresses is generosity being aware of the other person, said Annette Gourgey, a 50-year-old statistics teacher at Baruch College who took the class about two years ago.

After 25 years of teaching, I am comfortable speaking in front of groups when I have an agenda, but social situations are still hard for me, said Gourgey, who recalls that Jason emphasized learning peoples names and being attentive. I try to remember that now, and it helps shift the focus from myself.

Jason peppers the class with sketches that showcase his improv talent, For a routine on accepting a compliment, his assistant told him she loved the shirt he was wearing. This shirt? Its just an old thing I pulled out of the laundry bag, Jason said. The self-deprecation and compliment rejection heightened as the scene continued. The class laughed and got the point.

Students also take part in role-playing that builds their social muscles. In one exercise, they pair off, and one student is told to act completely un­interested while the other talks. The lesson is that we sometimes violate rules of etiquette without even realizing it. A simple glance at the watch can be enough to rudely tell the other person youre bored.

Dan Minnock, a fund administrator at the Bank of New York, took Jasons class a year ago. Minnock, 30, says it not only helped him with conversation skills but gave him more initiative at work.  "I went to my boss and asked for more assignments."  Minnock's boss mentioned the extra effort in his next review.

Taking initiative is a lesson that goes way back, I thought to myself as I visited Jason's class, my wind wandering back to our reunion over drinks.  That night, he recalled the first time we met in the hallway of our building.  I was having a birthday party.  With cake all over my face, I invited Jason to join in the fun.  He looked at his father for permission, received it, but politely declined.  Some three decades later he told me why he had been too shy.             n

To contact Jason Grossman about his Art of Socializing and Networking class, e-mail him at