Social skills 101: a comprehensive guide
An unconventional way to break down social skills and how to improve yours
What are social skills?
Social skills and people skills are terms often used interchangeably since both describe interacting with people.
They’re about having the ability to influence people and engage in positive interactions that produce favorable outcomes.
The social skills umbrella
What do social skills cover? Broadly speaking, here are the 4 groups:
- Building rapport (aka. conversation skills)
- Being assertive (aka. speak up and stand up for yourself)
- Conflict management (aka. having difficult conversations while reaching a harmonious outcome)
- Influence and persuasion (aka. how to motivate others to take actions)
Why are social skills so vital?
Social skills help us create human connections.
Human connection is a major source of happiness for most people. Without it, we suffocate. With it, we do not simply survive rather we thrive.
Developed social skills means we:
- get invited to events and have enjoyable interactions
- get to spend quality time with those we adore and develop a deeper bond
- get to build meaningful relationships and a strong support network
- get exposed to more opportunities
- have career doors opened
Where do people learn social skills?
1) Formal education
- It’s a playground: Despite being one of the most important life skills, social skills aren’t formally taught in school. Many have shared their frustrations towards this. While it’s true that schools don’t provide formal education on social skills, they do provide a playground for people to observe, experiment, and develop
- Problem with zero guidance: The lack of a starting direction and guidance makes it challenging for many people to pick up the skillset effectively
- Watching but not learning: I remember when I was young, watching movie characters giving persuasive responses always amazed me. Not only did they win over their opponents’ hearts, but also mine. I wished I have their skills but I couldn’t replicate their ability in real life. Same as watching a magic show: without truly understanding the magic trick, all I could do is watch, but not learn or replicate.
- Blind practice: Blind practice is practicing without guidance. Imagine you heard about the benefits of exercising and started going to the gym. If you don’t know the proper techniques, your practice might end up doing more harm than good if you use the wrong muscles.
Some people are fortunate to have parents or close influences from a young age with exceptional social skills and taught them the skillsets.
3) Observe and learn
Many individuals are heavily motivated to learn social skills because they know it’s essential to get further in life. They earnestly observe and analyze charismatic people. Eventually a few uncover the pattern and pick up the charismatic social skills.
Four levels of social skills
People essentially fall into one of the four ‘levels’ with their social skills. We refer to ‘level’, as each can be levelled up with guidance and practice.
Level 1) Have great social skills and know why
Imagine the well-liked people you’ve met or have seen on TV. They radiate warmth and charisma no matter where they go. Not only can they build great rapport and win you over, but they also understand why they’re effective. Our experience suggests less than 1% of people fall into this group.
Level 2) Have great social skills but don’t know why
People in this group are similar to the first group, except they don’t understand their skillsets so they are unable to to teach others how to do it.
Imagine asking the cool kids in school “hey how do I be cool?” and they answer “I don’t know, just be chill.” This is the same scenario for social skills; Level 2 people know they’re effective, but they don’t know how or why.
Our experience indicates approximately 5-10% of people fall into this group.
Level 3) Have average social skills
People in this group have good social skills under normal situations. They greet most people. They engage in casual talks. They can hold engaging conversations with a few people.
But when it comes to more advanced social situations like having a deep conversation with almost anyone, having a tough chat while maintaining harmony, or motivating people to work, it’s often a hit or miss.
Level 4) Have minimal social skills
Often, people in this group didn’t grow up in an optimal environment nor did they have strong support in shaping their social skills. They’ve learned to adapt to a life without excessive socialization. While some have come to terms with it, others desire a fuller life without missing out or feeling left out.
Most people fit in Level 3 or 4
That is the bitter truth. Most people fall into the 3rd and 4th BUT no one group is better or worse than the others, it all has to do with your lifestyle.
If you enjoy and are satisfied with where you’re at, it doesn’t matter which group you belong to. However, if you want more, it’s useful to understand where you’re at so you know where to aim and can develop.
How do most people deal with social interactions?
They wing it.
Why winging it isn’t always the best strategy?
Conversations or interactions typically come out of nowhere or when people least expect them.
- The classmate turns around and starts a conversation
- Getting invited to a party after starting in a new job
- Getting assigned to a team project and needing to work well with the team
- Someone sits next to them at the lunch table and starts talking
- Their crush sits next to them and there’s an opportunity for a chat
When people are caught by surprise, there’s no option to phone a friend or search up “things to talk about with your crush”.
Getting stuck with the same skillset
In those moments, people must work with what they have in their heads. Do they have enough knowledge to help them on the spot?
Without solid knowledge to retrieve, people fall back to their old habits and doing the same thing.
As a result, people remain stuck with the same skillset, and frustrations.
Hard to find free resources
Even if we are determined to elevate our social skills, how come it’s so hard to find useful resources online? The answers are:
- There’re so few people who possess exceptional social skills.
- Even if they want to share their skillsets, they must understand why what they do is effective and can explain it. As we know, only a handful of people fall into this category.
- Those who are good at what they do are busy enjoying their life or moving up. It’s difficult for them to prioritize time to produce free resources.
As a result, not many people will or can invest in creating free and quality resources.
Instead, what we mostly find is generic advice:
- Be an active listener
- Smile at people
- Be empathetic
- Ask questions
- Just be yourself
They provide a level of direction. However, we find them vague, and they’re as useful as advising someone to be smarter if they want to succeed in life.
7 Available solutions
Besides genetic free tips, what are other solutions if you want to improve your social skills?
Fortunately, you have a few options that could potentially shave off a few years of trials and errors.
However, like anything else that matters in life, it requires your investment in time, money, and/or effort.
1) Social skills books
Since books have been around for a long time, people are comfortable with investing in books. Social skills books are extremely useful to broaden our knowledge base.
- Price range: $
- Self-paced: Read and learn at your own pace
- Affordable: Most books are less than $20, making it an affordable investment
- Lack of practice and interactivity: the biggest challenge with books is that it’s very easy to forget the information we read. Since reading a book by itself doesn’t provide practice opportunities, it becomes hard for our brains to remember what we learned, especially nowadays we all have thousands of things going through our minds to distract us.
Here’re a few books we recommend:
- The classic: How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie
- Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
- Difficult Conversations by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, and Sheila Heen
- Nonviolent communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg and Deepak Chopra
- Influence: The Psychology of Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
- Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert B. Cialdini
2) Social skills videos
They are pre-recorded video courses around different social skills. i.e. how to build charisma, how to communicate at work, how to build rapport, etc. People can buy on-demand social skills video courses on sites like Udemy.
- Price range: $ – $$
- Affordable: most video courses you find on Udemy and Coursera are priced at $20-$30. Some other independent courses are priced between $100-600. You have a wide range of video courses with different quality levels to choose from
- Self-paced: watch and learn at your own pace
- Lack of practice and interactivity: this has the same challenge as reading books. Information is less likely to stick without practice. If you don’t commit to spending the time and effort to practice what you learned after watching the videos, it’s very easy to forget the information, and the time spent on learning is wasted.
3) Social skills program with practice scenarios
Eloquency offers this type of program to develop social skills. It doesn’t only offer social skills instruction and theories, but it also includes hands-on practice with conversational scenarios to apply what you learn as part of the program.
- Price: $
- Affordable: currently it’s priced at $20
- Self-paced: learn at your own pace
- Practice and interactivity: this program incorporates both information and practice. 20% of your time will be spent on theories and 80% on practice. Every time you learn a key concept, you get lots of practice to absorb it. Practicing and applying what you learn is the only way to develop the skillsets effectively.
- Lack of customization: Besides the coaching and therapy options, this program and all other options follow a pre-set social skills curriculum. In coaching you get to ask questions and get guidance on your specific situation, this program focuses on developing the broader skillset to handle any situation rather than tailored to your unique situation.
4) Communication workshops
These are 1- or 2-day group workshops offered to the public by universities or training institutions. The social skills classes or training workshops are led by a facilitator and the group size can go from 10 to 50 people.
Most programs were in-person before COVID and many are now virtual. In those workshops, not only do they share different theories, but they also hold group exercises to let you practice the concepts.
- Price range: $$$
- Fast: This is a mini Bootcamp to learn a subject very quickly. Compacting the key knowledge into 1-2 days.
- Practice: the group exercises during the workshop allow you to take what you learn and practice applying them. The goal is that when you leave the learning environment, the knowledge still sticks in your mind.
- Expensive: ranging from $500-$2500 per program, the price point can be a challenge for many. As a result, most people who attend these programs get their employers to cover the cost from the employee development budget (if their companies have one).
- Limited practice: Despite getting some practice during the workshop, you can only have limited practice while learning 20 other concepts in an 8-hour workshop.
- Not self-paced and risk of forgetting the information: on one hand, it feels good to learn all the concepts in 1-2 days. On the other hand, to remember something, we have to experience it multiple times. Jamming in all information means that your brain gets overloaded and can’t fully absorb everything at once. If you don’t incorporate the 20 concepts you learn within a few days, the knowledge will fade quickly.
5) Cohort-based courses
This is a term that popped up recently. A live cohort-based course means a group of people is taking a series of classes together.
The main difference between a cohort and a workshop is that a cohort typically space out the learning sessions (i.e. 2 hours a week for 4 weeks) and a workshop compacts everything into 1-2 days (i.e. a full 8-hour day)
- Price range: $$-$$$
- Fast: like workshops, a cohort teaches a lot of key information over a short period.
- Practice: because it’s a live class with a group of people, you get to practice what you learn
- More spaced-out: When we learn a new piece of information, spend time to apply it, then come back to learn another concept, over time, we remember more from that than being overwhelmed with 30 new concepts at once.
- Lack of pricing transparency: Pricing is often not revealed until you attend the introductory consultation
- Expensive: Most cohorts cost $1000+ (at least from the few we’ve heard; sorry we don’t have a more accurate range)
When we say coaches, we mean 1-on-1 private coaching. Three types of coaches fit into this category: Social Skills coaches, Specialty coaches, and Executive coaches.
A Social Skills coach typically
- helps people overcome their shyness and objections by introducing new mindset
- helps develop conversation skills
- helps people become more social in general
Specialty coaches typically
- specialize in one area, i.e. non-violent communication, negotiating in high-stake situations, or public relations
Executive coaches typically
- are made available to high-value individual in business only
- develop a stronger ability to influence and motivate others
- work through difficult conversations
- build charisma and presence
- develop a resilient mindset
- and other business-related challenges…
Difference between the three
While Social Skills coaches focus on the fundamentals, the Executive coaches typically work with people who have the fundamentals and need the advanced people skills beyond building rapport to handle high stake situations. The Specialty coaches are for those who want to improve one specific communication area.
- Price range: $$$$
- Full customization and self-paced: This is arguably the most effective way to develop a skillset. Not only do you get full attention and customization based on your current skills, but you also get to learn at a pace that’s optimal for you. You can schedule one session a week, two sessions a week, once a month, or whatever works best for you.
- Practice: The nature of coaching is that not only do you get to learn new information, but you also get guidance on how to practice and apply the knowledge to your unique situation.
- Expensive: this tends to be the most expensive option. Most people go to a coach to develop a set of skills, as a result, it typically takes multiple sessions. When the hourly rate goes from $300-$500, you can easily spend a few thousand dollars from several sessions.
Some people might already have good social skills, but their anxiety and intense fear hold them back. This is where a social anxiety therapist comes in handy.
- Price range: $$-$$$ (some insurances cover the costs)
- Pros & Cons: We will skip the pros and cons for this one because mental health tackles a different challenge than all other options. Later on, we will touch on when to use a therapist and when to use the other options.
Choosing the right solutions
A solution may be right for one person but not suitable for another.
From our personal experience, if you want the most effective skillset development and have a high budget, coaching is the best since it’s like having someone “watch over your shoulder” and give you guidance on mistakes you’re not aware of doing.
However, if you have a more reserved budget, the other options might work better for you. It might take a bit longer to get there, but you can still fast-track your learning.
The real way to improve social skills
Understanding most of the available solutions, now what?
We don’t understand the problem
The real challenge that prevents people from improving their social skills is not a lack of solutions. Regardless of how big or small your budget is, you always have a solution.
The real challenge is that people don’t understand what their problem is.
It’s difficult to know what the problem is because social skills are rarely broken down into pieces.
Have you ever heard of someone saying something like “I want to have better social skills” or better yet “I want to have better conversation skills”?
I want a better home. Huh?
We might think that’s clear enough to give us the direction, but that’s as vague as saying “I want a better home”.
Do you want a bigger house with more bedrooms? more natural light? More modern furnishing? More plants in the outdoor area? A different neighborhood?
Defining the scope of problem helps develop a direction to find the solution.
First understand the problem
We mentioned earlier that social skills involve:
- Building rapport (aka. excellent conversation skills)
- Being assertive
- Conflict management
- Influence and persuasion
Let’s take the most foundational part of social skills and break it down: building rapport (conversation skills).
We choose that one because most social interactions involve having a conversation to build rapport. All other skills won’t be effective without first having a good rapport and connection with people.
Often we hear people say:
- Why am I so awkward in conversations?
- I can’t talk to people.
- How do I make friends?
- I blank out in conversation.
They’re all related to conversations skills and the ability to build rapport.
Break it into pieces: what you need to build rapport
How to read the graph
Any one area can stop you from reaching the end outcome.
If you’re not building rapport with people, you’re having challenges with at least one of the areas.
Take the simple yet broad question like “how do I make friends?”, or “how to improve my social life?”, or “I don’t know why I can’t make friends.”; now we can identify which pieces are missing:
- Do you have challenges with anxiety?
- Are you not exposed to social settings where you get to interact with people?
- Or maybe you’re already exposed to social settings and have no problems talking to people, but you don’t have the skills to keep a conversation going?
Explanation of each area and its solution
Once you know what your challenges are, you can find the appropriate solution.
- What it is: Unlike normal nervousness, people with social anxiety have an extreme fear of social interactions. They experience intense fear and anxiety which interfere with their relationships and the ability to socialize.
- Solution: Social anxiety therapists
Exposed to social settings
- Why is it important: As obvious as it sounds, to interact with people, we need to expose ourselves to social settings, whether it’s an event or a club. This often is a challenge for people who enjoy staying inside because going out feels like going out of their comfort zone. However, alternatively, they miss out on connecting with others.
- Active lifestyle: Focus on building an active lifestyle and discover what you like doing (i.e. gardening, knitting, paragliding, reading, surfing, rock climbing). Once you hold enough passion and interest in something, you will naturally want to meet and talk to like-minded people through events, meetups, and clubs.
- Solo-travel: traveling exposes you to one of the best social settings. When people are traveling, they become more open to trying new things and meeting new people. Because people are more receptive, it’s much easier to make a new friend or socialize.
- Other common social settings are at work or in school/universities
- Start your adventure and invite others to join you
Have a broad amount of interests
- What it is: When we hold 1 interest, we can connect with a few people. When we have 10 interests, we can connect with more people.
- When we say interest, we mean:
- A hobby
- Passion for a topic/subject
- Having a strong curiosity towards a subject
- You don’t need to have 10 hobbies to build a connection with people.
- For example, let’s say you’re talking to someone who’s into hiking but you don’t have any experience around it. By being curious, you get to learn what it is, why do they like it? How did they get into it? Do they typically do it alone, with friends, or with a group of people? Where do they typically go for a hike?
- When we say interest, we mean:
- One stone three birds. By being curious, you get to achieve 3 things at once:
- Build up your knowledge base: Having a strong curiosity means that you get to learn more about the subject, in this case, it’s hiking
- The other person gets to talk about things they’re passionate about
- Use your knowledge in other conversations: if you meet another person who also enjoys hiking later on, now you can borrow the learned knowledge to talk about the subject. For example, “I’m not too familiar with hiking, but I know a few people love it because of x, is that why you like it as well?”
Over time, you will accumulate a wide range of knowledge, information, and perspectives to use in any conversation.
- Why is it important to have interests: To build any kind of relationship, we need a bond between people. Without having any interests or curiosity, it’s difficult to create a bond and build a connection.
- Active lifestyle: Focus on building an active lifestyle and discover what you like doing. Focus on developing yourself. When you’re passionate about something, you’ll naturally build knowledge and interest towards the topic and get to connect with like-minded people.
- Develop curiosity: Even if you don’t have hobbies that you’re passionate about, having a strong level of curiosity will serve you well.
Care about the other person
- Why is it important:
- To hold an interesting conversation, we must give our attention to the other person deeply. If we don’t care enough about the other person, it becomes difficult to engage and effectively participate. That’s when we have thoughts like “this is boring, and I don’t care.”
- When we care, being interested in the other person feels effortless. When we don’t care, we subconsciously pay less attention. People can often sense when we’re not interested in what they say, and they tune out of the conversation.
- Ask yourself why: If you don’t care enough, ask yourself why did you want to have a conversation with this person in the first place. Hopefully by understanding your purpose, you will refuel your energy to care. If you still struggle to care, you might realize your purpose is not strong enough to be worth the effort.
Finally, here’s the last piece of the puzzle and often a key to building rapport.
What are conversation skills?
Conversation skills go from starting a conversation, keeping a conversation going, and exiting a conversation well.
It’s not about having the ability to hold a conversation for 5 minutes. It’s about the skills to create a deeper bond and leave a delightful interaction that others come to remember and cherish.
Commonly, we have people ask these questions – and all of them show a desire to connect with people better:
- How to keep a conversation going over text?
- How to make friends as an introvert?
- What are things to talk about with your crush?
Improving their conversation skills to build rapport will serve them well. People with strong conversation skills can create dynamic conversations with almost anyone in any setting (work/romantic/friendships).
Here’re the 5 key elements to having a dynamic conversation:
- Start any conversation organically
- Talk and share more about yourself to help others feel comfortable
- Ask great questions
- Listen to understand (aka. Learn to read people’s minds better)
- Respond in an engaging way when others finish talking
When we hear people ask, how do I start a conversation with a girl or how to make friends in college, on the surface they’re asking for help on a specific area, but it’s a symptom of not having the full conversation skills, or at least they are missing some key elements.
Why are conversation skills important?
Let’s say Alex has social anxiety but he worked to minimize and handle it. He wants to connect with more people and joins a few clubs to expose himself to social settings, yet when it comes time to have a conversation, his mind draws blanks and doesn’t know how to keep it going.
Therefore even if other stars are aligned, you’ll still need the conversation skills to reach the outcome.
Besides therapy, all the solutions we mentioned earlier (books, videos, coaches) can help you develop your skillsets.
If you’re looking to develop strong conversation skills and build rapport, the conversation skills training program from Eloquency goes beyond theory. Reading theories may give us a false sense of growth or satisfaction, but the information will only stick if we practice using it.
The online program offers practice scenarios to help you develop conversation skills effectively. It includes 100+ practice examples and social skills scenarios
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