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6 Key Social Skills

Social skills are arguably the most important set of abilities a person can have. Human beings are social animals and a lack of good social skills can lead to a lonely life, contributing to anxiety and depression. Great social skills help you meet interesting people, get that job you want, progress further in your career and relationships.

Happily, like any skill, social strategies and techniques can be learned�K

The main social skills are as follows:

1) The ability to remain relaxed, or at a tolerable level of anxiety while in social situations

Regardless of how skillful you are in social situations, if you are too anxious, your brain is functioning in way unsuited to speaking and listening. In addition, if your body and face give the unconscious message that you are nervous, it will be more difficult to build rapport with others.

2) Listening skills, including letting others know you are listening

When you had dinner with Gladstone, you were left feeling that he was the most charming person you had ever met. But after dinner with Disraeli, you felt that you were the wittiest, the most intelligent, the most charming person.
Dr Warren Bennis PhD, University of California

There is little more attractive and seductive than being truly listened to. Good listening skills include:

  • Making 'I'm listening' noises - 'Uh-huh', 'really?', 'oh yes?' etc.

  • Feeding back what you've heard - "So he went to the dentist? What happened?"

  • Referring back to others' comments later on - "You know how you were saying earlier�K"

  • Physical stillness, eye contact and attentiveness while the other person is talking.

3) Empathy with and interest in others' situations

A major part of social anxiety is self consciousness, which is greatly alleviated by focusing strongly on someone else. A fascination (even if forced at first) with another's conversation not only increases your comfort levels, it makes them feel interesting.

4) The ability to build rapport, whether natural or learned

Rapport is a state of understanding or connection that occurs in a good social interaction. It says basically "I am like you, we understand each other". Rapport occurs on an unconscious level, and when it happens, the language, speech patterns, body movement and posture and other aspects of communication can synchronise down to incredibly fine levels.

Rapport is an unconscious process, but it can be encouraged by conscious efforts.

  • Body posture 'mirroring', or movement 'matching'

  • Reflecting back language and speech, including rate, volume, tone, and words

  • Feeding back what you have heard, as in 2) above

5) Knowing how, when and how much to talk about yourself - 'self disclosure'

Talking about yourself too much and too early can be a major turn-off for the other party in conversation. Good initial small-talk is often characterised by discussion of subjects not personal to either party, or by an exchanging of personal views in a balanced way.

However, as conversations and relationships progress, disclosing personal facts (small, non-emotional ones first!) leads to a feeling of getting to know each other.

6) Appropriate eye contact

If you don't look at someone when you are talking or listening to them, they will get the idea that:

  • You are ignoring them

  • You are untrustworthy

  • You don't like the look of them (!)

This doesn't mean you have to stare at them. In fact, staring at someone while talking to them can give them the feeling you are angry with them. Keeping your eyes on them while you are listening, of course, is only polite.

Of course these are not hard-and-fast rules, eye contact for instance, varies between cultures, but in general, practicing these will improve your social skills if you find social situations difficult.



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