Brush up your social skills!
Updated: Feb 9
So in many ways our lives have remained changed in the way we connect with others since the pandemic . All over the world people are adjusting to changes in how they socialise in and out of work, college, family life.
So what has changed for you?
You may be working from home, you may be managing a higher workload, you may be using the virtual world a great deal more to connect with others, you maybe invited to a zoom or teams call as a first 'meet and greet' or interview with new people, gaming might be your new way to party and link up, you may feel like your social skills, since the parties and gigs had a temporary lay off , are a little rusty.
In this blog I give 10 tips to help your social skills feel well oiled!
1 Tune into thoughts and feelings
We often worry about what other people think of us and if we are saying the 'right thing' or coming across in a way in which we would like. What if you could be totally comfortable with yourself, without those niggling thoughts? We don't know what other people are thinking even though ironically it's probably exactly the same thing as us. We don't have a crystal ball after all.
In fact the very reason that we worry what other people are thinking shows that we care and have empathy. Empathy and emotional intelligence is all about tuning into what you are feeling, so knowing yourself, and also tuning into the feelings of others and responding in a way that makes both parties comfortable. It is helpful to tune into the other person and what they are saying whilst avoiding labelling ourselves negatively. The strange times we are living in right now can make it difficult for everyone and most people would probably say they feel that their social skills are a little rusty.
2. Own our strengths
As individuals we are a mixture of strengths and weaknesses, personality traits, skills, values, beliefs, preferences, behaviour patterns and a whole lot more like ingredients in a wonderfully complicated cake! Some of the ingredients mix well and some are an acquired taste. Not everyone likes raisons in their cake, too much lemon or cinnamon for example! It's personal choice and we all bring different things to our communication styles and our relationships.
It is worth having a think about what your friends, family, work colleagues say are some of your amazing qualities. What are some of the ingredients that make you unique? If we take the positive feedback about ourselves from others and think 'what would my friend say right now about me?' then this is a major step to befriending ourselves. If we know ourselves then we increase our awareness of what we bring to our social interaction and this in turn increases social confidence.
3. Get the conversation going
So we have tuned into what might be going on for the other person, we have reminded ourself about our own strengths and are feeling like a fluffy lemon meringue (ok so that might just be me - reference to my beautiful Nana's cooking!). So how do we start the process off where we can talk with others at a level where we all feel comfortable?
We often start off when we first meet someone with a range of topics, these will test the waters for how the relationship will progress. If it is a professional relationship we may stay at this level. Topics such as sports, film, music, weather, shared interests, how the other person is, where they live etc..seem pretty safe. This stage I call the initiating stage and it is often the most tricky time and needs lots of work. In coaching I have spent time with coachees practicing how we can initiate interaction in this way. It can feel a little nerve wracking so we often stay at a disclosure level that feels super safe. However even at this stage we are building rapport, making a connection with others. At this point we can choose whether the relationship stays at this level which feels more like a professional relationship or an acquaintance level or on 'friendly terms' or connect deeper.
4. Build rapport
We build rapport from the first moment we meet, we start this process off often without realising it is happening. If we understand the process then we can develop this to a deeper level to increase our social skills further. Rapport can be characterised by 4 areas. Empathy which we have looked at in tip 1 above; genuineness so we do what we say we are going to do and be ourselves; focus so we tune into the other person without distractions and trust so that we keep confidences and create an environment where we and others feel safe to disclose about themselves.
In short we create rapport when we listen to the other person, find out about their point of view and start to disclose information about ourselves. Trust can start to build up the more we learn about the other person and the more that we mutually share.
Think back to a time when you experienced a good level of rapport with someone, what was in place? What did the verbal and non verbal communication look like, how engaged in the process were you both without outside distractions?
6. Communicate in different ways
There is a great deal of evidence to show that communication is mostly non verbal, that we as humans tend to think that we communicate through our words but this is only a small percentage in actual fact. There are so many ways to communicate through voice tone, body language, though touch as well as with communicating with voice messages.
Sometimes we can feel shy and we feel that we need to make conversation however non verbal communication such as eye contact, nodding, open facial expressions is still communication. In intimate relationships a helpful way to deal when we feel upset and feel that the words will be too raw can be through touch messages. We also have text, zoom, instagram messages, emoji's and old fashioned letter writing.
We can work out what communication style the other person is using, for example are they talking fast, using lots of hand gestures or are they being quieter and coming across as thoughtful. We can match our body language, our tone of voice and communication style accordingly. Choose the best way for you to communicate according to how you feel in a given situation.
7. Check that you have understood
Respect often feels like it is being understood by another person. In order to find out if the other person is feeling respected it is worth asking them. If we are given a name and don't hear it, for example, then it is much better to ask 'can I check I am saying your name right?' than to avoid using it altogether. We can ask for clarification if we want to check that we are understanding the other person correctly. We use stereotypes and assumptions to make sense of the world and it takes courage to be able to check in that we are deciphering what another person means according to how they understand it. It also demonstrates interest and attention. In the couples coaching sessions I run checking in that one person has been understood and invited to express themselves if they haven't is vitally important.
8. Manage difference of opinion
We are not going to agree with others all the time and this applies to those with whom we usually agree! If we can recognise differences and seek to find out more by inviting others to share what they are thinking and feeling then we develop our social skills and grow as a person.
Sometimes we find socialising with others difficult when we are not in agreement and it's much less painful to be genuine with your opinions, speak out and disagree in the short term for longer term gain. Assertiveness skills in being able to set boundaries and be open and honest about what you want are super helpful for this. There is short term pain in saying what we want, feel or would like to happen but we then have long term gain in our relationships with others when we can respect differences.
9. Set the environment
What is the most relaxing place for you to interact with others right now? It maybe that a dinner party feels too much but going for a coffee and chat for an hour, a walk, a run, the cinema is completely doable. If you have been used to linking up with people on virtual platforms then meeting face to face can feel daunting.
So what works for you?
Instigate meeting up somewhere where you feel relaxed. I am finding with coaching at the moment that many of my coachees are missing the 'chat in the coffee room' at work. To meet up with work colleagues feels too formal and contrived, for example, when they have more of an acquaintance type relationship such as bumping into each other over the water filter or being in the kitchan at the same time.
Ways that some of my coachees have managed this have been to join facebook groups, meetups online, engineer walks or to set some time aside at the end of virtual meetings to have that all important informal chat. It is time to think outside the box and redefine how we want our relationships to be, with whom we want our relationships and devise new activities to help define them. I really enjoy running bellydance classes, for example, over zoom but always allow some time for a 'hello and how are you' chat at the start.
10. Doing it anyway
Finally it is worth saying that social skills can be super tricky and we may feel scared of meeting new people or connecting with others. My daughter who is 17 and super wise says to me that on tic toc there is encouragement to 'do it even if you are scared to in order to show that it's alright'. So if you go out and get talking to people even if you are feeling scared and it is outside of your comfort zone not only will you be benefiting yourself you will be helping other people by modelling connecting with others.
I hope you enjoyed my article and it provoked some ideas. If you are interested in finding out more about developing your social skills or any other form of coaching do get in touch. If the blog has brought up any questions for you then please free to get in touch, I would love to hear from you.
My background is 20 years in working for the National Probation Service, including rehabilitation for substance use, anger management, domestic abuse, hate crime and developing emotional management, life, relationship and thinking skills. I train consultants in the NHS in coaching and mentoring and run my own coaching practice which operates using a person centred approach drawing on coaching psychology approaches.
If there is any coaching or training in which you would be interested please get in touch for a free chat or to access support for any of the areas covered in this article. Feel free to book your free 20 mins coaching consultation with me!
Thank you for reading!