Updated: Jun 23
On arrival to Sri Lanka, excited and clueless, I was greeted by a Native Sri Lankan man and went to shake his hand. He looked at me uncomfortably as he took a step back, pressed his palms together below his chin, and bowed his head. I quickly pulled my hand away to save our embarrassment, while I awkwardly contemplated a poor replication of the head bow. I decided against it and continued walking gracelessly next to the man without saying a word for several minutes.
The example given, is poor social skills. And we’ve all been here. A simple misreading of a situation has made both you and your subject of the interaction feel uncomfortable. Social skills are socially constructed interactions that are developed primarily in school and they can be the make or break of our futures. A few wrong habits differentiates the personality that everyone likes and the odd work colleague that people don’t want to invite to parties. This post aims to explain how we can teach better social skills.
What are Social Skills?
Social skills refers to how we make other people feel. If we are making people feel negative emotions like embarrassment, anger or discomfort, it can sometimes be due to poor social skills, while making people experience positive emotions such as amusement, joy and pride is often due to good social skills. Despite being a simple message, this is a lesson that Steve fails to understand as he proceeds to provoke boredom by continuously talking about his new bedroom wall colour. Of course, it is important to note that what we speak about is dependent on context. This can be learned rather quickly when an inappropriate meme is accidentally sent to the family WhatsApp rather than your friends. And it’s also vital to note that context differs across cultures. Did you know that the ok hand sign means asshole in Brazil? Or that the thumbs up in Iran is equivalent to the middle finger in the Western world? Some quick travel advice. Have a quick scan of social etiquette before travelling abroad! How do I Teach Social Skills?
So what’s the best way to teach someone to make others feel positive emotions? Compassion. If they want to help other people, then they are obviously more likely to do it. Of course, we can’t help others if we don’t help ourselves so self-compassion is a requisite to good social skills. Empathy also helps. You can’t make others feel positive emotions if you don’t know how they’re feeling in the first place. For example, even the best joke in the world will probably be brushed aside when someone is after receiving bad news. And remember, empathy isn’t only what people tell you. It might be how they say it and what they don’t say. The CIA and FBI spend millions on teaching their staff how to read non verbal gestures such as eye contact, level of movement and head placement. While this is probably at the more serious side of spectrum, being able to read that people are feeling uncomfortable at a social gathering on arrival could be a great opportunity to introduce people who don’t know each other and tell a funny story. Make others feel positive emotions. The Secret to Social Skills
Everyone wants good social skills. When you google it, millions of advice articles and videos will appear, emphasising how if you smile, make continued broken eye contact and continue conversation, you’ll demonstrate that you are interested and this is good social skills. The problem is that when you’re focused on trying to be interested in someone, you’re not actually interested in them. So here’s the secret that is better than any other advice: Actually be interested in what the person is saying rather than trying to look like you’re interested. And what does this involve? Listening. Not trying to produce a response that makes you appear smart. Not some weird fake smile that makes you look like a serial killer. Or not gestures that say I don’t really care about you. When you actually listen to someone and show interest in them, your verbal and non verbal reactions automatically sync. Because what is a conversation? It is an exchange of ideas and an update on life experiences. Unfortunately, most just try to respond to the first thing someone says and discards all other information said. This is verbal combat rather than an exchange of ideas. Therefore, they key to prevent this is slowing down and focusing on what is said. If only there was something we could do to improve how well we can focus right? Well lucky for us, there is. Mindfulness has been demonstrated to improve social skill measures and active listening.
Social Skills when Trapped in Boredom
And what if you genuinely aren’t interested in what the person is saying? Then change the subject until you do find a mutual interest. It is important to realise that everyone lives an extremely different life to you and as a result, they all have different pieces of knowledge. A good conversation unlocks that knowledge and makes us feel accomplished after it. Remember transactional analysis? Approach each conversation with I’m right and you’re right. It’s good social skills and you come away from discussions knowing more and feeling better rather than feeling angry and becoming more narrow minded.
Social Skills when Trapped in Confusion
And what if you don’t understand someone? It's hard to be interested in something you don't understand. If someone is talking about some niche topic that they’re passionate about, they sometimes tend to go off in complicated tangents. When enthralled in positive emotions and passion, people sometimes tend to forget who they’re talking to. To bring them back to earth and for you to benefit also, there’s nothing wrong with asking follow up questions or asking them to explain something in a different way. So again, slow down, process and ask extra questions.
Social Skills: A Two Way Street
Finally, it is important to remember that relationships and conversations are two way streets. Showing interest makes you liked, but showing vulnerability creates a bond. Being trustworthy is a social skill and the best way to develop trust is to open up. Tell a difficult story, give your opinion and be vulnerable.
So in conclusion, actually listen, approach each conversation as an opportunity to learn and open up. Better social skills leads to better relationships and better relationships leads to better living!
Yours Sincerely, The Motus Movement.