Whether you realize it or not, you are a social being. Everything– from the way you dress to where you look while in line at the grocery store– is sending a message to everyone else.
Often, people are sending messages about themselves through their social behaviors that are not necessarily true. Your unwillingness to make eye contact with someone because you’re shy may be perceived by that person as a message stating “I hate you.”
You might think that you’re not a social person because you don’t talk much when you’re around other people, but even your reticence is a social behavior. “Social behaviors” are simply the different ways that people act when they are around other people.
In a more formal definition, “social” describes the way you relate to society.1 People who are good at “relating to society” are social in a positive way; people who aren’t are social in a negative way.
What it comes down to is this: Everyone is social, and you’re either good at it or you’re not.
Right now, you may be experiencing a sinking feeling in your stomach and thinking, “Yeah, I’m definitely socially inept.”
But that’s okay, because training your social skills as an adult is much easier than you probably think.
According to AnxietyBC 2, all of the major social skills can be categorized under “communication.” That’s good news, because it means that if you want to improve your social skills, all you have to do is work on your communication.
Communication can be broken down into three parts: non-verbal communication (body language), verbal communication (conversation), and assertiveness.2
1. Non-Verbal Communication
Non-verbal communication is, simply, your body language. Before you have uttered a single word, you have sent messages about yourself to the people around you.
Your body language is telling people whether you’re confident or insecure, whether you’re in a good mood or a bad one, whether you’re interested in making conversation or not, and so much more.
The question you need to ask yourself when working to improve your communication is this:
What is my body language saying about me?
If your arms are crossed and you’re staring at the floor, it’s saying “I’m uncomfortable. Go away.”
If your hands are on your hips, your lips are pursed, and you’re making intense eye contact with someone, it’s saying “I’m very upset. Run for your life.”
If you’re smiling, your hands are by your side (or being used in gesticulation as you talk), and your posture is open and relaxed, it’s saying “I’m friendly and approachable. Talk to me.”
This is the body language you need if you want to improve your social skills.
If you want to be good at socializing, people must enjoy being around you. This won’t happen if your body language is constantly signaling that you’re angry or uncomfortable.
A friendly and approachable body language will encourage people to approach you and will allow them to be comfortable enough around you to continue spending time with you.
Click here for more on developing an approachable body language.
2. Verbal Communication
Equally important as the messages you are communicating with your body language are the messages you are communicating through conversation. Insecurities about making conversation are one of the greatest inhibitors when it comes to successful socializing.
The question you need to ask yourself when considering your conversation skills is:
Do people enjoy having conversations with me?
The answer to this question can be discovered by thinking about the number of people who are intentional about speaking with you again after your initial conversation.
If you meet someone who never tries to talk to you again, there’s a good chance they did not enjoy your first conversation.
Sometimes this is unavoidable; you will meet people with whom you simply do not “click.”
But if you’re making conversation the right way, the majority of people you talk with will enjoy your company and will speak with you again in the future.
Good conversation consists of three things: introducing topics, asking questions, and using active listening techniques.
Enjoyable conversationalists have a variety of topics they are comfortable discussing. Paying attention to current events, staying up-to-date on popular culture, and reading these books on making conversation are great ways to make sure you always have something to talk about.
Asking questions during conversation allows the other person to participate and prevents you from monopolizing the discussion.
When you are the one who introduced the current topic of conversation, asking questions such as
- “Have you ever heard of ________?”
- “Did you hear about _______?”
- “Do you remember when _______?”
- “Do you like ________?”
will include the other person and will help you gauge their level of interest in the topic so that you don’t accidentally end up boring them.
If the other person is the one who brought up the current conversation, asking questions like
- “Wow, when did ______ happen?”
- “How long have you been doing _______?”
- “What was your favorite part of _____?”
will show you are interested in the conversation and will encourage the other person to continue talking. People will enjoy having conversation with you if you express an interest in what they have to say.
For more tips on making conversation, click here.
Active listening helps you participate in conversations in which someone else is doing most of the talking, and the technique also helps you make the speaker feel heard and understood.
The thing that makes active listening different from “just listening” is that it encourages you to summarize what the other person has said in order to show you are listening. Summarizing what you’ve heard also provides an opportunity for the speaker to clarify any misunderstandings.3
The third and final component of communication, according to AnxietyBC, 1 is assertiveness.
It’s important to find a middle ground between being too assertive and not assertive enough; in other words, neither aggression nor passivity will make you a good communicator.
When considering your level of assertiveness as a communicator, ask yourself:
- Am I afraid to say what I really think? or
- Am I too forceful when I’m saying what I think?
Passive people are generally too timid to give their opinions, ask for what they want, or admit when they disagree. Often this stems from a lack of confidence.
Aggressive people tend to make too many demands, are too blunt when stating their opinions, and come across as argumentative when disagreeing.
Good communicators walk the middle of the line by stating their opinions respectfully and tactfully. Disagreeing with someone does not have to mean initiating a debate; it’s not hard to tell someone you have a different opinion in a way that also says, “but we’ll agree to disagree.”
Most people (the people worth spending time with) want to hear what you have to say. If you’re too afraid to say what you think, you may come across as boring. If you’re too aggressive in giving your opinions, people will be less likely to enjoy spending time with you. It’s important to find the middle ground if you wish to develop good social skills.
Communication is the key to having good social skills. Developing approachable body language, good conversation skills, and a healthy level of assertiveness will make you an effective and interesting communicator, and as a result your social life will skyrocket.
What do you think is the most important: body language, conversation skills, or assertiveness? Sound off in the comments!
- Merriam-Webster (2018). Definition of social. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.
- AnxietyBC. Effective communication: Improving your social skills.
- Center for Creative Leadership. The big 6: An active listening skill set.