6 Tips To Improve Your Social Skills
Having a great network – the set of relationships you build over time, both personally and professionally – is important to your success in so many ways.
Your network helps you deliver better results, surge ahead in your career or rebound when things are tough. It also helps you learn, grow and have more fun in your life.
However, your network is not something you can buy. The only way to have a great network is to build it. And the number one key to building relationships is having strong social skills.
It doesn’t matter how smart you are. If you don’t have good social skills, you will top out before you are meant to.
Maybe you’re already seeing others less capable than you getting promoted while you aren’t. Or being invited to sit at the equivalent of the “cool kids’ table” at company dinners while you’re at the back.
Worse yet, if you lack social skills, you’ll leave some great living on the table – the happy and fun parts.
The good news is that even if you’re an introvert or lack the social ease and grace of your colleagues, you can become good at this. You don’t need to settle for “average” either on the job or at home.
I recently came across an inspiring piece on how to do just that.
Develop the skills to get recognized, promoted and paid more
The Ultimate Guide to Social Skills
I was inspired by Ramit Sethi’s The Ultimate Guide to Social Skills: The Art of Talking to Anyone where he generously provides some fabulous free content on how to create lasting connections with people.
Ramit Sethi is the New York Times bestselling author of the book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, and is an expert on leading a “rich life” (hint: it’s not just about money).
In The Ultimate Guide to Social Skills, Ramit explores five aspects of developing social skills, and provides specific tools and techniques for mastering each. These include:
- How to be interesting
- How to make small talk
- Overcoming shyness
- How to master group conversations
- How to be more likeable
When you have a chance, I recommend taking a look. It’s easy to read and includes videos full of useful tips and tools from Ramit and others.
6 Tips To Improve Your Social Skills
In the meantime, and in case you’re short on time, here are the takeaways that resonated most with me and how they apply in a business setting.
1. It’s how you make them feel
The fundamental insight Ramit starts with is that beyond how you look, what people notice first and foremost is how you make them feel in the first few seconds of meeting you.
Think about it: don’t you get an instant feeling about people you’re introduced to, whether good or bad? For me, it’s a combination of the vibe they give off and how they present themselves.
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou
In a business setting, it’s absolutely crucial to get this right.
Are you behaving in a way that allows them to feel you are trustworthy and appropriately confident? Are your body language and eye contact demonstrating your interest? Do you show that you’re attuned to them and not just in it for your self?
As they say, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. For better or worse, the impression you leave is based largely on your social skills.
The example Ramit gives is about someone losing a seven-figure business deal because of his cockiness and coming across as someone who would not be a team player. Ouch. Worst of all, the individual probably had no idea that his social skills were the reason, so he won’t have a chance to change.
2. Get in early if you’re shy
Especially if you’re shy, Ramit recommends making a commitment to do the following within 60 seconds of entering the room: go up to someone and introduce yourself. That way, you will have burst the shy bubble before you have a chance to get nervous.
This works in meetings too. When I was in mid-career, I was afraid to make a comment in case I sounded dumb. So I would wait and plan out what to say, and try to work up the courage to say it out loud. I’d argue with myself: was this a good point to make, and a good time to make it?
By the time I was finally ready, someone else would make the same point and I would spend the rest of the meeting beating myself up about missing my chance to speak.
That’s when I finally figured out that I needed to hear my voice in the meeting early, even if it was just saying hello. That made it easier to participate later on.
What I would add to this is so many of us focus on how nervous we are, and what other people are thinking of us, and being fearful of sounding dumb. The truth is that many of them are thinking the same thing about themselves. And others are mentally far away, worrying about something completely unrelated to you.
The best thing you can do is to just get over it and press on.
3. Take the lead
Ramit talks about being proactive in social situations, and how this increases your social value, especially when you’re in a group setting.
This doesn’t mean dominating the conversation. Instead, it’s about being prepared (brainstorming a list of potential topics before the event, planning the type of impression you want to leave), and engaging everyone in the conversation once you’re there.
In a business meeting, that type of facilitation and getting others involved in the conversation is hugely valuable. You get to direct the conversation and help include a diverse set of viewpoints, all of which can lead to better decisions and more effective meetings.
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4. Small talk is important
This one was a revelation for me. Yes, I’m that nightmare person who just wants to get to the point and not “waste time” with “idle chit chat”. After reading Ramit’s piece, I see the error of my ways.
Ramit points out that you don’t build a relationship by just getting down to the facts. There’s a dance, a game, a whole process that’s important before getting down to business.
Just like going to a restaurant, you don’t want to just get the food the moment you walk in the door, eat it and go. It’s a dining experience with a set of rituals that makes it enjoyable, worthwhile and something you’ll want to do again.
This is highly relevant with clients and colleagues as well. It allows you to be seen as a complete person rather than someone who is boring, stiff and robotic. Showing your personality and being able to develop relationships is a great differentiator that helps you advance.
5. Get feedback
Ramit then goes on to point out the importance of getting feedback on how you’re coming across. His point is when you’re bad at social skills, people won’t just come out and tell you – frankly, people don’t even tell you when you’ve got spinach in your teeth!
I couldn’t agree more. With my coaching clients, we talk about uncovering blind spots and how one of the best ways is to get input from others. And as painful as it may seem to learn how others see you, it’s in your own interest to find out… as soon as possible. Even if you aren’t aware of it, everyone else is. And knowing is the first step to changing.
If you’re interested in hearing more on this, I recommend Ramit’s interview with Pam Slim (author of Escape from Cubicle Nation) in module 1.
6. Learn to wrap up
Part of having great social skills is knowing how to enter a conversation with ease and grace. But having gotten into that conversation, you don’t want to “get stuck” there. As in talking to the same person at the conference or cocktail party for 40 minutes. You also need to know how to wrap things up in an elegant way.
Getting stuck happens to me quite a bit. I’m genuinely interested in people and can talk to them for a long time without getting bored. Plus I don’t want to offend anyone. That’s where Ramit’s simple strategy is so helpful.
When the conversation has come to a natural end, or you’ve reached your attention span limit, all you have to say is, “It was a pleasure meeting you. Thanks for chatting.” Then walk away. It’s all about your demeanor while you’re giving that simple two-liner. You can smile, but you have to disengage and start moving away.
Putting Social Skills Into Practice
Some additional insights into the importance of social skills came up last weekend while I was attending Jeff Walker’s PLF Live event for entrepreneurs who want to make a difference by getting their message and services out into the world. It was a great place to practice the social skills Ramit talked about.
It’s not just about the content
As Jeff kicked off the three-day conference with 1,200 people, he explained that as great as his content is, it’s only part of the value for participants. Relationships are built, and business gets done outside the meeting room – in informal settings like the bar, the hallway, the restaurant.
He urged us to resist checking emails and making phone calls during breaks, and instead focus on meeting people. I’m thankful I listened (and obeyed!) because I met some terrific future business partners.
Jeff also talked about what kind of conduct was “not cool” in terms of building relationships. There was to be no pushing and shoving to get into the room to get a good seat – you never know who could make or break your next business opportunity. We were to come from a mindset of openness and abundance when we talked to each other. We were to be supportive and help each other.
Dare to share
In addition to his instructions on how to “be cool” at the conference, the way he set up the sessions also encouraged us to share our ideas. He integrated small group conversations into each session where we had to find 2-3 other people and share our answers to questions he posed. Even our introverts were right in the mix sharing their points.
Continue Improving Your Social Skills
So, when you attend events, take advantage of the opportunity to build new relationships. Stay present and disconnect from the rest of your world for that limited time.
And as you build your network – that crucial set of mutually supportive relationships that travels with you no matter where you are – keep in mind the role that social skills play.
Whatever you do, keep practicing your social skills. They are truly differentiators, especially as you become more senior and people look to you for more than “just” your technical expertise.
Even the best of us can continue to improve our social skills.
How will you put your social skills to work to build up your network of relationships this week?
I really like your advice to learn how to wrap up. I think that a lot of people don’t understand the importance of knowing how to finish a conversation. However, it really does make a difference to know how to conclude. Otherwise, you can experience some incredibly awkward silences at the end of your conversation. Do you have any other advice about improving your social skills?
Hi Johnny – many thanks for your comment!
I’d suggest the following to take things further.
1. Become a student of social skills: identify a few people who you think are great at it, and observe what they do in a variety of settings that works well for them. Analyze why it works for them and consider which approaches and techniques are worth experimenting with for you. You can do the same for people who are not so good at it and learn from them too.
2. Practice, practice, practice: Take those approaches or techniques you like from #1 and experiment with them, starting in low risk situations (like at a college campus recruiting event or a distant cousin’s wedding, etc.).
3. Give yourself permission to be “bad” at it the first few times as you practice, and reward yourself for putting yourself out there and practicing. Look for what you did well, and focus on that. Cut yourself some slack – it will feel more natural as you have more “at bats”.
4. Arrange to get feedback from a friend you trust who can watch you in action. Often what we are our own harshest critics – it’s hard to see ourselves accurately.
5. Related to #4, use the buddy system: another thing I’ve found really handy is to go to big networking events with someone else. It’s so much easier to break into a group conversation when there are two of you than when you’re solo.
6. Take it in bite-sized chunks (as in, set a modest goal such as meeting 2-3 people per event or finding something in common with 2-3 people), but do keep practicing. And have some fun with it!
Hope that helps. Happy socializing!
Encouraging reading for reflecting on self-behaviour and many awkward situations
Very interesting and knowledgeable post