Some people seem naturally blessed with expert social skills and charisma, but social engagements can feel awkward, clumsy, and uncertain for the rest of us.
The good news is you can develop social skills and make your social interactions smoother and more connected. Watch our social skills video to get started, and then keep reading:
So whether you experience social anxiety, want more connection, or just want to sharpen your social chops, let’s learn how!
What are Social Skills?
Social skills are the interpersonal tools, relationship strategies, and soft skills we use to communicate, build connections, and interact with others. They are also called people skills or interpersonal skills.
Here are the most important social skills to focus on:
- Conversation skills
- Public speaking
- Reading people
- Bringing People Together
Read on to dive deeper and learn tips on cultivating each one!
Why Social Skills Are Important
Social skills are the most overlooked career accelerant. The better your social skills, the easier it is to succeed in all areas. Want a better relationship with your boss? Excellent conversation skills. Want a promotion? Learn to be indispensable on a team. Want to make better friends? Learn how to build rapport and be authentic.
It’s hard to overstate how important social skills are. But here are a few compelling benefits. Strong social skills will help you:
- Advance in your career
- Find personal happiness1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8345378/
- Build community and feel belonging
- Build friendships
Social skills are not optional extras; they’re fundamental for a successful, happy, and well-rounded life.
Lots of brilliant, creative, interesting people focus so much on their IQ that they forget about their PQ (or interpersonal intelligence). They work so hard acquiring technical skills and job skills that they forget about social skills and people skills.
I believe everyone (especially adults) should have social skills training; social skills are the only universal job skill, after all.
But so few of us have any social skills training at all! It’s assumed that social skills will be learned by osmosis. Parents figure kids will learn them over time, and teachers hope they happen on the playground. Not true!
Now, let’s go over the top social skills and how to practice each!
A key social skill is being a smooth conversationalist, where you engage others in fun small talk as well as meaningful discussions.
Podcasters and talk show hosts are some of the best conversationalists.
Conversation is one of the most important skills because it allows you to connect, understand, and be understood by others. It creates personal and professional connections and makes you a person with whom others want to spend time.
Some of the main components of the conversational skillset are:
- The ability to balance speaking and listening
- Articulating your thoughts and feelings clearly
- Demonstrating genuine interest and curiosity
- Non-verbal feedback like smiling and nodding
- Finding where there is life in the conversation and following that thread
The first place to practice this skill is to practice the balance of listening and speaking.
Action Step: Notice in your conversations if you tend to ask more questions or speak more. After each conversation, estimate what percent of the talking you did. If you tend to do under 50%, then in your next conversation, strive to share more! If you tend to speak over 50%, then in your next conversation, strive to ask more questions!
And if you’d like to bring your conversation skills to the next level, you might enjoy this goodie:
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Research2https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2003-01859-007 suggests that there are different ways to use humor to foster connection. For example, you might tell a self-deprecating joke to equalize the status in a dynamic, or you could say something silly in a stressful moment to release tension.
But at the heart of all humor is the ability to find laughter, play, and joy in any moment.
Research3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4779443/ also suggests that how much we laugh alongside someone indicates how close we feel to them.
A good comedian knows how to amuse and uplift others without resorting to negativity or offense. If your jokes make others feel bad, then you won’t get invited back to the party!
Here are several types of humor. Which do you resonate with most?
- Clever wit (“I used to be indecisive; now I’m not so sure”)
- Childlike playfulness (Silly faces or imagining that your slice of pizza is a monster)
- Clowning (Playing exaggerated characters and using your body for humor)
- Mischievous pranks (Placing a small piece of tape over the bottom of a computer mouse and watching as someone tries to figure out why it’s not working)
- Sarcasm (“Great job on cleaning the kitchen; it’s only slightly less dirty than a dumpster”)
- Self-deprecating jokes (“I’m like a fine wine; I get better with age… if ‘better’ means ‘more bitter'”)
- Simply laughing a lot! (Bursting into laughter at the slightest hint of a joke)
Here are a few steps you can take to improve your humor:
Action Step 1: Read our in-depth article on how to be funny.
Action Step 2: Take an improv class. This is one of the best ways to practice having fun.
Action Step 3: Practice the art of “yes-and.” This is the fundamental of improv comedy and the best way to practice humor with others. If someone you’re with offers a joke (even a terrible joke), first accept the premise of the joke and then take it one step further. Don’t even worry about being funny—focus more on having fun and being playful, and the laughs will come naturally.
If you’d like more tips on strengthening your funny bone, check out this article.
This is where you can captivate an audience or a group of people with your words when you’re sharing something in a way that has everyone lean forward and hang on to your every word.
Being a skilled speaker is helpful because it helps you influence others. You can use your influence to entertain or inspire.
Really, any time you’re speaking to a group, this skill can come in handy. You could use it when you’re leading a meeting, giving a toast, or sharing an opinion with a group of friends.
The one thing great speakers do is absorb attention.
If you are uncomfortable with other people’s attention, you’ll probably rush through what you’re saying or stare at your feet. You might be afraid that if you don’t entertain people, they’ll stop paying attention to you.
But, paradoxically, a great speaker captures attention because they enjoy attention (or are at least comfortable with it). If you can feel comfortable with others’ attention and assume you belong on the “stage,” then you can start to take up space. You can make eye contact with others. Slow down your speaking. And take dramatic pauses.
Science of People founder Vanessa Van Edwards covers a research study in her book Cues, which found that channeling Steve Jobs can actually give you more confidence on stage and make you a better presenter. Who is your speaking role model? Channel them.
Action Step: The next time you’re at dinner with friends or family, challenge yourself to give a toast! It can be short and light-hearted, but take every chance you can to practice being in the limelight. And see if you can act as if your a confident performer.
If you really want to improve this social skill, you could join our Powerful Presentations course, which is a group of professionals who help each other practice public speaking.
Want to sharpen your presentation skills and make your ideas more impactful? Whether it’s a video call, conference call, or sales presentation, here’s your free sneak peek at our ultimate science-based course, Powerful Presentations:
Additionally, here are 15 Science-Based Public Speaking Tips To Be a Master Speaker.
Persuasion is a social skill that allows you to influence others’ opinions, perceptions, and desires.
Being an effective persuader is a crucial social social skill if you want to impact others. Persuasion can help you pitch yourself in a job interview, rally a friend group for a movie outing, or even convince a friend to drop a disagreement.
The core of being persuasive is a combination of understanding people and strategic communication. It’s a skill where you understand what motivates a person’s actions and then speak to their motivation.
Here’s one persuasion tip from Robert Cialdini, author of the book Influence. Cialdini writes:
“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor, we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”
Cialdini cites a fascinating study where a participant would ask another person if they could use a copy machine. The participant would ask in three ways:
- Just the request: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
- Request with a real reason: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”
- Request with a redundant reason: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?”
The results showed that when the request was accompanied by a reason, even a redundant one like “because I have to make copies” (which doesn’t provide new information), compliance was significantly higher than when no reason was given!
The word “because” is magic! It makes people more likely to agree to a request.
Action Step: The next time you need to make a request, try out Cialdini’s method using a genuine reason. For instance, if you’re asking a colleague to help with a project, you might say, “Would you be willing to help with this report? Because I’d really appreciate your expertise.”
The tools of persuasion are powerful! And if you do choose to study them, remember that it’s always crucial to honor someone’s consent.
Listening is an art form. Listening well allows those around you to feel heard and understood. If you are a good listener, people will want to open up to you and share their vulnerability with you.
Being a great listener comes down to
- Presence. When listening, keep your phone in your pocket. Strive for eye-contact, and put your full attention on the other person’s words, emotions, and body language.
- Empathy. Search for the emotions underneath the words. And notice your own emotions and what you feel in your body as the other person speaks.
- Non-verbal cues. Pay attention to their body language signals and react accordingly.
- Questions. Get courteous, ask questions, show interest, and give them a chance to open up further.
- Non-judgment. A great listener is a safe listener. If the other person feels like they can show their true colors to you safely, then they will!
If you listen well, it will create deeper relationships, and you will likely become a trusted confidant and a valued part of others’ support systems.
To take your listening one step further, you can focus on active listening. This is where you nod, say lots of affirmations like “yep” and “mmhmm,” and most importantly, you reflect back on what you heard and help the other person go deeper into what they shared.
Check out this masterful example of listening where Oprah uses reflective listening and lots of empathy to make Pharell come to tears and feel deeply understood.
Action Step: Ask a friend if you can practice your listening with them! Put on a timer for 5 minutes, and ask them to share what’s going on in their life. Any time they pause in their share, your job is to reflect back on what they’ve heard so far.
This activity will help you practice understanding what the other person is saying.
If you struggle with listening, you could also consider a vow of silence for a few hours or a few days where you are forced to listen.
To be magnetic is to ooze out charisma in a way where people want nothing more than to be in your presence!
Magnetic people are usually approachable and easy to like.
The social skill of magnetism has to do with:
- Warmth. Being kind, friendly, and compassionate.
- Competence. Coming off as effective, skillful, and intelligent.
- Positive energy. Magnets usually beam positive energy and evoke confidence and optimism in others. Good vibes!
- Confidence. Magnetic people usually have high self-esteem.
One great way to become more magnetic is to focus on your positive energy. You don’t want to veer into toxic positivity, but if you can be genuinely positive, it’s infectious to be around.
Here are a few ideas.
Action Step: In your next interaction, try one of the following to be more positive:
- Ask questions that generate positive emotions. EG: What are you most proud of? What do you feel excited about right now? What do you feel grateful for?
- Offer compliments and appreciation to the other person.
- Make positive remarks about the environment you’re in. “Wow, the decor here is so unique; I love it!”
A good storyteller always seems to enrapture others in intriguing stories. If you’re good at storytelling, then others will fall into a trance when listening to your tales, completely immersed in what happened.
Storytelling helps you entertain others, move and inspire them, and create shared moments of connection. A story can change the energy of an entire room and bring people into a collective imagination space. Powerful stuff. There’s a reason that storytelling is as old as human culture4https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/storytelling-and-cultural-traditions/.
Here are the key aspects of a well-told story:
- Describe things in detail
- Evoke the five senses
- Bring emotion into your stories
- Only share relevant information
- Don’t spoil the ending!
To get a more in-depth guide to storytelling, check out this article.
Nurturing is a social skill where you take care of others, offer support, and show warmth. It’s often an expression of a parental instinct, and this social skill can sometimes also come out as the impulse to protect those whom you love.
The core of being a nurturer lies in your unwavering concern for the well-being of others.
If you are a natural nurturer or want to expand your nurturing skillset, be careful because it can be easy to extend into a few pitfalls, including:
- Excessively worrying about others (in a way that they don’t like)
- Feeling so uncomfortable with negative emotions that you try to “fix” people’s pain right away instead of letting them feel it
- Pushing past your own boundaries to help others
The best way to become a better nurturer is to practice opening your heart. If you start to put your awareness on when others feel upset, hurt, or stifled, you can cultivate the impulse in yourself to support and nurture.
Action Step: The next time you are in a social interaction, see if you can make a game of noticing when the other person expresses pain or discomfort. That’s the first step! Just being more aware. If you want to take it to the next step, make an effort to help or support your friend in that moment.
The ability to read people refers to the skillset of decoding another person’s body language, word choice, and emotional expression to understand what they are feeling underneath the surface.
It is a type of emotional intelligence and comes down to your ability to perceive. To practice reading people can also feel like detective work, where you are searching for clues.
This is a valuable skill because most people aren’t open to books that will tell you exactly how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking at a given moment. And in fact, most people don’t even know themselves! So, if you can figure out what people are feeling and subconsciously conveying around you, it gives you extra information to navigate social situations skillfully and gracefully.
To get better at reading people, the main clues to pay attention to are:
- Their body language4https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/storytelling-and-cultural-traditions/ and non-verbal communication
- Their facial expressions
- Their word choice
- The tone and speed of their voice
If you’d like to improve your ability to read people, one of the best places to start is by reading microexpressions on faces. Here is an awesome guide to show you how to do just that.
Leadership is a powerful social skill that can help bring a group together. Folks who are good leaders empower others, provide an inspiring vision that others want to follow, and give direction to a group.
Imagine you’re with a group of friends, and everyone is bored, hanging out on the couch, turning into lumps. A person with leadership skills might notice the group energy slumping and compellingly propose that everyone mobilizes to eat together.
In this simple example above, a good leader has:
- Tuned in to the needs and desires of the group and determined what would be best for everyone
- Shared their vision of getting food together in a way that compels others to join
- Gave direction to a formerly directionless group
Leadership can be scary for many people because it requires making decisions and taking charge.
But not every leader needs to be super assertive and directorial. There are lots of styles of leadership!
If you’d like to build this skill, check out this article: How to Be a Great Leader: 16 Science-Backed Skills.
Action Step: If you have an experimental friend, try this! Go on an adventure together, where you each act as the leader for an hour. When it’s your turn, you’ll steer the charge of what you do together—whether walking into shops or sipping hot drinks at a café.
And remember, a good leader doesn’t just command people around; they get a sense of what the rest of the group wants! Afterward, reflect and give each other feedback.
This is a social skill that allows you to build relationships with influential people and develop a large network of colleagues whom you can call on for support when you need to get things done.
It’s also a skill that helps you connect other people with each other.
Some of the main components of networking are:
- The ability to build new relationships easily and to nurture and maintain existing ones.
- Knowing how to meet new people
- Knowing who would be a good person to introduce to whom
- Having a spidey sense of how you could benefit others and how others could benefit you
- An orientation toward generosity. As Keith Ferrazzi writes in Never Eat Alone, “The more people you help, the more help you’ll have and the more help you’ll have helping others.”
As with many social skills, networking can have a shadow side. If you get too focused on networking, you can start to see people more for their function than their humanity. So, if you want to build this skill, it’s important to balance it with empathy, generosity, and a genuine desire to connect.
To buff up your networking prowess, check out this article.
Just like the animals who can change their color, the social skill of chameleoning allows you to change your vibe to match those around you.
It’s a skill that helps you get along with just about everyone.
As psychologist Mark Snyder puts it, chameleons “read the nature of the situation, invoke an image of the type of person the situation calls for, and then use the image as a guide to their own behavior.”
In social settings, a chameleon might seamlessly float from one group to another and be seen as friends with everyone.
This skill requires you to be flexible and adaptive to your social environment. Some researchers5https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1025389814290 would say you must actively observe social roles and contextual cues and subconsciously mimic the mannerisms, postures, and behaviors of the people you interact with.
To be a good chameleon, you might also want to step back and scrutinize a social situation before jumping in. That way, you can understand the energy and norms to adapt to.
If you try to chameleon, but you feel that your behaviors are not having the intended effect, you can continue to change and adapt until you hit the right note. As a consequence, you’ll be welcomed by and integrated into many different social groupings.
Many people who are chameleons also struggle with people-pleasing and can lose track of their own preferences, personality, and identity because they spend so much time watching others. It can also be emotionally draining to constantly exit one’s own “vibe” to match another person’s.
Action Step: To practice this skill, the next time you are at a party or social event, make an effort to match the energy of each new person you talk to instead of leading with your own energy.
Bringing People Together
One powerful skill is being a linchpin, where you are the glue that holds a group in one piece, and you bring different people together6https://www.routledge.com/Relationship-Management-and-the-Management-of-Projects-1st-Edition/Smyth/p/book/9780415705127.
Bringing people together is a valuable social skill because it puts you in the center of a social web, which increases your status and social power. It also builds community and helps others make new connections.
The biggest skills required to bring people together are taking the initiative and envisioning who might mesh well with whom.
Most people don’t take social initiative. They wait to get invited to plans. So, if you are the one who makes the plans and invites people, then you’ll be viewed as a social leader and can help others feel included.
Single Action Step: Start by organizing a small event or gathering for a group. This could be as simple as inviting two people to meet for a drink. Or bringing a group of people together for a drawing meetup.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Social Skills
Teaching social skills often involves modeling positive interactions and providing opportunities for practice in various settings. Role-playing, guided discussions, and social games can be particularly effective tools.
Social media can both enhance and hinder social skills; it offers a platform for connection and self-expression but may reduce face-to-face interactions and the development of empathy and emotional cues. It’s all about balance and mindful usage.
Developing good social skills in students requires creating an environment where they can practice empathy, teamwork, and effective communication regularly. Encouraging group projects and structured social activities can be very beneficial.
Homeschooling can affect social skills differently depending on the individual and their level of engagement with varied social settings outside the home. It can help to proactively involve preschoolers, young children, and older kids in community activities, and group learning can help mitigate any potential deficits.
To improve social skills as a teenager, actively seek out diverse social interactions and reflect on your experiences. Joining clubs, sports, or other group activities can provide valuable practice and feedback.
If you feel your social skills are lacking, it might be due to limited practice, anxiety, or not learning these skills early on. Don’t worry, though; social skills can be improved in adulthood through mindful practice and learning.
Examples of social skills include humor, listening, empathy, leadership, and the ability to read social cues. These skills are crucial for building and maintaining relationships with family members, workplace peers, employees, and friends.
Takeaways on Social Skills
Remember, here are the top social skills to learn:
- Conversation skills: Finding passionate threads and balancing speaking and listening.
- Humor: Wit, play, silliness, goofiness, pranks, and jokes!
- Public speaking: This skill allows you to captivate an audience with your words.
- Persuasion: The ability to influence others’ opinions, perceptions, and desires.
- Listening: The skill that helps others feel valued and heard.
- Magnetism: Exuding charisma and a welcoming aura.
- Storytelling: Weaving captivating tales with emotional depth.
- Nurturing: Offering care and support.
- Reading people: Interpreting subtle cues in body language and speech to understand deeper emotions.
- Leadership: Inspiring and guiding others, uniting a group with a clear vision and direction.
- Networking: Cultivating valuable relationships, connecting with others, and building a supportive web of contacts.
- Chameleoning: Adapting to your surroundings and blending in with various groups by mirroring their energy and vibe.
- Bringing People Together: Uniting diverse people into a cohesive group.
Best of luck with cultivating your social skills!
If you are serious about your people skills and want to bring them up a level, one phenomenal option is to enroll in People School. It’s our flagship course designed to upgrade your social intelligence. Take a look!
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