If you’re worried that your social skills are stunted, the good news is that they can be learned, developed, and improved with practice.
This article will provide practical advice for improving these skills so you can feel more confident during social interactions.
- What are social skills, and how are they developed?
- 10 ways to improve your social skills
- How to know if you have bad social skills
- Common questions
No one is born with social skills. Basic social skills like learning how to listen, follow instructions, and speak clearly are learned in childhood. More advanced social skills like knowing how to say things, what not to say or do, or how to deal with conflict only develop with experience and real-world interactions. As your social skills mature, you are able to adapt more easily to different kinds of social situations.
- Being able to communicate ideas fluently and clearly
- Being able to accurately read and interpret social cues
- Empathy and being able to understand the feelings and views of others
- Adapting behavior and communication according to the situation
- Starting, maintaining, and ending conversations
- Building and maintaining healthy relationships
- Being able to identify and resolve misunderstandings
- Knowing how to set boundaries, say no, and stick up for yourself
- Speaking in a persuasive and convincing manner
- Responding effectively to stressful situations or conflicts
Through regular practice, it is possible to improve your social skills and have interactions that feel less awkward and more enjoyable. Below are 10 ways to work on identifying and improving social skill deficits.
Research shows that some people who believe they have terrible social skills actually are better than they think at communicating. Getting honest real-world feedback is one of the best ways to figure out if your social deficiency is real or imagined and to identify solutions for specific skill deficits you have.
There are a number of ways to assess your social skills using data and feedback, including:
- Asking someone you trust about how they think others perceive you
- Take a free social skills quiz online or SocialSelf’s free social awkwardness quiz
- Look at customer or client satisfaction surveys if you’re in a job that provides them
- Ask for feedback from managers to assess your communication skills at work
- Re-read texts, emails, or listen to recorded speeches or presentations to see what you can improve
Knowing what’s causing you to feel awkward or socially deficient can help you become more self-aware, which is an important part of social skill development. Self-reflection can uncover the root causes of your social problems so that you can make a targeted plan to address these issues.
- Personality or individual differences like being more introverted, neurotic, or less open can make it harder for some people to interact naturally with others.
- Negative past experiences like bullying, being rejected, or a really embarrassing moment can cause you to expect negative interactions with people, making you more defensive around others.
- Early childhood experiences like being sheltered, home-schooled, or having a parent who was socially isolated may have led you to have less practice developing social skills.
- Life changes and transitions like being placed in a new or different role, environment, or social setting can also lead people to feel socially awkward
- Low self-esteem, insecurities, and anxiety are other common causes of social awkwardness and can make people view themselves as socially inept or deficient.
- Social isolation or a lack of social interaction can also cause people to feel less confident in their social skills and also to get less regular practice using these skills.
- Neurological or psychological issues like being on the autism spectrum, having social anxiety or ADHD, or being depressed can all make certain people more prone to social skills problems.
Social skills are largely about being able to accurately read other people and respond to social cues, which is only possible when you focus more on others than on yourself. Social anxiety or feeling awkward or insecure can cause you to overthink social interactions to the point that it is impossible for them to feel natural.
To break this cycle, try using some of these skills:
- Give your full attention to others in conversation to help them feel important and values
- Show sincere interest in other people and the things they care about
- Focus more on being a good listener instead of a good “speaker”
- Focus less on making a good impression and more on making others feel heard and understood
- Talk more about the things that interest or excite others to create more feel-good interactions
- Ask more open-ended questions to keep people talking about themselves
During an interaction, there are always different social cues that can help you “read” other people and how they are responding to you. These cues can act like road signs that help you know how the interaction is going and when you need to stop, change directions, or slow down. This is why being observant and learning how to pick up on social cues is such an important part of improving your social skills.
Here are some social cues to watch, look, and listen for in conversations:
- Avoiding eye contact, fidgeting, or looking at the door can indicate someone is uncomfortable
- Changing the topic or being evasive may mean you’ve hit on a sensitive or controversial topic
- Smiling, making eye contact, other signs of emotional expression, and nodding are usually positive signs of interest
- Shutting down or getting defensive can indicate you have offended someone
- Appearing distracted, rushed, or checking their phone may mean someone is bored or busy
Misunderstandings happen all the time, even with the most skilled communicators. These can often be avoided or cleared up quickly by asking clarifying questions to make sure you and the other person are on the same page. Asking for clarification helps you avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication. It can also provide you with real-time data that you are communicating in a clear and effective way.
Here are some examples of questions to ask to get clarification and ensure you’re on the same page with someone you’re talking to:
- Reflect back what they said by saying something like, “What I’m hearing you say is…”
- Ask questions like, “Does that make sense?” or “Did that answer your question?”
- Avoid misunderstandings by saying something like, “What I was trying to say was…” or asking, “Can you repeat that?”
- Summarize important conversations by saying something like, “So the key takeaways I got from our conversation were…” and giving the person the chance to add or clarify when needed
Communication may come more naturally to some people, but social skills always need to be actively developed, maintained, and improved through regular interactions.
Getting regular practice using your social skills is the best way to improve them. This means starting more conversations, speaking up more, and not allowing your fear of being embarrassed or making mistakes to keep you silent. Gradually work up to more challenging and difficult conversations, like learning how to resolve conflicts, give feedback, or apologize.
Getting clear about what message you want to communicate to someone can help to improve your interactions. Identifying what you want to communicate ahead of time (or what your “goal” is) makes it easier to stay on track, especially during an important conversation.
For example, jotting down a few key points or ideas before a work presentation or meeting can help you feel more prepared while also setting you up for a more positive and productive interaction.
People who feel like they lack social skills may have a tendency to overcompensate by filtering or overthinking everything they say or do. This can backfire, making you feel more nervous and insecure and also making it harder to think clearly and speak fluently. Trying to relax and loosen up can help you be more genuine and authentic, leading to interactions that feel a lot more natural and enjoyable.
Because loneliness and social isolation are so bad for your physical and mental health, spending more time with friends and family can really improve your quality of life. These talks allow you to practice basic social skills like starting conversations, showing interest, and keeping conversations going. These relationships also tend to be “safe places” to practice more advanced social skills like conflict resolution, asking for help, or apologizing after making a mistake.
If you feel like you need some additional support on developing social skills, it may be a good idea to sign up for a training, class, or online course to improve your social skills.
Attending support groups or meetups for improving public speaking skills can help give you more skills and tips while also providing good practice opportunities. If the cause of your poor social skills is related to an underlying mental illness, you could also consider starting therapy.
It can be hard to know whether you actually have bad social skills or just struggle with social anxiety, insecurities, or low self-esteem.
Research shows these issues can cause you to believe you have poor social skills and to negatively evaluate your interactions, even when they go well. This means that feeling socially inept doesn’t mean you are, and even those truly lacking social skills can develop and build them with practice.
- Difficulty expressing ideas clearly to others or staying on topic
- Missing social cues or not being able to read social situations
- Getting feedback from others that you have weak communication
- Speaking or behaving in socially unacceptable ways
- Feeling tense, awkward, or overly nervous during normal conversations
- Having no friends or being completely socially isolated or withdrawn
- Not knowing how or when to start, continue or end a conversation
- Freezing up in tense or stressful conversations or social situations
If you don’t feel like your social skills are where you want them to be, you can always work to actively improve them using the steps in this article. Keep in mind that the best way to develop and strengthen a skill is to practice it regularly, so make an effort to talk to more people, start more conversations, and grow your social comfort zone.
Improving your social skills can cause positive ripple effects in all aspects of your personal life and relationships. People with better social skills report better relationships, more self-confidence, lower stress, and are generally happier and more satisfied in life.
Being social can be more exhausting and draining for an introvert or someone who is shy, socially anxious, or reserved. Socializing requires energy, and even highly outgoing people need time to rest and recharge after a lot of social interactions.
Isolation is linked with higher levels of loneliness, plus poorer physical and mental health. Social interaction is a basic human need; it’s necessary for maintaining a good quality of life. A lack of social interaction can also lead to social skill deficits and more anxiety about socializing.
Going long periods of time without socializing can cause your social skills to get rusty, making you less confident and skilled when you need to interact with others. Prolonged isolation can also increase your risk for physical and mental health problems and reduce your quality of life.