The secret for how to improve social skills is the same as for anything else we might wish to improve.
There are two methods of practicing to improve social skills:
- Use better social behavior in relationship to others.
- Expose ourselves to those who model skilled social behavior.
This second method for how to improve social skills we could call “keeping good company.”
In the absence of intentionally seeking out skilled social role models, we’re likely to be most influenced by role models of the media’s choosing. Those models are more likely to be spectacular examples of some of the most asocial personalities among us.
Like Donald Trump, for example.
Leading the polls as he is in the 2016 Republican nomination campaign, you might imagine he feels like he’s got lots of friends. Despite all of his worldly success, however, I think there is a good chance that, underneath, he’s feeling lonely too, just like you and me.
Now I’m not here to pass judgment on Donald Trump. I really know nothing about him, except that he’s an amazing businessman.
What’s ironic is that the process that leads to the ownership of tangible assets is not much different from the one that allows us to build relationships that have strength and depth.
If you want to buy a car or a home, it’s true that you’ve got to make a down payment up front. Yet, to claim full ownership, there is a period of making interest payments that comes before building equity.
Translating the principle to human enterprises, bestselling leadership author and speaker John C. Maxwell put it succinctly:
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
In other words, to build relationships, we have to make an investment in them before they start paying dividends. Improved social skills are founded on our understanding of this principle.
If we’re interested in developing the skill of leadership, for example—where others value our guidance or instruction—we have to make interest payments on the relationship before we can draw on it as an asset. Expecting others to do what we want before we’ve established a positive balance through our connection with them is simply poor relationship finance.
Showing interest or paying attention to another person is the key principle behind improving social skills.
The Real Reason You Might Be Feeling Lonely
We are deeply social creatures, and the hard wiring of that orientation is encoded into our neural circuitry. The reason you’re feeling lonely, personally or professionally, may have as much or more to do with other people as it does with you.
What I mean by that is most people are on the lookout for signs of social exclusion or rejection. Unless we actively give signals to others that we are unconditionally open and interested in who they are, most people aren’t going to get too close. As we show an interest in their experience and their authentic feelings, then the neural chemistry that might cause someone to hold back has them doing the opposite: moving toward us in openness and trust.
You’ve likely heard of the neurochemical poster child oxytocin, also known as “the love hormone.” Well, it doesn’t just show up in intimate relationships. It makes an appearance when we feel trust with another person. It decreases feelings of stress, fear and pain.
It seems there is some complicated biochemistry at play regarding oxytocin receptors that can cause some people to have decreased confidence in social relationships, demonstrate poor social skills, and have a much higher need for signs of overt approval.
Causing them to do things like, say, run for President rather than asking you to go for coffee.
In short, the real reason you may be feeling lonely is that you’re not providing enough cues that show you are actually interested in the people you spend time with. It’s probably not because you’re an unlikable person, as we often imagine about ourselves.
Thinking that we are unlikable of course causes us to be self-critical and close down. This further undermines the connections we’re wanting. That means more obstacles to better customer relationships, intimate relationships, colleague relationships, and potential friendships.
So in part, the way to overcome feeling lonely is to realize that other people are probably feeling lonely too and could use some help from you to let down their guard. That means that bashing Donald Trump is not likely to get him to admit he just wants your love.
The Good News Is . . .
The good news about how to improve social skills is that it’s a two-way street. The same things that help others overcome their distrust of you can help you overcome your distrust of others.
Here at Freedom Habits we’ll be focusing from time to time on the multitude of things we can do to improve social skills and build relationships more happily and successfully. Many of these things, as I mentioned earlier, we all know about already. We’re just not actively practicing them.
- Making eye contact.
- Using friendly and appropriate touch.
- Not interrupting others when they are speaking.
With respect to this article, however, I want to focus for a minute on one very powerful way to improve social skills that works across the board for most situations and for most people.
Asking Great Questions
Perhaps you are now wondering, “What makes for a great question when it comes to building relationships?” That in itself is a good question, but not a great question.
Let’s pretend that you and I are standing nose-to-nose instead of blog-to-nose. Turning your good question into a great question involves seeing and showing an interest in the person you’re asking the question of. For example, “This is a very interesting topic you’re addressing Rick. What’s a question you keep hoping someone will ask you?”
Not only are you bound to get a more useful answer, you’re also going to create the beginnings of a bond with me as I open up toward your personal interest in my heartfelt wishes. I’m already having an oxytocin rush, and not feeling so lonely anymore, just imagining that you’re interested in me this way! So thanks for using your social skills with me.
To answer that great, albeit imaginary, question, I keep hoping someone will ask me, “How can I make a living doing what I love?”
Now that’s a question that lights me up!
When I hear it, a part of me falls in love with the person who is asking it. Because anyone who asks that question is expressing a necessity to be fully alive. Anyone who asks that question is asking about how they can make their highest form of contribution in this life.
Perhaps that is a question you actually have.
If so, here are some questions you can ask yourself that I consider great questions. And by the way, I’d love to personally hear your answer if you feel moved to share them, either in the comment section below, or you can send me an email using the contact form on this site.
“What’s something you’d love to try but have been waiting for someone to give you permission to do?”
“What’s one thing you could cause to happen that would leave you filled with a sense of meaning and purpose at the end of the day?”
These are some questions you might want to think about for yourself as you approach the new year. Especially if you’re a New Year’s-resolution-making type. After you consider them yourself, try asking them to someone you care about. Anyone that you want to get closer to. Or someone who you are responsible for guiding, personally or professionally.
Of course, sometimes we have to work our way up to these questions with what seems like small talk. But as you’re making it, look for the opportunity to engage the deep talk that arises from authentic questions.
How to improve social skills and stop feeling lonely comes from taking a sincere interest in ourselves, listening carefully to who we really are, and then extending that curiosity and receptivity to others. Whatever questions naturally arise from that mood will serve you well in improving the relationships in all parts of your life.
Taking an interest in what others are thinking and doing is often a much more powerful form of encouragement than praise.”
No matter what circumstance or situation we’re in, no one can take away our freedom to connect authentically with others.
Thanks for making the human race a little more free.
Go ahead – practice freedom.