Your social skill level is one of the most important professional skills to focus on, as it can be used in almost every setting, from workplace interactions to personal social gatherings. Many elements of modern society require socialisation, whether we like it or not. Knowing how to interact with people is a big part of attaining professional goals and personal happiness.
No matter your level of effectiveness, social skills can always be honed and improved. This article takes you through 30 tips and tricks to improve your social skills, and how they can benefit you in various settings.
1. Remember people’s names
Everyone loves to hear their own name — even more so if they don’t expect you to use it. Jodi RR Smith from Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting says, “Just as it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed, so too should an individual's name default to their formal address. This means that when meeting someone new, you should address him or her by a title (such as Mr, Mrs, Ms, or Dr) and their last name”. She goes on to explain that once you have permission to use a first name, then you can do so freely. Take some time to remember names of acquaintances and use them frequently when you are in social settings. Doing so will add credibility to your social prowess, as well as demonstrating attention to detail.
2. Remember people’s stories and backgrounds
Everyone has a story to tell or an interesting fact that makes them unique. Learn these stories as you get to know people. If you have trouble remembering these things, maybe make a note in a small notebook, which you can refer to before you go out. People love to hear about themselves, so asking people about their family, a recent holiday or a positive event will go down very well indeed.
3. Set your own social development goals
The best way to work on your social skills is to set goals. Sit down and decide what you want to accomplish socially over the next 6 to 12 months. This can be a large or personally challenging goal, such as “Attend a networking event by myself and introduce myself to ten people”. Then, break this down into smaller, easier to attain, short-term goals, which will prepare you to achieve the big one. Liz Hogan, a career expert and job search specialist from FindMyProfession, says “creating S.M.A.R.T goals will help you measure and improve your social skills and will give you an idea of how to improve them further in the future”. She advises creating Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound goals that you can achieve easily, and goals that you can assess accordingly once completed.
4. Develop your emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is a vital element of social skill. Emotional intelligence is the art of reading people’s moods, body language and using questions or conversation to understand how someone might be feeling (remember, this might be different from what they are actually saying). It enables you to read social cues and progress an interaction in an appropriate way. By developing your emotional intelligence, you’ll be able to judge the correct tone and topics to use with different individuals, and this will help you work efficiently.
5. Compliment others
Everyone loves a compliment! Handing out frequent (but appropriate) compliments to people in your social circles will always go down well. This might include how much you admire the way they work, their knowledge, or a careful, glowing remark on a nice shirt someone is wearing. Complimenting is a great ‘way in’ to a conversation, and you never know, you might just receive one in return!
6. Socialise (and keep off your phone)
It seems odd to say, but improving your social skills requires socialisation. Weird, right? Make the effort to go to get-togethers or networking events, and when you are there, contribute and talk to people (don’t just go to be a wallflower). Avoid the temptation to bury yourself in your phone, especially if you don’t have anyone to talk to. Turn it off, approach someone you don’t know, and introduce yourself.
7. Start small
If socialising doesn’t come naturally to you, or you are introverted, then don’t go too crazy about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone too soon. This will only cause you unnecessary stress and increase your resentment of social activity. Instead, start small. Go to smaller events where there is more chance of falling into a conversation. If (or when) you begin to feel uncomfortable, leave. Gradually build up your tolerance levels.
8. Actively listen
Listening is central to great conversation. When asking questions, complimenting others or simply being part of a group of people socialising, listen to what is being said. This will give you cues on where to jump in and what to say next. Actively listening involves demonstrating to others that you are listening, through positive body language (such as nodding and eye contact) and effective use of questions. Active listening also allows you to pick up on cues, which is handy for workplace interactions.
9. Ask open questions
Asking open questions (ones which often start with “what”, “where”, “when”, “who”, “why”, and “how”) are great ways to advance a conversation naturally. Remember, people love to be asked about themselves, and open questions are very effective at inviting this. Take some time to research who you will be meeting, so you can prepare appropriate questions.
10. Invite others to talk about themselves
Resist the temptation to talk about yourself too much or without invitation — people will not always appreciate this, and while they might entertain you for a short while, they will rarely want to circle back to you for more. Enquiring about people based on what you remember about them is more polite and will usually result in them reciprocating by asking about you as well.
11. Learn the art of storytelling
A whole separate skill in itself, the art of storytelling is a powerful tool to engage people and move your social skills far beyond a few pleasant questions back and forth. Storytelling can bring experiences to life, help you share anecdotes — which can involve talking about people you are socialising with — flatter acquaintances, or highlight their achievements or work. In short, storytelling makes you memorable and moreish.
12. Focus on your body language
The phrase “a picture tells a thousand words” also holds true when applied to socialisation. Your body language will tell acquaintances a lot more about your social skills than the words you use. They will use what they see to form opinions about how well you socialise and interact with others. Display perfect body language by focusing on appropriate gestures and expressions, perfect posture, and through active listening as well. Aaron Case, a career counsellor for ResumeGenius, says, “Make eye contact and smile at people, stand up straight, and uncross your arms. Declare yourself open for socialising with your nonverbal posturing, and the social butterflies in your office will gravitate toward you and pull you into conversations”.
13. Focus on your tone and vocalisations
Almost as important as body language is intonation. Be sure to speak articulately and with appropriate emotion and passion. This will convince others to listen and engage with you, therefore facilitating conversation. Tone also includes clear speech, such as volume, pace and enunciation. Take time to practise these areas to improve them over time.
14. Research who you are talking to
Where possible, read up on who you might be meeting in a work or social setting. Not only will this enable you to prepare effective questions, but you will also be likely to recall names and events associated with them. Researching the people you’ll be networking with might also calm any nerves you have about socialisation, as it removes some uncertainty over what to expect.
15. Read up on current events
Head into a social setting with an arsenal of small talk available to share. Reading up on current news, culture and sporting events will guarantee plenty of talking points and enable you to contribute to a wide variety of discussions, appearing well-informed along the way.
16. Observe others or find a ‘wingman’
One of the best ways to work on your social skills is to observe how others socialise and interact in groups. Obviously, it might be a little ‘creepy’ to spy on random people near you who you perceive to have excellent social skills, so maybe attend events with an outgoing friend or colleague. This way, this ‘wingman’ can share a few tips and tricks with you, and they may introduce you to new people.
17. Socialise in neutral environments
If you are nervous about socialisation, choosing a neutral environment may ease these feelings. Neutral environments can be somewhere equally familiar or unfamiliar to everyone in the social setting. This could be an event space, coffee shop or meeting room. Such environments help to level the playing field in terms of socialisation power and control.
18. Join a club or class based on your interests
Joining a club or class connected to one of your hobbies or interests is a great way to meet like-minded people. From here on, honing your social skills will be a lot easier, as you will be interacting with individuals who you know you will have at least one thing in common with.
19. Get to social gatherings early
If you are nervous about large crowds or introducing yourself into well-mixed groups, then consider attending social events a little easier. Doing this will almost ‘force’ you to interact with the limited crowd already present, and as people gradually arrive, you will find flicking between groups and creating rapport happens organically.
20. Get feedback
Solicit feedback from others on how to socialise. This is easy to do if you have arrived at a social event with someone else, or a ‘wingman’. Constructive feedback will help you develop approaches or techniques to improve your social skills. It’s important to act on whatever feedback is offered to you, even if you don’t like it.
21. Have a ‘script’
Prepare a script of safe, universal topics to break the ice and generate conversation. This script, which might only exist in your head, and not in writing, will generally consist of so-called ‘taxi-driver talk’, referring to simple conversation starters, such as a recent sports game, non-religious and non-political positive news topics, or, if you are in the UK, the weather!
22. Speak clearly
Softly spoken or quiet individuals tend to be misheard, talked over, or even ignored. If this is you, develop your voice and tone to sound confident and authoritative without going over the edge to being loud or abrasive. This way, you will catch people’s attention whenever you speak up.
23. Be yourself
It is tempting to put on a false facade to make yourself more interesting or appealing. Resist this and rely on your natural charm and personality. You can enhance this using storytelling and effective questioning, which are both great tools to showcase yourself as engaging and natural. Keeping up a false facade is exhausting and not sustainable. It is much easier to be who you really are. Even in the new world of remote working, it’s important to communicate effectively and build genuine relationships with your colleagues.
24. Understand established norms and rules
Every social setting has its own norms. These are often unwritten qualities regarding formality, topics, taboos, or respecting boundaries. Ensure that you are aware of any such norms before you enter the social situation. Doing so will ensure you are accepted and avoid any embarrassment for yourself or others.
25. Bring other people into the conversation
Including others and bringing quieter people into the conversation is a noble social skill. Over time, as an experienced socialiser, you can help quieter acquaintances by asking them questions or inviting their input as part of a group. This is a respected skill and also shows high emotional intelligence.
26. Know your energy hours
For the most social butterflies, an ‘energy hour’ might be all day and all night. However, if you find social situations exhausting or difficult, then work out what times you are at your most lively and accepting of social interaction. Try, as much as you can, to schedule your social interactions according to these times, so you can be at your very best.
27. Take a personality test
Personality tests will give you some form of social or personality profile, which will help you understand what kind of social approach suits you best, or the best ways for you to interact with others. Popular personality tests include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the Caliper Profile, the HEXACO Personality Inventory, and the Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance test (DISC).
28. Know when to leave
As social animals, humans are at their most effective when they want to socialise and interact with others. When this desire subsides, it’s time to leave the social setting. Fatigue does little for socialisation and can even undo positive connections. Getting some rest and time to recharge works wonders.
29. Avoid controversial topics
When socialising, it’s best to keep to subjects which are less inflammatory or polarising. Topics that invite fierce debate because of impassioned or inflexible views and values will make for awkward — and sometimes explosive — conversations, or even worse, silence. These subjects include religion, money and politics. Steer conversation away from such areas and pleasant, free flowing conversation will follow.
30. Keep it positive
Where possible, keep conversation topics positive. Focus on more pleasant, jovial subjects and if you do pursue more serious forms of discussion, do not get too serious too quickly or with people you do not know well. If you socialise over current events, then try to choose more positive news stories.
Use every social interaction as a chance to learn and improve your social skills. As you become more experienced, these should improve over time. Some people automatically take to social skills like a duck to water, where others need a little more time and require more development to pick up effective socialisation techniques.
By becoming familiar with the above tips, you’ll improve your communication skills significantly, which can increase your productivity and can benefit innovation in the workplace too. Make sure to reflect on your social skills after every interaction, and look for ways to continuously improve, both at work and at home.
Join the conversation! Do you feel a little awkward in social situations? Do you feel your lacking social skills are affecting your career progression? Let us know if these tips helped you in the comments below.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 22 March 2018.