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Social skills

Asking questions, introducing yourself and listening – all examples of social skills. We need social skills to manage everyday affairs. They also help us with larger decisions in life, such as applying for a job or starting a relationship.

Because they are skills, you can learn social skills throughout life. If a certain interactional situation feels challenging, you can strengthen your skills to act in the situation by practising them. Confidence and ease in interaction are achieved by repetition, practice and experience.

In new situations in life, such as beginning new studies or at a new job, we will also have to practise our social interaction skills in a new way.

Social skills for all purposes

Social skills become visible in the way we act in both familiar and unfamiliar interactional situations. The following are examples of situations where you use your social skills:

  • Meeting people and starting to talk with them
  • Working in groups
  • Asking for advice
  • Listening
  • Handing out and receiving compliments
  • Expressing your opinion

Being social is different from social skills

Some people naturally feel at home in social situations. They actively make contact with other people and are talkative. It might be that being social is the innate temperament of socially agile people.

Social temperament, however, is not the same thing as good social skills. Everyone needs to practise social skills. For very extrovert, social people, listening might be something that needs practice. By contrast, shy and silent people might well have excellent social skills.

Social skills improve with practice

You can practise social skills with people you know by discussing things or by concretely practising specific communication situations. Practising helps you feel more comfortable in a real situation.

A good way of practising social skills is watching how others behave. How do they enter situations? What do they say? How do they react to other people?

How do you act in social situations?

You could occasionally pause to examine what kind of an outward impression you give of yourself. Your face, manner of speaking and attitude all affect the first impressions people get of you.

Your own behaviour might give others the impression that you are not interested in them or would rather be left alone. This stops people from approaching you and interaction remains at a minimum. Others think that you do not want to talk right now.

Things that you can pay attention to include the following:

  • Do I remember to introduce myself to new people?
  • Do I respond to greetings and questions directed at me?
  • Do I listen to other people; do I give them a chance to speak?
  • Do I look people in the eyes when talking to them?
  • Do I express my own opinions in conversations?
  • Do I remember to use the words ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’ and ‘please’?

You could also consider how your own mood affects interaction with others. When you are in a bad mood, you might interpret others’ behaviour towards you as avoidant or rude even though it might not be the case. Alternatively, when you are irritated, you might communicate in a way that you would not want to yourself.

Sometimes communication situations just do not work out

Mistakes and setbacks occur when communicating with others. Avoiding them is not possible – they are a part of life. No-one behaves smoothly all the time, finds the right words and controls their emotions in all situations. You can move forward from situations by encouraging yourself. You will also have collected more experiences. It is also comforting to know that others will not remember as much as you think.

Confidence and ease in interaction are achieved by repetition, practice and experience.

Conflicts are also a part of interaction. Thankfully, we have opportunities to return to situations afterwards. If you are left wondering about something someone said, you can simply ask them to clarify the matter. Sometimes it has all been a misunderstanding. Working out conflict situations is worth it so that unpleasant experiences would not weigh on your mind.

You should not get discouraged by rude behaviour either. The way people regard you does not necessarily have anything to do with you. The person in question might have their own worries and troubles that make them behave rudely or seem disinterested.