Regardless of the industry or area you work in, developing strong social skills and becoming a more effective communicator will benefit you in more ways than one.
Some examples of social skills that are invaluable in the workplace include empathy, the ability to listen, verbal and written communication, as well as nonverbal communication, which includes eye contact, body language and tone of voice. These social skills are often also referred to as “soft” skills.
Although there is some evidence to suggest that certain traits such as sociability or social anxiousness are at least partly hereditary, for the most part, social skills are learned over longer periods of time. Poor social skills can result from a lack of face-to-face communication and exposure to situations that require in-person interaction.
Fortunately, with regular practice, developing social skills and becoming more comfortable interacting with different groups of people is entirely possible. Of course, social skills for adults are somewhat different than those for kids, but the principles remain the same regardless of your age.
So if you’re wondering how to improve social skills, here are some important steps you can take towards becoming a more effective communicator both at home and in the workplace.
1. Get out of your comfort zone
The only way to become more sociable is to practice your socialising skills. The more you shy away from social situations, the less sociable you’ll become, so it’s important to get out of your comfort zone as often as possible.
You can start by simply doing more of your daily activities in person rather than relying on technology. For instance, if you’d normally shop for groceries online or order in, make a point of going out more regularly. If you’re invited to do something with colleagues outside of work, make an effort to go along at least once in a while.
The bottom line is that the more contact you have with others, the more opportunities you’ll have to practice socialising, striking up conversations, and making small talk.
2. Listen and ask questions
This may seem obvious, but often we don’t pay as much attention to what others are saying as we should, because we’re so preoccupied with our own thoughts or agenda. With this in mind, when you’re conversing with someone, try to make an effort to actively listen to what they’re saying.
Where appropriate, you can also demonstrate that you’re listening by interjecting simple statements like “Wow, that’s interesting,” or even just “I see.” Asking questions or giving feedback is also a great way to show that you are interested in what someone has to say and want to further the conversation. For instance, you can paraphrase or clarify what they’ve said by asking things like “Sounds like you’re saying…” or “What did you mean when you said…?”
3. Practice your conversation skills
The more you practice, the easier it will become to carry a conversation with just about anyone, so look for daily opportunities to put your conversation skills to the test. Whether it’s making small talk about the weather with a cashier or asking your co-worker to tell you about their weekend, there are always opportunities to practice your conversation skills. Although doing this might feel awkward at first, the more you practice, the easier and more natural it will become.
4. Pay attention to your body language
Body language also plays an important role in socialising, and if you feel uncomfortable in social situations, you might even be sending out the wrong message without even realising it. With this in mind, pay attention to your body language the next time you’re interacting with someone at work or even during a casual interaction.
Focus on using “open” body language, which signals to others that you are interested in interacting with them. For instance, don’t cross your arms, sit up straight, relax your shoulders, turn your body towards the person you are talking to, and smile if appropriate.
5. Ask for feedback
If you’re working on improving your social skills, it can also be a good idea to ask for feedback from friends and family or trusted co-workers. It’s always useful to get another person’s perspective on areas you can improve in, because we often have difficulty viewing ourselves objectively.
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