How to develop and improve your social skills

If you find it challenging to start and maintain conversations with others if you feel uncomfortable being around a lot of people if you consider yourself an introverted or shy person when it comes to meeting new people, those might be indicators that you need to develop your interpersonal intelligence. By improving your social skills, you’ll be able to build stronger friendships, boost your career, and get more satisfaction out of life.

But even if you consider yourself to be a friendly person, and if you find it easy to start conversations and talk with people, growing your social skills will help you prevent conflict and be more charming.

The following seven exercises will help you improve your social skills and your interpersonal intelligence.

People who have developed their social intelligence can perceive how others feel. They intuitively know what to say in different situations, and they are confident when talking in front of a group. One might think that these people have natural charisma, but their real power is called social intelligence. 

And you can also develop these skills through practice and the experience of interacting with people. You have to learn from the successes and mistakes you experience in your daily social situations.

And if you apply the following exercises, it will be easier for you to interact with others, communicate effectively, and create meaningful connections.

1. Practice active listening.

Listening is one of the most important social skills you can develop. The attention you pay to others when listening can have a significant impact on your job and school performance, and on the quality of your relationships. Besides, by becoming a better listener, you can improve your ability to influence, persuade, and negotiate with your peers; while avoiding conflict and misunderstanding.

Active listening means that you are making a conscious effort to listen, not only to the words the other person is saying but, more importantly, to the whole message they are trying to communicate to you.

The five key elements of active listening are:

a) Pay attention.

b) Show that you are listening.

c) Provide feedback.

d) Avoid judgment.

e) Respond appropriately.

For you to give your full attention to the person you are talking to, it’s necessary to set aside distractions. Avoid using your mobile phone during conversations, clear your mind of unrelated thoughts, and focus on the present moment. Avoid interrupting, or preparing a response in your mind while the other person has not yet finished speaking. And also, pay attention to the person’s gestures and non-verbal communication.

To demonstrate that you are listening and to make the other person feel they are being heard, use your body language. Smile and nod from time to time and make sure your posture is open and shows interest. You can accomplish this by keeping your hands and arms hanging naturally at your sides. Avoid intertwining your fingers in front of you or crossing your arms and encourage the other person to continue talking by making small verbal comments such as “go on…”,” please continue” and “what happened next…”

Provide feedback as the conversation progresses. Try to paraphrase what the other says to make sure you’re getting it right. Use phrases like: “What I’m getting is that…” or “Sounds like you’re saying that…”. You can also take advantage of moments of silence to ask questions or to confirm as a summary of the information that the other person has just shared with you.

Avoid judging. Sometimes our views, assumptions, or beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to try to understand what you hear by setting prejudices aside.

Respond appropriately. Active listening allows you to gain information and perspective while fostering respect and understanding. When it’s your turn to speak, be honest, open, and truthful in your response, and always express your opinions respectfully. 

Have you ever been in a conversation where you wonder if the other person is listening to you at all? Does this make you wonder if it’s worth talking to them? Well, that’s why active listening is crucial.

Active listening allows us to achieve openness in different situations to give an appropriate response. These positive interactions avoid arguments, strengthen interpersonal relationships, and create a space to address any potential conflict constructively.

Most people like to talk about themselves, which allows you to practice active listening every day. Encourage others to tell you about their careers, hobbies, or life plans. In an environment surrounded by distractions, devoting a little of your time and attention is the best gift you can give to someone else.

2. Exercise your attention and social awareness.

Social awareness is the ability to understand and interact appropriately in different life situations. This skill implies being attentive to your environment and the human beings around you.

People who have social intelligence are excellent observers. They are often considerate of the needs and feelings of others. They take responsibility for their mistakes. They are humble about their strengths. They reflect on what they are going to say before speaking, and they are aware of how their words and actions affect others.

Start by paying close attention to what is going on around you. Be aware of the messages you convey through your posture, eye contact, and facial expression. Remember that visual connection and a genuine smile are universal gestures that demonstrate openness and kindness, which make others feel comfortable.

It is common for distracted and judgmental people to allow their minds to wander during conversations. Others may perceive this behavior as disrespectful or self-centered.

It is better that you develop your ability to remain attentive to the present moment so that you can show authenticity. Being present will allow you to focus entirely on the experiences, words, and interactions you are having at that precise moment. The people with whom you interact will perceive that you are engaged and will identify this as a sign of authenticity.

Having this level of awareness, presence, and understanding will allow you to generate empathy. You will also know how to respond appropriately and naturally to any social situation you might find yourself.

A common mistake made by people who are distracted is that they forget other people’s names. It may seem insignificant, and many can justify themselves by saying they have problems with remembering names. But by forgetting a name, what the other person perceives, is that you have no interest in them. Remembering a person’s name is an excellent way to show them that they are important to you, which allows you to generate charisma. 

A simple way to improve your ability to remember names is to repeat the person’s name several times during the conversation, from the moment people introduce themselves. You can say something like, “Nice to meet you, George,” and then, “What do you do for a living, George?”

3. Smile, be authentic, and friendly.

An authentic person expresses what he thinks, and shows how he feels in front of others genuinely. Be yourself all the time instead of showing a different face to different people or in diverse situations. Personal authenticity is the daily expression of your beliefs, values, and convictions. To be authentic, you need to accept yourself for who you are and treat yourself and others with respect.

When interacting with someone, try to understand the other person’s feelings and appreciate their point of view. Many times people don’t say how they feel. They will tell you that they feel good, even when deep inside, they’re not. However, just because they don’t say what they feel, it doesn’t mean they don’t give any clues.

Usually, facial expressions and non-verbal communication would let us know how a person is feeling. Body language will tell you what mood they are in and how you should interact with them. We often associate charisma with specific skills, such as telling good stories or making people laugh, but charisma is more about knowing what kind of things to say (or not to say), to the right person, at the right time.

Many people think that to be more charismatic, they need to use humor in every conversation. But this tactic can be a double-edged sword. Making inappropriate jokes at the wrong time can make you seem very desperate for acceptance. So, if you have doubts about whether a joke is appropriate, or if it’s a good time to say it, it’s better to stay quiet.

A simple way to be more charismatic with those around you is to have a proper posture. Sit up straight and keep your head as high as possible. Believe it or not, having the right pose makes you feel confident, which makes you more willing to engage in a conversation. And when you’re more willing to engage in conversations, people will perceive you like a more charismatic and approachable person.

Another aspect that you should take into account if you want to be more charismatic is to learn when physical contact is appropriate. You should be able to identify when people feel comfortable with physical contact, and you should always be very selective and respectful of it. For example, if a friend is very sad or very upset, putting a hand on his shoulder, under the right conditions, is appropriate. Sometimes physical contact is even more appropriate than mere words. But you must be very careful and recognize non-verbal signals as well as words. Physical contact, especially with sensitive people, could easily create some conflict.

As you have seen, having charisma is not about you, but how you make the other person feel, by showing an authentic and friendly attitude.

Most of the time, people who talk to you are not seeking advice; they just want to talk to someone who listens to their problems to release some tension and feel better.

People love to talk about their interests, and charismatic people know this. That’s why a charismatic person will spend as little time as possible, talking about himself. They often ask the right questions to keep the conversation focused on the other. And this brings us to the next point.

4. Improve your conversational skills.

If you feel uncomfortable at social events or find it hard to engage in conversation because you are shy, this can impact your social life and your career.

The first aspect you need to focus on, to improve your conversational skills, is to recognize the right time and place to have a conversation. Trying to chat with someone busy, distracted, or not interested will most likely lead to a bad experience.

Once you identify the right time, find the best way to start a conversation. You can open by saying something that is generally or universally true, rather than giving some personal opinion that may seem offensive. You can comment on the weather, or perhaps a current event you’ve heard in the news. You can also compliment someone on what they’re wearing or the way they’ve made their hair. 

It’s not always easy to know what to say to start a conversation. It’s a better idea to relax, take a breath, and pay more attention to what’s going on around you. With a little practice and common sense, the right words will come to you naturally. Don’t push yourself too hard, and your ideas will flow.

It’s a good idea to plan and practice what you’re going to say before addressing someone, especially when you are going to share some specific information. This way, you can get your message delivered more accurately and fluently. Efficient communication not only helps others understand you, but it also makes you look like a person who is polite and respectful of others’ time.

When you are interacting with someone, keep eye contact. Looking into other person’s eyes is the best way to let them know you are paying attention. Although eye contact sometimes feels uncomfortable, you should strive to achieve it. If it is challenging for you to maintain eye contact with another person, you can look at the point between their eyebrows, which will allow you to make a connection with them, without feeling too intimidated.

Don’t try to control the conversation by thinking you’re the only one who has a lot to say. Learn to take turns. Be aware of the amount of information you are bringing to a conversation and compare it to what the other person is contributing. If you tend to encounter conversations in which you provide 80% of the information, perhaps you should remain quiet and listen more, so that you give the other person a chance to speak. It may seem very obvious, but many people are not aware that they talk for too long. They do not realize that this can cause others to avoid talking to them.

An excellent way to keep a pleasant and enjoyable conversation flowing is to ask questions. Just remember to avoid personal questions that might make the other person feel like they are being interviewed. Ask casual, open-ended questions that don’t look for a simple “yes or no” answer. Keep your questions aimed at exploring people’s tastes and lifestyles respectfully, inviting them to continue the conversation. Open-ended questions lead people to reflect on their answers and to provide much more information, allowing you to explore deeper into an exciting subject that the two of you might have in common.

Once people give you their answer, remember that you can use follow-up questions, such as: “What makes you say that?”, “Why do you think that?” or “Why do you think that’s a better option?”. Follow-up questions allow the person to explain the situation in more detail.

When you ask your question, let the person take their time to give a full answer. Listen to what the other person is saying and use it to redirect the topic to the next question. You can do this during a natural pause to avoid interrupting because interrupting could make people feel that you don’t have a genuine interest in what they are saying. It’s better to nod your head to show that you are assimilating the idea they are trying to communicate, even if you don’t agree one hundred percent with what they are saying.

Have you noticed that some people ask you questions, not to listen to your answer, but to have the opportunity to express their opinion on the subject selfishly?

Use the power of silence. Learn to feel comfortable by asking a question and then waiting for the answer. Pay attention while you are listening and then wait a little longer before interacting. Most likely, the other person has more information to share and will continue to present the subject, as long as you give them time. Breaks are an essential part of nonverbal communication, and using them correctly can help you have better conversations.

When it’s your turn to speak, you can contribute ideas and information directly related to what the other person has just shared with you, avoiding falling into self-centeredness. Use a volume and tone of voice that are easy to understand, and that convey trust and courtesy. If you mention any news or fact, make sure you have verified the data before in different reliable sources of information.

Avoid arguments. Someone with social intelligence understands that arguing or trying to prove a point by making the other person feel bad is not the way to go. Avoid openly rejecting someone else’s ideas. Listen with an open mind, even when you disagree. If the talk begins to get out of control, try to direct it toward common ground. Mention a point on which you both agree to close the argument more positively.

Stay away from sensitive issues, especially when you don’t know the other person very well. In general, it is a good idea to avoid discussing controversial topics such as sports, money, religion, and politics. To get out of controversial conversations, show courtesy rather than cutting off the person abruptly and walking away. Politely mention that you have to say goodbye, giving the impression that you have enjoyed the interaction. Try to conclude with positive statements such as: “I have to go. It was nice talking to you.”

In general, when it’s time to end a conversation, you can interrupt by showing courtesy, saying something like, “Well, it’s been nice talking to you, but I have to go now. Do you mind if we continue the conversation some other time?”

Do your best to become a better speaker and conversationalist. There are organizations like Toastmasters that can help you develop your communication skills. These support groups help people who feel shy, uncomfortable, or extremely anxious in social situations and encourage them to learn and practice new social skills, public speaking, and leadership.

5. Meet new people and make good friends.

As you talk more with others and meet people you like, you can try to deepen those friendships. You probably have coworkers you’re friendly with, but you haven’t taken the time to get to know them better. One of the keys to fostering friendships at work is to make the relationship more personal gradually. That is, you can gradually share more of yourself with the people with whom you feel comfortable talking to, which in turn invites them to share more about themselves.

In addition to your workplace, you can find other places where you feel comfortable starting conversations. Coffee shops, sporting events, and community centers are proper places to chat casually with new people.

If you’re interested in meeting new people, the best option is to join a social group related to an activity that catches your interest. The easiest thing to do could be to sign up for classes in dance, languages, cooking, or music. Or you can also sign up for any other hobby you might have. Joining a sport, speech, or reading club can be a perfect option as well. You can also search online for groups of people who have a common interest and meet every week to talk or practice group activities.

Become a bit more sociable by paying attention to the small details. Ask the waiter how his day is going, say hello to your neighbor, thank the person who delivers your mail. Talk to more people. Your social skills will improve with practice. The more you communicate and interact with others, the more confidence you can develop.

Try not to let negative interactions discourage you. You can achieve constant improvement in any skill through positive and negative experiences. If the encounter was good, take note of what you did well and try to repeat it. If things didn’t go well, evaluate the situation to determine exactly what didn’t work and how you can avoid it in the future.

6. Confront social anxiety.

We can experience certain anxiety when we leave home, and we are among other people. Symptoms range from a little nervousness and excitement, for example, knowing you’re meeting a friend you haven’t seen for a while, to excessive fear of meeting new people, or you might even be suffering a social disorder that needs special treatment.

If you want to meet people and make new friends, but social interactions seem intimidating to you, you can start with small steps. You have to decide to behave in a more friendly way, even if you don’t feel like it at first.

When you go out to buy something or order a drink, say “thank you” and be kind to the person who is taking care of you. And if the situation allows it, you can start a short, casual conversation with that person. This small interaction can represent a great achievement for you.

Try to talk to new people and start conversations every day, even when you’re feeling nervous. In time, it will get easier.

Learn to recognize your triggers. Different people with social anxiety have different situations that trigger their fears. By knowing what causes you to react with anxiety, you can begin to process these experiences in a positive way. For example:

Do you feel anxious when you walk into a classroom? Is it the same for math as it is for the art class? 

Do certain people, such as your boss or coworkers, cause you to feel anxiety as you interact with them? Is it a particular person or everyone?

Do you feel anxiety in social situations? Is it the same for a restaurant as it is for a concert? Is a group of close friends different from strangers?

These specific questions can give you relevant clues about which are the critical situations you have to improve more.

Many people who suffer from social anxiety tend to avoid their fears rather than confront them. While this can help release some social anxiety in the short term, it can worsen it in the long term.

Be prepared to face your fears during social situations. You can read interesting articles so that you have some general topics that you can share with people. Prepare a non-controversial comment that you can use during a meeting, or have a casual topic to discuss during lunch. If you have to stand up and talk in front of a large group of people to give a presentation or a speech, prepare with enough anticipation so that you feel more confident.

Use relaxation techniques. Learn different techniques such as taking deep breaths, adopting power poses, and other uplifting strategies. If you feel muscle tension, you can try this. Tense your entire body for three seconds (including your hands, feet, jaw, and neck) and then release. Do this once or twice and feel how the tension comes out of your body.

Decrease your self-focus. Observe people and the different words and actions they use. Concentrate on listening to what is being said and what is happening around you. When you notice that you are concentrating on your thoughts or on what other people may be thinking about you, take your attention away from yourself. Breathe deeply, accept these thoughts for what they are, just thoughts, let them go, and enjoy the interaction you are having. Ask questions, listen carefully, and follow this advice to focus your attention on other people and not in yourself.

Much of the anxiety, we feel, comes from the fear that we have of being judged. Other people may not always agree with you or respond positively to you, but this does not reflect your reality as a person or your abilities. We all experience social interactions where we don’t feel comfortable with some people, but it’s part of life, and it has nothing to do with how nice or capable you are. Give yourself credit for facing the challenge of interacting better with more people, because that is what matters the most. You have to recognize and celebrate your small victories.

However, if you suspect that social anxiety is interfering with your daily life, even after you’ve already followed all the advice we’re giving you here, don’t hesitate to seek the help of a certified therapist who specializes in social anxiety disorder.

7. Increase your social confidence and interpersonal skills.

Practice courtesy. Good manners, as it is known in Mexico, or courtesy in general, are a series of behaviors that parents, teachers, and other adults in society teach us from an early age. Greeting others, smiling, saying “thank you,” and “please” are some of the most common and straightforward behaviors that can help you increase your social confidence.

Civility and politeness guide us to behave in a gentle way towards other people, during different social gatherings. It’s these same rules that motivate us to behave differently at a funeral, compared to the way you would at a party. And this attribute is something that you can learn.

Also, remember that you can make an extra effort to be polite by being very careful with what you say. You should always think carefully before you speak your mind.

Compliments are very effective tools when used properly. It’s a good idea to offer a sincere compliment to a different person every day. Compliments show others that you are friendly, and help you prevent thinking about yourself too much. Giving a compliment allows you to focus on something positive about the other person. If we all compliment each other daily, it could become a viral event that reaches a lot of people, and strangers everywhere will smile at each other. Imagine a world where all the people around you would focus on the positive. It would be a very positive change for everyone. The truth is that every person who walks on this planet has a desire to be recognized. And when someone else notices the positive in our words or actions, we feel happy and satisfied. The more we contribute positively to the lives of others, the more we add to our very own wellbeing.

Using proper non-verbal communication will also help you feel more comfortable and confident when interacting with people. Pay attention to your facial expressions, your body posture, and your tone of voice, as well as how you express your emotions. When talking to someone, maintain a firm, natural, open, relaxed, and positive attitude.

Make the time to take care of your appearance before you leave for school or work. It doesn’t mean that you should wear designer clothes or spend all your money on expensive shoes or accessories to be fashionable. We’re talking about you making a conscious effort to be neat, combed and wearing proper clothes and shoes. If your clothes are clean and ironed, you’ll feel more confident about your appearance. This personal care will make people perceive the acceptance you have for yourself and will reduce the chances of rejection. Remember that looking the best you can, not only improves your self-confidence, but it also makes you naturally, more sociable.

What exciting experiences have you had interacting with other people at different social events?

As you can see, improving your social skills will give you a significant boost in your personal development, your relationships, and your professional goals.

Social skills are essential for effective communication and healthy coexistence in our society.

Just remember that everything takes time. To develop your social skills, you need to put this information into practice whenever you have the opportunity to interact with other people.

Commit to start socializing in a more conscious and positive way, by using the tips that you just learned. By doing so, you will achieve a healthy and fulfilling social life that will make you contribute to a better world.