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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.
Either way, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve narrowed down an expansive list of social “do’s” and “don’ts” into three primary categories of social skills for adults:
- Conversation skills
- Listening skills
Every other social necessity you can think of can be found within one of these categories, so familiarizing yourself with the three umbrella skills is the quickest way for you to become more socially skilled.
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:
- Providing a response
- 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
- Agree/disagree, and/or
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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 because you must show that you care about other people by paying attention to them in order to be likable and socially successful. 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 to 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.
The biggest challenge to overcome for people who believe they have subpar social skills is their lack of self-confidence.
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.
This change in your thinking will not happen by accident or over time; it is only through intentionally replacing each negative thought you have about yourself with a positive one that you will experience an increase in self-esteem.
It is very helpful to keep a journal in which you daily write down at least five positive affirmations about yourself. Over time, these positive affirmations will become ingrained in your mind and you will begin to actually believe them to be true.
Each time you experience a negative thought such as “Nobody likes me” or “I’m too awkward to make any friends,” immediately stop, think “No, that’s not true,” and recite one of your five affirmations.
Eventually, your negative thoughts about yourself will be entirely replaced with positive ones. Instead of using negative self-talk, you will be able to look at your shortcomings as areas to implement goal-setting rather than seeing them as characteristics that define you.
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.
Read more: The best books to improve your social skills.
Which of the three main social skills do you need to work on most?