How To Be Socially Adept and Socially Skilled

“How do I become more socially adept? I want to feel more comfortable talking to people and be less socially awkward. I want people to find me approachable. What should I be doing?”

I can relate to this question. Growing up as an only child and rather spending time by myself growing up, socializing didn’t come naturally to me.

Strong social skills aren’t always inherent. Not everyone is born a social butterfly. With practice and dedication, you can improve. My goal with this guide is to teach you the methods I’ve learned over the years for how to be socially adept.

What does it mean to be socially adept?

Socially adept people have the skills and competence to thrive in various social settings. They tend to enjoy interacting with others, and they get along with people easily. They know how to keep conversations going, and they’re usually great with small talk.

Socially adept people are usually popular. They tend to have many friends, and they also enjoy maintaining their friendships. Finally, they may have greater success at school and in the workplace.

Finally, socially adept people don’t show these signs of poor social skills:

  • Lack of self-confidence.
  • Poor communication.
  • Inability to take feedback.
  • Extreme reactions to various situations.

Instead, they tend to be flexible, easy-going, and attuned to their needs and the needs of others.

To be socially adept is the opposite of being socially inept.

How Can You Become More Socially Adept?

There are several steps you can take to build strong social skills. Of course, it’s important to remember that you won’t develop these skills overnight. It takes time, practice, and having a motivated mindset. For more tips, see our guide on how to be more social.

1. Make a good first impression

Research shows that it only takes a tenth of a second for a stranger to form an impression about you.[1] You want to learn how to make the most of that short time.

Socially adept people tend to make great first impressions. Their energy is usually infectious, and people want to be around them.

To make an excellent first impression, consider these tips:

Be on time

Lateness can be frustrating for other people. Always plan on arriving early. Planning will allow for traffic issues, getting lost, or any other delays. It’s better to be early or exactly on time than risk being late.

Remember their name

People always feel appreciated when you remember their name. If you tend to forget easily, try to get in the habit of repeating their name just after they tell you. For example, if they say, Hi, I’m Adam, you could follow up with, It’s nice to meet you, Adam.

Start with a genuine compliment

Make a note about something positive. This compliment should be as sincere as possible. For example, if you’re meeting a neighbor for the first time, you might say, your garden looks so beautiful. If a waitress asks you about your day, you could respond with a simple, It’s been good. How about yourself? I can’t believe you remembered all our orders without writing them down!

Look presentable

People do make judgments based on external appearances. You want to look appropriate and presentable, even if you don’t care about fashion. You also want to make sure you are following good hygiene and grooming habits every day.

2. Work on your body language

Body language is so important for developing good social skills. It’s a key component people use when forming their first impressions about you.

Socially skilled people usually don’t just talk well. They also often use engaging body language when interacting with other people. In other words, they naturally come across as approachable. That makes people want to keep talking to them.

Maintain appropriate eye contact

Confident people maintain appropriate eye contact when talking to other people. Eye contact can be tricky- too little of it can make you look anxious or insecure. Too much can seem overwhelming or even intimidating. Our comprehensive guide on eye contact can help you strike the right balance.

Focus on your posture

Confident people stand up straight and walk into rooms looking their best. For more on bettering your posture, check out this guide by MedlinePlus.

Smile

When you’re smiling, you’re seen as approachable. Smiling is also contagious, which means your smile is likely to trigger a smile in return. Remember to smile whenever you greet someone or say goodbye. You don’t need to smile all the time. In fact, a constant smile can be a sign of anxiety.[3] You do, however, always want to have an open and friendly facial expression when you interact with people:

Look “open”

When people look open, they look more approachable. Openness is in all parts of the body. For example, it means turning your torso and feet towards the other person. Your legs and arms shouldn’t be crossed. But rather than trying to change how you act, which can feel overwhelming, change how you feel. Before meeting someone, tell yourself the mantra, “This person and I are already friends”. Having this mantra in mind can help you feel more relaxed and open toward the person.

3. Understand the triggers that make you socially awkward

Think about the people, places, or things that trigger you into feeling uncomfortable. Are there any persistent patterns?

If you’re not sure, consider using a thought record to track your emotions, thoughts, and feelings. You can also keep a journal and write down whenever you notice yourself feeling anxious, uncomfortable, or awkward.

Once you recognize these triggers, make a working list of coping skills you can use to help regulate your mood. Some coping skills may include:

  • Take several deep breaths.
  • Tell myself that I’m a work-in-progress and that it’s okay to make mistakes.
  • Remind myself that other people also feel nervous.
  • Text a friend that I know makes me feel safe.
  • Compliment someone else.

4. Be present when you’re around people

Many people spend so much time multitasking that they don’t focus on the people around them. This distraction can make it difficult to pay attention and connect with others.

When people are talking, and they sense you aren’t listening, it can make them feel frustrated or embarrassed. It can also make them wonder if they’re even worth your time.

Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the present moment. This practice allows you to give people your full, undivided attention. To improve your mindfulness skills, check out this article by Mindworks.

5. Show interest in people’s stories

When it comes to being socially skilled, listening can be even more important than talking. To become a better listener, try these tips.

Try to stop judging the other person

We all judge, but if someone thinks you’re judging them, they may become frustrated or defensive. Instead, try to imagine what the other person might be feeling. Think about where they are coming from. This is known as empathy, and it’s an important skill to cultivate.

Remember to W.A.I.T

W.A.I.T stands for “Why am I talking?” It’s a good reminder to think about when you find yourself talking excessively or when you want to blurt something out.[2]

Ask meaningful questions

This suggestion is a bit more subjective because it can be challenging to know what to ask. But if you listen and avoid judging, the questions may come more naturally. Keep in mind that most people enjoy talking about themselves. Some good questions to ask after a story are

What happened after that?

-What do you think you’ll do differently next time?

-How did you know to make that decision?

-How did that make you feel?

6. Try to remember details in people’s stories

People tend to feel special when they feel understood. They feel understood when you remember unique details about their lives. Try to check in regularly about upcoming events or situations.

If you struggle with remembering details, consider writing them down or putting them in your phone. This small habit helps people feel appreciated and respected.

For example, if you know your friend has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, you could set a reminder to text him at 4:00pm to ask him how it went. If a coworker tells you about an upcoming project, you could remind yourself to follow up with them in a couple of days to ask about their progress.

7. Create more opportunities for socialization

Although it may seem scary, socially adept people practice socialization on a regular basis. You need to be socializing often to get better at it.

Make specific plans

Don’t just text a friend and say, we should hang out sometime! Instead, say something like, I’m free this Sunday night. Do you want to have dinner at that new Mexican restaurant? This question requires an actual commitment from both people. If that person says no, it’s okay to move onto asking someone else.

Practice small talk during every errand

Challenge yourself to talk to a stranger during every errand you run. Over time, these small experiences amount to tons of practice. These interactions can be as simple as asking the grocery clerk about how her day is going or telling the guy at the car wash that he did a great job on the tires.

Say yes to social invitations

Try to get out there as often as you can. At first, you may feel terrified. This is normal. But if you continue to stay in your comfort zone, it’s nearly impossible to grow. Social events allow you to practice your skills, and the more you practice them, the more chances you have at making improvements.

8. Embrace being an introvert

There’s nothing wrong with being introverted. In fact, many introverts are socially adept because they value authentic conversation and genuine connections.

Learn more about introversion

Introversion isn’t a flaw or character defect. It’s just a personality trait. Educate yourself about introversion. Doing so may help you feel less insecure and alone.

Focus on your strengths

Introverts tend to be excellent with concentration and focus. They also make for great listeners. Try to remember these strengths the next time you interact with someone.

Devote more time to 1:1 interactions or small groups

High-quality interactions will make you happier than having lots of mediocre conversations in large groups. If you prefer spending time with one person (or a few people), make that a priority.

This article offers many tips for becoming a social introvert.

9. Learn to cope with social anxiety

Social anxiety can get in the way of developing good social skills. When you’re anxious, you tend to be preoccupied with how other people perceive you. You may assume they are thinking the worst.

Instead, it’s important to focus on learning to manage your social anxiety. Even though there isn’t a cure for anxiety, these tips can help you feel more confident.

Keep working on your self-esteem

This suggestion extends beyond your interactions with others. Socially adept people come across as confident, and that’s because they tend to like themselves! To get better in this area, check out our guide on the best self-esteem books.

Remember most people get socially anxious

You’re not the only one who feels afraid during social interactions. Nobody wants to look like a fool, and everyone wants to fit in. Try to keep that in mind the next time you feel like everyone else is completely confident.

Eliminate all-or-nothing thinking

All-or-nothing thinking can sound like, I never do a good job with public speeches, or, people always think I sound dumb. These statements are extreme, and they tend to be inaccurate. Instead, try to focus on using more realistic statements like, I sometimes struggle with public speaking or, maybe it’s possible that some people think I sound dumb. The goal isn’t to necessarily change your thinking entirely- it’s just about finding more of a middle ground.

Visualize having a positive interaction

Before you engage in a social activity, spend a moment visualizing how you want to act. Close your eyes and think about yourself being socially adept. What do you notice yourself saying or doing? This quick activity can set the stage for you feeling more confident when approaching others.

See our guide on how to not get nervous around people. In this list, we’ve ranked the best social anxiety books.

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David Morin is the founder of SocialPro. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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