How To Improve Your Social Skills – The Complete Guide

Social skills don’t come naturally to everyone. But the good news is that even if you’ve always found socializing difficult, you can choose to develop these skills as an adult. This guide will give you practical advice on how to improve your social aptitude and become more comfortable around other people.

Here is a short summary of how to improve your social skills:

  1. Decide which social skills you need to work on
  2. Accept that you’ll be nervous and socialize anyway
  3. Practice your social skills as often as possible
  4. Stop relying on safety behaviors
  5. Be kind to yourself
  6. Learn from your mistakes
  7. Ask others for feedback and support

Sections

  1. Identify which skills you need to work on
  2. Mindsets that can help improve your social skills
  3. How to practice your social skills
  4. How to improve your conversation skills
  5. Practice your body language and voice
  6. How to improve your social skills at work
  7. How to improve your social skills at college
  8. Common questions

Identify which skills you need to work on

When it comes to social skills, you probably have strengths and weaknesses. For example, you may be comfortable making eye contact but freeze up in conversation. Set aside some time to figure out which of your skills need the most attention. This can help you set realistic goals for improvement.

1. Do a social skills audit

Below is a list of social skills for adults. Read through it and ask yourself which skills you are already good at and which could use some work:

Decide which of these skills you need to develop, read the relevant guides linked above, and start setting some small goals to help you improve. For example:

  • If you tend to interrupt people when they’re talking, challenge yourself to let someone finish every sentence before you jump in.
  • If you feel uncomfortable talking on the phone, make two phone calls in the coming week.
  • If asking someone to hang out makes you feel awkward, ask one of your colleagues to get lunch or coffee with you.

2. Get some honest feedback on your social skills

If you have a socially skilled friend, tell them you are trying to strengthen your social skills and that it would be helpful to get their feedback on where you could improve.

For example, you could say:

“I’m trying to improve my social skills. There are probably a few bad habits I need to shake. You’ve seen me socialize with other people, so you might be able to give me some useful feedback. Do you have any tips on how I could do better?”

It’s probably best to avoid saying, “What am I doing wrong?” because your friend might be uncomfortable listing your mistakes. Framing your request using positive language can make the conversation less awkward for both of you. It may be easier to ask for feedback via text instead of in person.

With your friend’s permission, you could also record a voice or video call. When you play it back, you might identify a few things you could improve. For example, you might realize that you interrupt more often than you think.

Mindsets that can help improve your social skills

If you find social situations difficult, reframing how you see yourself, other people, and your feelings around socializing can help.

1. Accept your nervousness and act anyway

We often act despite feeling resistance to a task. For example, you have probably completed work tasks or homework even when you felt bored or exercised even if you felt tired. The same idea applies to social situations.

Tell yourself, “I’m feeling very anxious right now, but that’s OK. I can and will still try to socialize. These feelings will pass.” It can also help to remind yourself that with practice, you’ll feel less nervous.

If you have a socially skilled friend, ask them if they ever feel uncomfortable in social situations. Their answers might surprise and reassure you; even the most confident people have insecurities and feel nervous sometimes.

2. Realize that no one knows how you feel

When we’re self-conscious around other people, we also tend to assume that they know how we feel. Psychologists have a name for this effect: the “illusion of transparency.”[1] In reality, most people won’t know that you feel nervous or shy. Knowing this can give you more confidence in social situations.

3. Allow yourself to adapt to different situations

It might sound counterintuitive, but research shows that deliberately trying to make a good impression helps other people see your true personality traits.[2]

Being able to adjust your behavior and conversation topics to suit your surroundings is one of the most important social skills. Knowing how to blend in doesn’t make you a fake. It means you understand social norms and make other people feel at ease.

4. Practice self-compassion

People with social anxiety disorder are less compassionate toward themselves compared to the general population and are often very self-critical, especially when they are in social situations.[3] Increasing your self-compassion could improve your social anxiety.[4]

Practice speaking to yourself more kindly. When you talk to yourself, imagine that you are talking to a good friend. You don’t have to pretend that you love everything about yourself or that you are perfect; self-compassion involves accepting that you are a worthwhile human being who, like everyone else, has strengths and weaknesses.

Verywell Mind has a useful introductory guide to self-compassion.

5. Know that it’s good to be vulnerable

If you always give safe, bland answers to questions or stick to mundane topics, you risk coming across as bored, dull, or detached. Opening up can encourage other people to open up in return, which can lead to deep, interesting conversations.

Try these tips:

  • Go beyond facts and share your opinions. For example, “I saw that movie last night” is a fact. “I saw that movie last night; I thought the ending was great, I didn’t see it coming!” is an opinion.
  • Share small insecurities. For example: “I like meeting new people, but I always feel a bit intimidated by these big events.” “Sometimes, I worry that I’ve accidentally called someone by the wrong name.”
  • When you share a dream or aspiration, explain why it’s significant for you. For example, “I dream of living by the sea one day because being near water always makes me feel uplifted” is more vulnerable than “I’d like a seaside cabin someday.”
  • Try to acknowledge your feelings or insecurities instead of hiding them behind self-deprecating humor.

If you have trouble opening up and being vulnerable, here is our guide on how to open up.

6. Become interested in people

Curiosity can automatically improve your social skills because when you are thinking about the other person instead of yourself, you will feel less self-conscious, and it becomes easier to think of things to say during conversations.

This takes practice if you aren’t naturally curious. Our article on how to be interested in others might be helpful.

When you meet someone for the first time, remind yourself that they are a unique person with their own backstory. Challenge yourself to find out something interesting about them.

7. Work on developing your empathy

Empathetic people can see a situation from someone else’s perspective. When you can empathize with others, you know what they want or need from you, which can improve your social skills. For example, if you can empathize with someone who feels nervous about a job interview, you’ll know that they will probably appreciate some words of encouragement.

Empathy also helps you know what topics or questions to avoid, which can make a conversation less awkward. For example, if you realize that someone feels sad about their recent divorce, you might decide that it’s best to avoid talking about your upcoming wedding.

Here’s how to grow your empathy:

  • Ask questions to help you understand why someone thinks or behaves in a particular way. For example, instead of saying “I think you’re wrong” when you disagree with someone’s opinion, ask, “What do you think makes you believe that?”
  • Learn about other cultures. Get into the habit of looking for what you have in common with people while also appreciating your differences. Look for documentaries, exhibitions, and intercultural or interfaith events that can show you new perspectives on life.
  • Try to keep an open mind and avoid jumping to conclusions about someone’s character or actions. For example, if someone often complains about their mother, you might first assume that they have unrealistic expectations about how parents should behave. But there could be another explanation. For example, their mother may have treated them badly as a child.
  • Read more fiction. Research shows that reading fiction regularly might boost empathy.[5] This may be because reading a story helps you see events from someone else’s point of view.

8. Learn from your mistakes

When you practice your social skills, it’s inevitable that you’ll make mistakes. Try to learn from them by asking yourself a few questions:

  • What could I do differently next time around?
  • Is there a particular social skill I need to work on?
  • What advice would I give to someone else who had made this mistake?

For example, let’s say you made a joke during a good conversation, but the other person didn’t laugh. You could say to yourself:

“There was an awkward pause when the joke fell flat, but the conversation moved on quickly. The joke was maybe too sarcastic for the situation, so I’ll try aiming for more positive, sillier humor next time around. I’d tell someone else in this situation not to worry and focus on the fact that, overall, the conversation was fun. No one was seriously offended, and there will be lots of chances to tell better jokes in the future.”

How to practice your social skills

The most effective way to improve your social skills is to practice them. Try to socialize with various types of people in a range of settings.

1. Put yourself in challenging social situations

Make a list of social situations that scare you. Then put yourself in each situation, starting with the least anxiety-provoking scenario and moving to more intimidating situations as you gain more confidence.

This list will be unique to you, but here’s an example:

  • Make eye contact with a stranger
  • Make eye contact and smile at a stranger
  • Say “Hi, how’s your day going?” to the cashier at the grocery store
  • Say “Good afternoon! How are you?” to a neighbor and make small talk for a few minutes
  • Start a conversation with a coworker in the break room
  • Call a friend to catch up on their news
  • Put forward a new idea in a meeting at work

You don’t have to feel completely comfortable in a situation before you move on to the next item, but try to keep practicing until your anxiety level drops significantly.

2. Take opportunities to socialize in your daily life

For example:

  • Practice talking to barbers, manicurists, taxi drivers, and other employees who make conversation with lots of people as part of their work.
  • Make casual conversation with your coworkers. For example, in the break room, ask them how their day is going or whether they had a good weekend.
  • If you’re waiting for a college class to start, say “Hi” to one of the other students and make small talk for a few minutes.
  • Say “Yes” to every invitation unless there’s an extremely good reason why you can’t go. If possible, offer to reschedule. For example, if someone asks you out on Friday night but you’re busy, you could suggest Sunday instead if you’re free.

3. Practice socializing without safety behaviors

Safety behaviors are strategies people use to help them handle their anxiety.

Common safety behaviors include:

  • Relying on alcohol to help you feel confident enough to talk to strangers.
  • Looking at your phone during meetings instead of making eye contact or talking with other people.
  • Standing quietly in a corner at social events.
  • Only attending social events with an extroverted friend who can start conversations for you.

In the short term, safety behaviors can work to decrease your anxiety.[6] But if you get into the habit of hiding behind your safety behaviors when you feel anxious, you won’t get to develop genuine social skills. If you use them over the long term, they can maintain or worsen social anxiety.[6]

Try to cut back on your safety behaviors. It’s OK to do this gradually. For example, if you always stand in a corner at social events, you don’t have to force yourself to stand in the middle of the room straight away. You could start with a more realistic goal, such as standing or sitting near the bar, buffet table, or small group of people for 10 minutes.

4. Take on a role that requires social skills

This approach might be too overwhelming if you are extremely shy or socially anxious, but many people say that getting a job that involves working with the public is a very effective way to improve your social skills.

For example, you could get a weekend or evening job in retail or customer service or commit to volunteering for several hours per week at a local nonprofit.

5. Watch socially skilled people and learn from them

Discreetly watching socially skilled people can help you learn how to talk and act in social situations.

Ask yourself:

  • What is their energy level like?
  • How do they make other people feel?
  • Are they a positive or negative person to be around?
  • How do they make use of body language and eye contact when they socialize?
  • What kind of jokes do they make?
  • What do they tend to talk about?

Do not copy lines or jokes word for word or try to imitate every gesture. Look for general patterns. For example, you might realize that the most popular person in your class or office isn’t necessarily the wittiest or a great storyteller, but they smile a lot and seem genuinely interested in how everyone’s day is going.

Some people find that listening to podcasts and watching talk shows helps them understand what makes a conversation flow, but remember that, unlike normal conversations, they might be heavily edited to make them more entertaining.

6. Practice your social skills online

Online socializing is not a perfect substitute for in-person socializing, but it can be a good way to practice some key skills, and you might even make some friends.

If you talk to people via text, you can practice:

  • Starting a conversation
  • Opening up and sharing things about yourself
  • Bonding over common interests
  • Using humor

If you talk to people via voice or video chat, you can practice all of the above, plus:

Using and reading body language (if using video)

  • Keeping a conversation going in real time
  • Active listening

If you are very shy, start by sharing memes, articles, and quotes on social media or forums.

Next, try having back-and-forth exchanges, for example, on a forum thread. When you feel more confident, look for people you can chat to live or via webcam.

Read our article on how to make friends online for more tips, including the best websites and apps to meet people. We also have advice on what to do if you’re shy online.

7. Role-play social situations with a friend

Rehearsing specific skills with a trusted friend can improve your confidence and make you feel better prepared to deal with difficult social situations. Role-playing isn’t a substitute for real-world practice, but it can be a good starting point if you need a safe space to try out new ways of communicating and interacting with people.

For example, if you find it hard to be assertive at work but have an important conversation with your manager coming up, you could ask your friend to take on the role of “manager” for a few minutes so you can practice putting your points across and asking questions. Make sure your friend has all the background information they need to play their part realistically.

8. Try improv classes

Improv can improve your social skills because it teaches you to think on your feet. You’ll learn that you don’t need to overanalyze or prepare everything you say in every social situation.

To find improv classes, search “[your city] + improv classes.”

9. Join Toastmasters

Toastmasters is an organization that helps its members become better public speakers and communicators. Learning these skills can improve your social confidence.

If you attend the same Toastmasters club regularly, you might also make friends with people with similar goals.

10. Read books on social skills

Because so many people want help building their social skills and feel socially awkward, there are hundreds of books available on the subject. They can be a useful source of practical advice and step-by-step exercises.

But with so many books on the market, you might not know where to start. Check out these guides, which include specific recommendations for shy people, introverts, and people with autism spectrum disorders:

11. Take an online social skills training course

Some people find courses more engaging than books or articles. You can follow an online course at a pace that suits you. Many courses include useful materials, such as worksheets, for you to download and use. Read our reviews of the best courses on social skills.

12. Get therapy

Unguided self-help can help you feel more confident in social situations.[7] But if you’ve tried the tips in this guide for several weeks without much success, talking therapy could be a good idea.

A therapist can help you work through underlying insecurities, unhelpful thought patterns, relationship problems, mental health problems, or past trauma that might be making it hard for you to socialize and bond with other people. Another advantage of therapy is that it’s a safe place to practice your basic social skills, such as making eye contact and listening.

Ask your doctor to refer you to a therapist or check out BetterHelp for online therapy.

How to improve your conversation skills

Good conversations give you and another person a chance to learn more about each other, and they are the first step toward a new friendship. Try to practice starting conversations, keeping them going, and bringing them to a close.

1. Understand the value of small talk

Small talk might seem boring or pointless, especially if you prefer deep conversations. But small talk serves a purpose. It often helps put the other person at ease because it shows you have a grasp of basic social rules. You can use small talk to build rapport before moving on to more interesting conversations.

To start a conversation and signal that you’re open to communicating, you can:

  • Make a positive observation about your surroundings, e.g., “That painting is beautiful!”
  • Ask a question, e.g., “Do you know when the next train leaves?”
  • Ask for their opinion, e.g., “What do you think of the band?”
  • Comment on a shared experience, e.g., “That speech was very short.”
  • Give a compliment, e.g., “Your shoes are cool. Where did you get them?”

You could also state an opinion or give an observation, then follow it with a question. For example:

  • [At a wedding] “The ceremony was lovely; the vows were very touching. How do you know [the names of the couple]?
  • [At a business networking event] “Wow, it’s much busier than I thought! Which company are you with?”

See our guide to the best conversation starters and interesting small talk topics and this list of small talk questions for more inspiration.

2. Listen carefully during conversations

It’s common knowledge that listening to someone else is basic good manners and helps us to understand their point of view, but many of us find it difficult. This might be because we’re too distracted by what we are going to say next to listen properly or because we aren’t interested in what the other person is saying.

You can improve your listening skills by:

  • Waiting a couple of seconds before you speak to make sure the other person has finished making their point.
  • Using your body language to show that you are listening. Make eye contact, lean forward slightly, and nod occasionally to encourage the other person to keep talking.
  • If you aren’t sure whether you’ve understood what the other person has said, paraphrase their point and check that you’ve picked up on their meaning. For example, “You’re saying you had a busy day at work, but your boss didn’t appreciate your efforts, is that right?”

For more advice on this subject, see Verywell Mind’s guide to active listening.

3. Balance asking questions and sharing

Asking questions is a great way to get someone to open up. Questions also help you find things in common with another person, which can make it easier to bond with them.

However, you need to get the balance right. Asking too many questions can make someone feel as though they are being interrogated. On the other hand, asking few or no questions can make you come across as self-centered.

Try sharing a little about yourself, then add a related question. For example, let’s say someone tells you that they own a cat. You could say in response, “Oh, I have a cat too! I adopted her from the local rescue last year. What kind of personality does your cat have?”

It can also help to think about the type of questions you ask. Open-ended questions are often a good way to encourage someone to share interesting details.

For example, “Did you have a nice vacation?” is a closed question. It encourages the other person to answer with a “Yes” or “No,” which can make the conversation stall. But an open-ended question like, “What was the best thing about your vacation?” might prompt them to give you more information. This can make it easier to keep the conversation going because you’ll have more material to work with.

You may want to read our guide on how to have a conversation without asking too many questions. If you tend to speak at length about yourself, see our article on how to stop talking about yourself too much.

4. Learn the signs that a conversation is over

Look for verbal and non-verbal signs that a conversation is coming to a close, and learn how to end a conversation gracefully.

Verbal signs include:

  • Summarizing statements, e.g., “Well, it sounds like everything is working out for you!”
  • Short pleasantries, e.g., “It was good talking to you!”
  • References to tasks or other commitments that need their attention, e.g., “I’ve got a lot of work to catch up with this afternoon.”
  • Asking to meet or talk later, e.g., “I’ll call you later in the week and we can continue this conversation.”

Non-verbal signs include:

  • Appearing distracted
  • Looking at their watch or their phone
  • Packing up or picking up their belongings
  • Starting another task
  • Breaking eye contact more frequently and looking elsewhere

When you spot these signs, it’s probably time to end the conversation politely. For example, if they say “I’ve got a hectic afternoon lined up,” you could end the conversation with, “It’s been good to catch up. I’ll let you get on with your to-do list!”

5. Prepare for predictable conversations

Using rehearsed answers in conversations can make you come across as robotic. But sometimes, you can make a good guess about what kind of questions people will ask you. Preparing a couple of answers can help you feel more confident.

For example, if you go into the office one Monday morning after taking a week-long vacation, your coworkers will probably ask you questions like:

  • “So, how was your trip?”
  • “Did you have a good time on vacation?”
  • “What did you do on vacation?”

In this example, it would be a good idea to think of a short, interesting response that you could expand on if your coworkers ask for more details.

For instance:

  • “I had a great time! We went camping under the stars and went on a three-day hike.”
  • “It was so good to spend time at the beach. We went on a boat trip and saw lots of penguins.”
  • “Florence was fantastic. Seeing so much Renaissance art was wonderful, and the food was delicious.”

6. Know how to give appropriate compliments

Compliments can make other people feel appreciated. As a general rule, you should avoid commenting on someone’s face or body. Compliment someone on their skills, achievements, or style choices instead.

For example, “I really liked your presentation” or “Your scarf is cool, where did you get it?” are appropriate compliments, but more personal remarks like “You’re so pretty” are not unless you know the other person well.

Do not give lots of compliments, as this can come off as insincere or creepy.

Practice your body language and voice

You need to get lots of face-to-face practice if you want to improve your social aptitude, but there are a few skills you can practice alone.

1. Experiment with using facial expressions

Practice conveying different moods by changing your facial expression. Learn what it feels like to express happiness, concern, surprise, and sadness. However, be careful not to overdo it, or you’ll come across as fake. This video on facial expressions contains some useful exercises and advice.

2. Practice using your voice to express yourself

Experiment with varying your volume, pitch, and tone. People with good social skills often know how to use their voices to hold their audience’s attention. Read our guide on how to fix a monotone voice.

3. Experiment with body language and gestures

You can practice body language in front of a mirror. Experiment with sitting and standing in various positions. You’ll notice that changing your body language changes how you come across. For example, standing or sitting up straight with good posture will make you appear more confident. This video includes exercises you can do to improve your posture.

How to improve your social skills at work

You will probably find your job more enjoyable if you can socialize with your colleagues. Good social skills can also put you at an advantage when networking, interviewing for a new position, and putting your case forward for a promotion.

1. Volunteer for tasks that require social skills

If you can offer to take on a work-related task or responsibility that involves interacting with people, do it. Your supervisor will probably be impressed by your initiative, and you’ll get valuable practice in using your social and communication skills.

For example:

  • Offer to lead a meeting
  • Offer to give a presentation on behalf of your team
  • Offer to attend a conference on behalf of your company
  • Offering to help out at open days or other company events
  • Offer to plan work events

2. Invite your colleagues to hang out

Some people prefer to keep their professional and personal lives completely separate, but many are open to making friends with their coworkers. If you’d like to get to know your colleagues better, try asking them to spend time with you.

Start with a low-key invitation to grab a drink or snack during a coffee or lunch break.

For example:

“Have you seen the new coffee shop that’s opened around the corner? I was thinking about checking it out at lunchtime. Would anyone like to come with me?”

As you get to know your colleagues better, you can ask to meet up outside of working hours if you enjoy each others’ company.

For more detailed advice, see our guide on how to make friends at work.

3. Seek out chances to practice your skills

Socialize with your colleagues during the working day. Even if you are very busy, 5-10 minutes here and there is enough to build your relationships and practice your social skills.

For example:

  • Do not hide away during breaks. Go to the breakroom for a while and make small talk with your colleagues.
  • Hold discussions in person instead of sending emails or instant messages. If you work remotely, suggest a video call and have a live conversation.
  • Go to social events at work, such as company picnics or Friday evening happy hour. Going along for a short period, such as 30 minutes, is better than not going at all.

4. See social skills as part of your job

The next time you think, “I can’t stand talking to these people!” try telling yourself, “Talking to people isn’t my favorite part of this job, but it’s one of my professional duties. I’m going to try my best.” Even if a customer or colleague annoys you, try to take pride in being calm and professional.

How to improve your social skills at college

College is a great opportunity to make friends and potential contacts who could help you in your career. It’s also a good place to practice your social skills because you will meet a lot of new people. But to get the most out of college, you’ll need to push yourself to interact with other students.

1. Go where the other students are

Hang out in high-traffic areas such as:

  • Shared living areas in your dorm
  • The dining hall, cafeteria, or pub
  • The gym
  • The library

Practice making small talk with other students. You don’t need to say anything profound. Remember, the purpose of small talk is to signal that you are friendly and open to interaction. It’s OK to make a simple, positive statement or ask a mundane question.

For example:

  • [In a shared dorm area]: “I love this couch. It’s so comfortable!”
  • [In the gym]: “Hey, do you know what time this place opens tomorrow?”

Our guide on how to talk to strangers without being awkward includes tips on what to say and how to start a conversation with someone you don’t know.

2. Join a club to meet likeminded students

On-campus clubs and societies are a great way to meet students who share your interests, hobbies, or beliefs. Join several clubs during your first couple of weeks on campus. Find one that meets regularly so you can get to know the other members.

If you meet someone you like, get their contact details, keep in touch, and ask them if they’d like to meet up. We have in-depth advice on how to turn an acquaintance into a friend in this guide: How to make friends (From “hi” to hanging out)

3. Practice speaking up in classes and seminars

Challenge yourself to share your opinions and ask questions in class. If you do this on a regular basis, the other students will learn your name and become familiar with you. This might make them more comfortable speaking to you outside of class.

For more tips on socializing in college, check out this guide:

Common questions

How long does it take to improve your social skills?

This depends on a number of factors, including how much time you are willing to spend practicing, how shy you are, and the number of opportunities you get to practice on a day-to-day basis. As a general rule, the more practice you get, the faster you’ll improve.

What causes poor social skills?

Your parents or carers might not have taught or modeled basic social skills, or you may have lost your social skills from a lack of practice. Autism spectrum disorders,[8] depression, and anxiety can also make it difficult to handle social situations.

Show references +

Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages Socialpro’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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