How to Become More Socially Adept

Scientifically reviewed by Viktor Sander B.Sc., B.A.

So your social skills need a refresher. Maybe you’ve been out of the dating game for a while and you need to brush up a bit before you dive back in. Or perhaps your social life is in a rut and you need a boost.

1. Social conversation skills

Social conversation skills encompass everything that comes out of your mouth when you’re in a social setting.

This includes: asking questions, stating opinions, sharing personal details, getting others involved in conversation, politely ending a conversation, and more.

Your ability to make conversation is one of the most important factors in your overall social success because this is the one category that, when improperly developed, can tank your social life no matter how socially skilled you are in the other categories.

Making conversation can be broken down into two main parts:

  1. Providing a response
  2. Eliciting a response

When someone speaks to you, your job is to say something appropriately relevant in return.  When you speak to someone else, your intent is to obtain a response.

When providing a response, you

  1. Agree/disagree, and/or
  2. Share your thoughts/opinions/personal experiences

There is a good way and a bad way to provide a response using these two components. The way you do these two things is an important factor in 1) whether the conversation will continue or not, and 2) how it will progress if it does continue.

The following lists will summarize the best options for providing responses based on the structure of a response explained above.

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When agreeing, say:

  • That’s true/You’re exactly right/You hit the nail on the head when you said _______.
  • Yes, and also __________.
  • Wow, I hadn’t thought of that before.
  • I think so, too.

When disagreeing, say:

  • I feel differently because ___________.
  • In my opinion, ___________.
  • I don’t think so because ___________.
  • I heard something different. [Explain]

When responding to a request for thoughts/opinions/personal information, begin with:

  • I think/feel/prefer/enjoy _____________ because _____________.
  • I once [went/did/experienced this] [during this time period] [to accomplish/do/see this], and [learned/discovered/experienced/felt this way].  For example, I once went to Alaska during my junior year of college for a course on mountaineering, and the landscape was beautiful.
  • I [experienced this] [as a result of this], and now I [think/feel/believe/understand as a result].  For example, I taught in inner-city Memphis because that’s where I got my degree, and now I understand why their teacher turnover rate is so high.

Be prepared to go into more detail after using any of these “response starters.”

If someone else has initiated a conversation and you have provided a response using the above “starters,” it’s important to keep the conversation moving with part 2, which is eliciting a response.

The following “response getters” can be added to the end of your response if you feel that your response alone is not enough to keep the other person involved in the conversation.  The “response getters” can also be used in isolation as a means of changing the subject within the conversation or, at times, to start a conversation with someone you already know.

Response Getters:

  • I [think/feel/notice/believe x opinion], do you?/don’t you think?
  • What did you mean when you said __________?
  • What do you think about [detail of current event/activity taking place]?
  • Do you remember when ________?
  • Have you seen/heard __________?

If used in the midst of an existing conversation, each of these response getters should be completed in a way that is relevant to the topic at hand.  It is impolite to change the subject abruptly.

Now that you know the basics of providing and eliciting responses within an already-established conversation, it’s time to brush up on starting a new conversation.

The most natural way to start a new conversation is to either ask a question or state an opinion based on some aspect of the current situation. You don’t want your new conversation to be too random or off-the-wall and frighten away your target.

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Tip: If you choose to start a conversation by stating an opinion, adding a brief question to the end will ensure you get a response.

  • What do you think about [the cheesecake/the Polka music playing in the background/the painting of a purple pony in the corner/etc.]?
  • I really like/hate [this cheesecake/the Polka music playing in the background/that painting of a purple pony in the corner/etc.]. Do you?
  • [State opinion], don’t you think?
  • [State opinion]. What about you?

If your sense of humor is a strong point, making a joke or saying something witty is another way to start a new conversation.

2. Social listening skills

Social listening skills differ from your average, everyday listening skills because their purpose is to process what someone else is saying in order to form an immediate response.

Social listening skills are also a critical part of “reading between the lines” and determining what type of person someone is based on what they’re saying– or not saying.

Developing good social listening skills is important to show that you care about other people by paying attention to them. Developing great listening skills is one of the most important parts to help anyone go from socially inept to socially skilled.

If you hone your conversational skills but spend all your time talking and none of it listening, people will avoid spending time around you in the future.

The first way to have good social listening skills is to ask clarifying questions. Clarifying questions allow the other person to restate something they’ve previously said so that you can better understand them.

Doing this shows that you’re listening and that it’s important for you to understand the person who’s speaking.

Clarifying questions include:

  • What did you mean when you said ________?
  • When you said _________, did you mean [this] or [this]?
  • Can you say that again?
  • What does _________ mean?
  • I’ve never heard of _________ before.

In addition to asking clarifying questions when necessary, the easiest way to have good social listening skills is simply to respond when someone speaks.

I don’t know about you, but way too many times in social settings I’ve made a statement or asked a question that nobody responded to. There’s no faster way to make someone feel embarrassed, excluded, and unimportant than by ignoring what they’ve said.

Even if it was a small statement that doesn’t warrant a full-fledged response, making eye contact with the speaker and nodding or simply saying “Yeah!” will suffice to acknowledge that they’ve spoken. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but brushing off someone’s comment can be hurtful and damaging to them.

The last major component of social listening skills is remembering the details people share with you to bring up again in future conversations.

If everything someone tells you goes in one ear and out the other, they’re going to notice pretty quickly.  Making a habit of this will guarantee that they don’t share things with you again in the future.

The socially adept person remembers the details brought up in conversation as well as the ones mentioned in passing and follows up on them later.  This makes people feel special and cared for, and your social perception will skyrocket.

Focusing more on what you’re going to say next than on what is being said by the current speaker is the number one way that people accidentally sabotage their social listening skills.

If you’ve brushed up on your social conversation skills, then you can pay attention to other people with confidence in your ability to respond at the proper time.

3. Social confidence

You can master your social conversation skills and your social listening skills, but you must also possess the confidence to apply them to become more socially skilled. Social confidence is the belief that you are able to successfully interact with other people in social settings and the belief that you are worthy of their time and attention.

Developing social confidence requires an intentional shift in your mindset; you must determine your positive attributes and choose to dwell on them rather than on your shortcomings.

Here’s a good guide on how to build your confidence. And here’s our guide on how to get a confident body language.

Training and developing your social skills is important for experiencing success at your job, in your personal relationships, and as you socialize.  Focusing on your social conversation skills, your social listening skills, and your social confidence will give you a firm foundation on which to begin your social journey.

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Finally, social confidence is built slowly and gradually be getting more social experience. Read more here on how to be more social.

4. 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.

5. 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.”

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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 a conversation with you if you express an interest in what they have to say.

Go here for more tips on making conversation.

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]

6. Assertiveness

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:

  1. Am I afraid to say what I really think? or
  2. 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.

Read more: The best books to improve your social skills.

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Amanda is an introvert who's experienced too many awkward moments (of her own making) to count. Amanda has a cat, a coffee obsession, and more books than one person should reasonably own. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development and Learning from the University of Memphis in Memphis, TN, where she did extensive study of lifespan psychology.

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