A Short Guide To Social Skills
Parties are fun!
When you’re with a bunch of colleagues, teammates, or whatever. Everybody seems to have a great time. Bantering, joking, chit chatting. Everyone seems to fit in.
Well… almost everyone. Somehow you hang at the outskirts of the group.
You want to contribute. But what? You always seem to blank. Because you feel like you have nothing to say.
When you do blurt out a few words,… the conversation stops,… and continues as if nothing happened.
It actually feels more comfortable to stop trying. You make excuses, stay home and lock the door. Closing yourself to the world, while indulging in games, porn, and mindless browsing.
It’s easier to avoid conversations and putting yourself out there.
Well, at least for a while. You know deep down solitude isn’t the answer. You actually want to meet people…. But avoiding people works,… It is predictable. It is easy.
Don’t settle for easy. Especially if easy means lonely misery.
No matter how you are psychologically defined by the interwebs, in the end, you are a hooman! Like all of us. Genetically engineered, by an uncaring universe or omnipotent deity, to need social interaction.
That’s why you keep trying, despite encountering many setbacks. But a lot of people have overcome their social challenges, and now it’s YOUR turn.
But, where to start?
Well like with any problem. There are two approaches. Changing how you perceive a situation – and changing the situation itself.
So if you currently hate social settings, and feel socially inept. Let’s:
- Change how you view social interaction:
- Transforming your current views and beliefs into more productive and positive outlooks. This means transforming how you perceive your world.
- Change how you interact with social situations:
- Simply, developing your social skills.
Alright – let’s first take a look at changing the perspective.
Changing your perspective
The outer perspective
Let’s start radically. From now on, social situations are your training grounds.
Your place to learn, by observation and analysis.
Look at what people say, and how others react. For instance, check out how charismatic people make contact. As well how they remain engaged throughout a conversation.
How is their eye contact? What questions do they ask? How do they answer?
In opposition, how do shy people interact? How do they carry themselves? What questions do they ask? How do they talk?
What is different between the charismatic and the shy person?
These are two typical examples. But look at many people, and many interactions and notice what happens. When do people smile? An obvious positive indicator. When do people act twitchy? A sign of anxiety.
You’ll notice that most communication isn’t verbal. But conveyed through body language, tones, and other patterns.
In socializing it is less about what and more about how it is said! At first it won’t be obvious. But in time you will recognize the patterns.
Also, change your expectation of what to get and give during interactions. You are NOT there for approval, validation or acceptance. People don’t owe you shit, and you don’t owe people anything.
A social interaction is a situation where you add value. This value can be joy, entertainment or intimacy to people. You like to give it to them. You want to add! And don’t expect anything in return. That’s neediness.
When you add value like that, and share who you truly are. You’ll see people will share their joy, and attention with you. Even opening up themselves to you.
The inner perspective
Then there is your inner world. Time to become more confident in yourself. I would like to say, it’s as easy as fake it till you make it. But let’s not take the luxury of bullshitting yourself.
Your inner world can be very frustrating. It’s not as simple as “just change the way you think”
Yet, you alone have the power to change it, and you can change it if you put in the effort. You can do that, in the short term, by pumping yourself up. Or in the long run, by taking good care of yourself and facing your fears.
Another aspect of your inner world is that you think you are boring or uninteresting. Actually, you are not, it’s a matter of a perception.
We’re going to break it by proving to your inner critic that you ARE an interesting person. By developing the necessary social skills along with changing the way you think.
Recall what you find fascinating.
Maybe it’s some philosophy, literature, or your favorite anime that inspired you. If it is interesting to you, chances are someone else finds it interesting too. And there is a way to share that passion with this those people. Use your passion to always have an interesting story.
Stop underestimating your potential. There is a treasure trove of interesting stories and potential in you. Which you can learn to share with the world. Stop screwing up yourself. Share!
No need to be hung up on past mistakes and failures. There is always room for development. Remember that! Besides adopting a good mindset, take good care of yourself.
Eat well, sleep well, work out, limit stress and meditate. And develop a good social life, … oooh yeah, fixing that right now!
Changing the situation – becoming socially skilled
Let’s not sugarcoat this. If you want to learn to be social, you have to go out and do it. You need practice to get a skill. But! You can acquire some theory in advance and put it into practice
In conversation there are the polite, somewhat easy, things to say. The usual nondescriptive small talk. The boring informal etiquette.
It serves a purpose for sure. It’s a safe way to get acquainted. But it can grow stale pretty fast. You can find out how to have a basic conversation like that. Like any other social robot in the world.
But, we want to go beyond the obvious. You’ll find it is more fun. Because it is unconventional you jolt yourself and others out of routine. Making you more interesting.
Remember it’s more about HOW you say things. Don’t sound timid, instead, learn how to talk with conviction. Afraid you won’t do right in a group? Practice at home.
Stand in front of a mirror and talk to yourself. Use the examples that will follow in the next paragraphs. Practice this every day for 15 minutes.
Wonder what that looks like? Look up any tv, radio or (successful) youtube host, and listen. They all speak with an implicit and unique conviction.
For instance, look at people like Will Smith or Tony Robbins. They talk with passion, confidence, conviction, energy, enthusiasm, and power. Even the way they move reflects that. Try to emulate that. Or whatever role model fits you. Start learning from observing.
In time you’ll acquire your own flair. It can be through theatrical storytelling or dry witty remarks. For example, you can tell jokes with a lot of intonation. Or be just as funny without any inclination at all.
Why is this important?
We are tonal creatures way before we are verbal creatures. As babies, we learn to discern a mood from tones first – understanding from words later. Look at the power of music. It has little to do with what is literally sung, but how the tones and rhythm sway you.
Same goes for talking. The tones, the rhythm, the rise and fall of the volume are all tools to convey your message.
What you say speaks to the mind, how you say it speaks to the heart.
Interesting things to ask
You manage to face your fears and meet total strangers that you’ve never been with before. That’s great. Now, what to say and how to act is a totally different game.
What to do? Well, first of all, you greet them, introduce yourself and ask some questions. Obvious. Almost mandatory.
- ‘how are you?’
- 'what’s your name?’
Done, formalities out of the way. What’s next?
Time to stop being a boring social robot – and show some real interest. One of the most standard follow-up questions is: ‘So what do you do?’ Standard and not so intresting.
You want to look for something better. Let’s think about that for a second. What would you like to be asked? What question would you be psyched to answer? When you will have an absolutely passionate response?
Think about it. Next time, try asking that or a similar question! Examples for getting an ardent reply:
- ´What is your current passion project?´
- ´What are you trying to learn in life?´
- ´What was the highlight of your week?´
Feel free to answer in the comments btw :).
What do these questions have in common? They ask for positive stories in your life. Try asking these to other people. Ask for their stories.
- ´Why do you do the work you do?´
- ´Was that what you intended to do?´
- ´What’s your dream to be doing in 5 years?´
- ´Hey, interesting choice of clothes/car/laptop, why did you choose that one?´
- ´What are you looking forward to this week?´
- ´What’s your favorite Pokemon? What Bulbasaur?!´
- ´If you don’t know Pokemon, what the heck did you do growing up?´
Ask for stories – give people a small podium to talk. Go beyond the mundane. Important though, question with a true willingness to listen and learn.
After listening, reply thoughtfully. Follow up.
- ´Why do you feel that way?´
- ´Why did you choose to that?´
Go on till you hit a wall or an ‘I don’t know’. But show interest.
As you step out of cultural scripts – instantly people will find you more interesting. Better yet, you make them feel interesting!
Stay and truly listen – give a proper follow-up, it will be highly appreciated!
What to say
Alright – so asking the right questions. But what if you are the one being interviewed? What then?
Well – same principal. Don’t be boring as shit.
Instead, share! Say interesting stuff. Let’s practice our mind again. What kind of story would you like to hear? Not their automated bullshit right? You probably want to hear some a story you can relate to, a piece of humanity. And some good jokes of course, haha.
There are a few ways to step beyond the mundane.
Detailed statement counters
First – if you get asked one of those boring questions. Like ‘what do you do?’ – answer them – but counter with a more surprising statement.
So you get asked:
- ‘What do you do for a living?’
- ‘I’m a programmer.’
The end…. Nope, don’t do that. Try saying something like:
- ‘I’m a programmer – but when I was a kid I wanted to be a fireman!’
- ‘Programmer by day – vigilante by night!’
Now you break the script. Now there is room for some fun banter.
You can have a few hallmark go-to’s, to counter obvious questions. For example. I used to be in medical school – and when people ask me why I quit. Which I’ve heard a 1000 times. I reply by saying:
- ‘It was too easy.’
It’s the unexpected response.
Because it’s unheard of. It’s hard to get and stay in med school. So I shake up the script a bit. Who the fuck would brag about this? It’s fun and gets a conversation going. Getting people out of their automatic questioning sequence.
Move beyond the repetition
- Q: ‘How was your trip?’
- A: ‘My trip was good.’
Point made, the end. That reply could have been more interesting. How about you create some talking points. Instead of plainly answering – add details and emotions. Try answering something like:
- ‘My trip was awesome, I rode in my new Tesla, my favorite car.’
- ‘It was cool, but not anything like car commercials! What do they try to convene with those commercials anyway?’
There is so much more matter to talk about this way. You keep the subject but move lateral and in-depth. It can be serious, ridiculous or something you wonder.
Say something that creates interest and questions. Key: some detail and emotion. Anything to move from the [bleep bloop bleep] of a standard social robot.
‘Yeah the trip was cool, but what’s up with cows? Do they just keep staring at the freeway? What are they waiting for? Are they waiting till a crash happens?’
Find your creativity, and have fun. Your ridiculous behavior will spur laughter and discussions. Making you banter, socialize, build bonds and getting to know people.
What binds us? What entertains us? Stories do!
All the games you play, all the movies you watch, the series you binge and the books you read. Stories that compel you. We all love a good narrative.
How awesome if you can tell compelling stories. Short or small.
There are many ways and reasons to tell a story. It truly is an art. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get the hang of it.
Do you find it hard to tell a story? Or even come up with any material? Why don’t you start by thinking of some funny, interesting or enraging stuff that happened? Something intellectually or emotionally engaging. Preferably both! Or maybe you’ve read something amazing online. You can even tell someone else’s story. (give credit!)
Take that information. And fit it in the most basic structure of narration. This structure has been tried and tested for millennia! Give it a try to form your story:
- an opening where you introduce the setting
- a middle part where the characters and settings progress
- a comic or surprising twist
- an ending to give some closure
And the ending isn’t even necessary, haha.
Fill your story with details and emotions. Keeping a flow to it all. So not too much meandering. Or too many side stories.
This is hard to do out of the blue. So try practicing some stories in advance. Use those interesting memories that lurk in you.
If you are using a personal anecdote, absolutely don’t be afraid to show yourself. Tell what you thought or felt. Be vulnerable. This is what connects people – a story with a resonating truth and emotions. Because you may think you are the only one who feels a certain way. But more people can relate than you imagine.
So far the 101 on storytelling. Try going out there and practice. Start by telling a story to yourself. Practice it. Then use it during conversations. Have fun with it. And use your conviction to give you story strength.
Again, use a theatrical or dry approach. Or anything in between. Whatever fits you!
But got for it all the way.
All right, we have a decent set of techniques. All to be used in one-on-one conversations AND in group conversations.
But as you know, group conversation is harder. First find your way in. Getting through a blizzard of noise and egos. Facing obstacles like speech monopolizers or petty power plays. Keeping attention, balancing group dynamics – it’s not easy.
No worries. You will learn to be more at ease and feel the flow.
Let’s start by talking about the hardest part:
Let’s say a group is talking. You want to contribute.
There are a few ways to enter a conversation.
Important is that you don’t wiggle yourself in. You can’t expect to be instantly accepted and part of the conversation. People see this as an intrusion.
You need a bridge.
Instead – you could go to a group. Ask what they are talking about – and contribute. Or display your interest and start actively listening. Contributing where you can.
Use this moment of entry to introduce yourself to strangers. For example:
- ‘Hey, guys, what are you talking about?’
- ‘Underwater hockey and the effect of wrinkly fingers on your grip’
- ‘Alright cool, sounds interesting, tell me more; I’m [Player_1] by the way.’
Boom you are in.
This way you actively invite yourself in a conversation. Instead of waiting to be invited.
Another technique, for when you are standing outside a crowd. When you hear something you want to contribute to, walk up to the group. And jump in like:
- ‘Hey, I couldn’t help but overhear you guys talking about Nascar. You know I think they should switch things up and start driving clockwise.’
And start talking with the group. It is usually the best to introduce yourself in a conversation when using a bridge.
If you stand by, waiting to be acknowledged, well,… you can wait a long time. It doesn’t work.
Unless the group is gracious enough to focus on you. But in most situation, you should give yourself the luxury of introducing yourself.
Accept group dynamics
Every group has its dynamic, it can be rough, it can be quiet. Civil or heated debates, polarized or harmonious dichotomies.
Whatever it is. There is a social reality you have to work with.
Accept that. Not every group will be open to you entering. And some will be very inviting. This may mean some awkward situations sometimes. But you’ll learn to discern the difference.
People are how they are. Don’t feel bad about it. Instead, learn from it.
Group conversation basics
If you are in a group. Do acknowledge the conversation. If you have nothing to add yet. That’s cool. But do show you are listening. Either by nodding, grunting or showing interest.
When you have something interesting to say, wait for a small lull in the conversation. And go for it.
No moment of silence?
Interrupt nicely and add your points, questions or remarks. Speak convincingly. Don’t let yourself be interrupted. But do give people the space to respond and interact.
If you find this hard while practicing. Remember, you don’t have to speak often. But make it count when you do. Be interesting or ask intriguing questions. Add value when you do contribute to the conversation.
Alright, that’s it for now. Practice time! Hahaha.
These guidelines are not set in stone. There is lots of room for improvisation. But if you find it hard, start with these tips. Once you grow experienced and bolder, try more.
At first, it can all feel very contrived. Heck, you might even be rehearsing it in advance. No problem, everything you are unskilled at feels uncomfortable. Don’t let that stop you. Don’t fool yourself by saying it HAS to feel natural. It will feel that way over time, once you gain experience.
Remember it is a skill you are mastering. You need some practice runs before you can do it. But don’t be intimidated by that, it will be a lot of fun as well. And very rewarding!
So what are your thoughts so far? Where do you think you can use some experience. Let me know!
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