Often I hear people tell me that they struggle with social skills. Whether it is social anxiety, or not knowing how to correctly read other people, there are ways that we can learn and push ourselves that can greatly benefit our interactions with other people. If we can improve these interactions, we can further our social life, our work life, and our relationships.
1. Learning to Read Body Language: Were you aware that 97% of communication is unspoken. This means it is our looks, our body language, and the way that we carry ourselves. People can struggle with both their ability to read what these qualities mean in others, as well as their personal awareness of the signs they are giving off to others. There are many things we are doing that we are unaware of. I had a supervisor point out to me that it actually looked like I was rolling my eyes at people if I was thinking really hard about something. Had they not pointed this out, I would have kept doing this behavior, and probably ended up with many people feeling unintentionally disrespected. Learning other people's "micro-expressions," which are subtle signs of changes in mood, as well as their more obvious large changes in expressions, helps us to understand others far more. '
2. How we carry ourselves in an interview: This is an important area that many people do not give enough thought too. They may learn about the company, they may prep for answers to common questions, but what they fail to do is think about the social skills they are presenting during an interview. It is said that an interviewer decides within the first 60 seconds of meeting you, whether they would truly consider you for a position or not. A large part of this is social skills and body language. If we walk in with a weak hand shake, lack of eye contact, lots of "ums and ah's," as well as seem genuinely uneasy during the interview, we are setting ourselves up for a rejection. If we walk in with a firm handshake, good eye contact, and an air of confidence, we have a much better chance of being a serious consideration.
3. Have some topics to use in your back pocket: This is a great skill to learn for those with social anxiety, and fear of new social situations. If you are uncomfortable in new social situations, if you worry that you have nothing to contribute to a conversation, or if small talk makes you nervous, simply have a few good conversation starters or stories in your back pocket. This will help you prevent any awkward silences, engage the group, and make you feel more confident in situations like this in the future after you have a few go well, and see that you actually do possess the needed skills.
4. Learn to be an active listener: This is an important skill to develop. If we do not learn to be good listeners, and to show genuine interest in others, we will not go far in multiple areas of our lives. What are some good signs of active listening? Make good eye contact with the person, repeat back your understanding, or paraphrase back what they have told you, or express your common understanding and interest in what they are saying. A poor listening skill is to be waiting for them to stop talking to say what you were going to say anyway, or playing the game of "one-upping" them with a story of how something even more outrageous happened to you. This is not about competition, this is about letting them know they are heard, and that you are interested. Get professional help to hone this skill if needed.
5. Shut down outside distractions: We are so "connected" these days, by phone, iPad, TV, and radio that we can lose the connection we have in true conversation due to outside distractions. I cannot think of how many times I see groups of people eating a meal and they are all on their phones, or how many times I have been on vacation and seen people miss once in a lifetime experiences because they are too busy "checking in" on their phone. To truly be engaged with the people you are with, and the experiences you are having, from the simple dinner, to a vacation, you need to check out from technology, and check in to the people and the places around you. You will be amazed how much more connected, and how much more enjoyable the experience becomes once you put down the phone and listen to the person in front of you, or look around at the world around you. Connect with the world, not technology, and you will greatly improve your social skills, and your life.