They’re called social skills for a reason, because that’s exactly what they are—skills.
Just like with any other skill, the only way to improve is with practice.
While some people are fortunate enough to develop their social skills at an early age, most of us are not so lucky. The good news is that it’s never too late to improve your social skills.
But if you don’t currently consider yourself a very social person and you want to become more social, you can’t just sit around hoping one day you will magically burst out of your cocoon and into a social butterfly.
You will have to make a conscious effort to break out of your current behavior patterns and establish new ones. This isn’t easy and doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual transformation that takes time, practice, and a little bit of courage, but one that you can start today.
The first thing you have to do is change the way you think of yourself.
Stop labeling yourself as shy, or introverted, or awkward, or anti-social. You are none of these things, unless you think them first.
If you want to be more social, start thinking of yourself as a social person.
Once you can do this, and only then, can you start acting like a social person.
The next step is to start talking to people as often as you can.
Talk to your classmates, talk to the person standing next to you in line, talk to random strangers on the street. It really doesn’t matter who you talk to or what you say. The point is to start getting out of your comfort zone and into new social situations.
You can start by asking them how their day is going, maybe compliment them on their shoes, whatever. It doesn’t have to be a deep conversation. Just say something.
It will probably feel forced and somewhat awkward at first, but the more you force yourself out of your comfort zone and into new social situations, the easier it will become. You will quickly realize that you start to find yourself in the same kinds of situations again and again, and each time you will be more comfortable and more confident.
On the contrary, every time you avoid a social situation (for example, when you really want to talk to that cute girl in your class but end up wimping out) you are reinforcing your anti-social behavior. This is where your ego comes in.
I’m not talking about the Kanye West type of ego. I’m talking about all the behavior patterns you have developed throughout your life as a result of your past experiences.
You don’t talk to strangers because when you were a kid you were taught about ‘stranger danger.’ You don’t say hi to that girl because one time you did and she didn’t acknowledge you. You don’t raise your hand in class to ask a question because you’re scared of sounding stupid.
Every time you have something to say but don’t speak up, you are reacting to your ego, and making it stronger.
Every time you react to your ego you are essentially building a thicker and thicker shell (or cocoon, to keep the analogy going) around yourself, making it harder and harder to break out of. This is pretty much the basis of all habit formation and human behavior in general.
As human beings, we are social creatures. It is in our nature to enjoy being around people, to seek acceptance, and to want to help others. The only thing that keeps us from doing these things is our fabricated ego.
If you want to be more social, stop reacting and start ACTING.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you work on improving your social skills.
Being social and being confident go hand in hand. If you struggle with confidence, fake it. You’ve heard the saying, fake it till you make it. The saying should actually be, fake it till you become it. This TED talk explains it well. That being said, don’t be fake. You might be faking your confidence, but you don’t need to fake who you are and what you believe. It’s okay to disagree with people. It’s also okay to be wrong. No one is perfect. Be confident, but don’t be arrogant.
If you want to be social, you have to be open-minded. Instead of judging people based on your beliefs, actually listen to what other people have to say. You don’t have to agree with everything someone says, but try to understand their points of view and why they believe what they believe. Asking questions is a great way to show that you care about what they’re saying and will allow you to understand where they’re coming from.
Cultivate a habit of friendliness. Always say hi to people you know, offer to help in any situation you can, and smile. Smiling is the easiest thing you can do and will make you much more approachable.
Practice When the Stakes are Low
These are the perfect situations to pretend to be the most confident, outgoing person you can possibly be. Converse with cashiers, servers, or people that you’ll never see again (for example, when you’re visiting some place new). Cashiers and servers are probably the easiest because they are literally paid to be friendly. If you don’t know what to say, check out Derek Halpern’s video on How to Be Confident for a specific line you can use the next time you’re talking to a cashier.
My last and final tip is to lighten up. There are times to be serious, but most of the time it’s okay to let loose. Have fun, goof around, and stop being scared of what other people think of you. If someone takes a jab at you, instead of getting all defensive, go along with it. Make fun of yourself, don’t take it personally, and then move on.
“Treat every person that you meet as a future friend, and then make the effort to get to know them.” – Tweet This
Image Credit: picjumbo