How to Improve Social Skills: 23 Tips to Help
Even though we live in an increasingly online world, social skills are still important. We need them for work — when speaking to our boss, managing a team, or giving a presentation, for example. But we also need social skills to connect with our partner, turn strangers into friends, and expand our network.
If small talk leaves you stumbling for words or tough conversations get you tongue-tied, here’s how to improve your social skills once and for all.
What Are Social Skills?
First up, what exactly are social skills? Social skills are the skills needed to communicate and connect with other people. This could include communication skills, interpersonal skills, and nonverbal cues, such as body language, posture, and gestures.
Social skills can also expand to include how good you are at public speaking, leading a team, speaking to strangers, and building strong bonds with others.
What Are the Benefits of Social Skills?
With great social skills, you can:
- Communicate your message clearly
- Come across as confident and competent
- Give great presentations and talks
- Lead a team effectively
- Connect with strangers
- Have meaningful conversations with friends and family
- Feel comfortable in different social situations, such as at parties, in meetings, or at networking events
- Build a powerful network
Can Social Skills Be Learned?
The key word in “social skills” is “skill” — it’s a thing you can learn and get better at with some work.
There are tips and tricks you can practice to improve your social skills, and you can work on things that are holding you back socially, like low self-esteem, social anxiety, or poor confidence.
How to Improve Social Skills: Our Top 23 Tips
Here’s how to build those all-important social skills to help you connect with others and thrive in social situations.
1. Focus on Who You’re Speaking With
It’s easy to get distracted in a conversation. You end up running through your to-do list in your head, all while your conversation partner keeps on chatting to you. You either miss something important, miss a chance to further the conversation, or — worse — your conversation partner notices you’re not listening, ruining your chances of forging a great relationship.
Aim to be more present in conversations by clearing your mind and focusing on the other person. Put down your phone, resist the urge to multitask, and try not to spend the time they’re talking thinking about what you’re going to say next.
2. Ask Open-Ended Questions
A great way to keep a conversation going is to ask open-end questions, or questions that need more than a simple yes or no to answer.
When someone tells you about something in their life, ask them a genuine follow-up question. Chances are, they’ll be thrilled you’re interested and would love the chance to talk more about themselves.
Don’t turn every conversation you have into an interrogation, however. But pepper a few more questions into your social interactions to see if it helps you connect with others more.
3. Make Eye Contact
If you find yourself feeling nervous or shy in social situations, chances are, your eyes are showing it. You might avoid eye contact or meet someone’s eyes only briefly.
Aim to make eye contact about 50% of the time when speaking to someone, and about 70% of the time when listening.
If making eye contact makes you feel too uncomfortable, build up to it. Aim to make a little more eye contact in each conversation you have, and look at a spot near someone’s eyes, like the middle of their eyebrows, if direct eye contact feels too intimate.
4. Practice Your Social Skills Regularly
Just like playing the piano or speaking French, you’ve got to practice your social skills to keep them fresh and improve upon them.
And if there’s a particular social interaction that makes you nervous, push yourself to do more of that.
For example, if you clam up when meeting new people, try attending more networking events, joining a sports club, or asking one new person out for coffee a month.
If it’s public speaking that you struggle with, go to a public speaking group like Toastmasters, volunteer to speak on a panel or introduce a speaker at an event, or even just try to speak up more often in large meetings.
The more you practice your social skills, the better you’ll get and the more confident you’ll feel.
5. Visualize Yourself as a Social Person
Visualization can help everyone from athletes perform better to shy people ace public speaking. Use it to your advantage by visualizing yourself as someone with great social skills.
Imagine looking confident when speaking to someone new, building a rapport with a new colleague, and navigating tricky conversations with your direct reports. Imagine how you look, sound, and feel — all this should help you become more socially skilled in real life.
6. Improve Your Body Language
Social skills aren’t all about your words, nonverbal cues like body language go a long way to how to come across in social situations.
Your body language can also impact how you feel. If your arms are crossed, for example, you’ll not only look closed off, you’ll feel it.
Improve your body language by:
- Straightening your posture
- Making hand gestures
- Keeping your arms by your sides or in your lap
- Having a neutral to positive facial expression
7. Read Other People’s Body Language
Once you’ve mastered your own body language, it’s time to start reading that of others.
As well as the words people say, notice what their posture, facial expressions, and arm and leg movements are saying.
For example, if someone is avoiding eye contact with you, they may be nervous, shy, or lying.
If their arms are crossed and they’re leaning away, they may be uncomfortable with the conversation and upset.
By reading and understanding the body language of others, you can adapt what you say to help connect with them better.
8. Give Compliments
Everyone loves receiving compliments, so don’t be shy about giving them. They can help other people feel good about themselves and feel more warmly towards you.
Just be sure to compliment something neutral, like what someone is wearing (if appropriate) or comment on a piece of work they just did or presentation they just gave.
9. Ace Your Handshake
A handshake is often the first step in a professional social interaction. Get this right and it’ll help you feel more confident about the rest of the conversation or meeting.
The perfect handshake needs:
- A steady grip
- A smile
- To last two to four seconds
- To have some eye contact for some of that time
Practice with friends and colleagues until you feel confident with this particular social skill.
10. Be Direct
It’s easy to ramble and fill out conversations with fluff, losing the message you’re trying to get across. But, to be a more effective communicator and build honest and open relationships, aim to be more direct.
Being direct doesn’t mean being rude, however. It simply means being clear, concise, and making sure people understand exactly what you’re trying to say.
Remember to be direct in all social interactions you have, including emails, messages, and phone calls.
Be careful with being too direct with feedback, however, as this can come across as an attack on the person. Consider sandwiching your feedback with compliments.
11. Practice Empathy
Empathy is being able to understand how someone else is feeling. When you’ve got a lot of empathy, you can understand why people behave in certain ways and how your behavior will make them feel.
You can build empathy by imagining yourself in the shoes of others and by asking questions to find out how people are really feeling.
12. Honor Your Personality Type
Most of us know instinctively whether we’re introverts, extroverts, or somewhere in between the two extremes. But it’s easy to ignore that particular personality trait in everyday life.
When you don’t recharge in the correct way, though, you may find your social skills start suffering.
For example, introverts who don’t take the time to recharge alone may find themselves drained, withdrawn, and quiet at social events when their socializing batteries have run low.
On the other hand, extroverts who haven’t prioritized quality time with friends and family may find themselves desperately reaching out to anyone who will listen and talking at them endlessly.
Get the social balance right for your personality type.
13. Copy the Pros
Look at people in your life who have great social skills and note how they start conversations, how they ask questions or contribute to conversions, and how they say hello and goodbye, for example. Then, aim to emulate these things.
You can also look at great communicators and speakers in politics and the media.
Even better? Tag along to a social event with a confident friend or colleague and soak up their behavior and mindset.
14. Apologize When You Hurt Someone
Mistakes happen and feelings get hurt, but, often, how you deal with the situation makes all the difference.
Ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away may feel like the easier option, but we promise that owning up to your mistakes and apologizing for them is the best course of action.
People will not only respect you more, you may be able to strengthen the relationship by showing you’re sorry and you’re going to learn from this moment.
15. Improve Your Listening Skills
At least half of a conversation should be spent listening. People want to feel heard, understood, and interested in.
Improve your listening skills by:
- Giving nonverbal feedback to the speaker, like nodding and smiling
- Waiting for a pause before asking a follow-up question
- Visualizing what the speaker is saying to help you understand and remember it better
16. Practice Projecting Your Voice
Practice breathing into your diaphragm or belly area, and projecting your voice more.
This will help sound more confident. It’ll also help people hear you when you’re giving a presentation, speaking up in a large meeting, or speaking to someone at a busy party or noisy office.
17. Start Small
You don’t need to throw yourself into parties and presentations to build your social skills, especially if you suffer from social anxiety.
Even the smallest of social interactions can help you grow. Try striking up a conversation with the cashier in the supermarket or your taxi driver, for example.
Practice the tips above — eye contact, body language, asking questions — on small interactions that don’t have too much weight in your life. Then, when you’re in an interview or on a first date, you’ll have the skills and confidence to communicate better.
18. Try Social Interactions with Activities
Speaking to someone face to face with no other distractions can be daunting. If you’re easing yourself in, try meeting new people or hanging out with groups of friends while doing an activity.
For example, join a running club, rock climbing gym, or Spanish class. You’ll get practice speaking to people and building connections, but you’ll also have the added benefit of having an activity to take the attention off of you.
Plus, it should give you plenty to talk about as you can ask questions about the activity you’re doing.
19. Be Kind to Yourself
Remember, you probably notice your social skills, or lack of them, much more than other people do.
When you feel shy and awkward, others may not even notice, and they’re probably enjoying speaking with you.
Give yourself some grace and embrace being human. Work on your social skills, but don’t let the fear of feeling awkward, sounding dumb, or looking uncomfortable hold you back.
20. Take a Breath
Taking a deep breath can help you in a number of ways.
First, it’ll slow your heart rate, helping you feel calmer if you’re getting nervous in a social setting.
Second, it’ll help you come into the present, getting you out of your own head and reminding you to focus on the person you’re talking to.
And third, by taking a moment to breathe every now and again, you’ll give yourself time to think about how you want to interact with a person. Instead of reacting instinctively, you can make an active choice about your behavior, allowing empathy and openness to lead the way.
21. Set Yourself Small Goals
It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, but that’s not where your social skills get better.
Get yourself out of it by setting yourself small goals. These could include:
- Introduce yourself to one new person at each party you go to
- Go to one networking event a month, even if you just sit at the back
- Contribute at least one idea in every team meeting
- Make a phone call to book an appointment, instead of sending an email
By setting yourself small and achievable goals, you’ll force yourself to practice in social situations and start building your confidence.
You can also set yourself bigger goals over longer time frames, and break these down into small goals you can work on each week.
Make sure these big social goals are SMART:
- I want to go to a networking event and introduce myself to three new people by the end of the year.
- I want to volunteer to lead a meeting at work this quarter.
- In 2023, I want to start taking sales calls, instead of always reverting to email.
22. Prepare Ahead of Time
Whether you’re giving a presentation, having a tricky conversation, or heading into a networking event solo, a bit of preparation ahead of time can help.
Brainstorm what you want to say, look up recent news events or industry trends for small talk, and do your research on who will be there.
If you can take some of the uncertainty out of the situation, you may feel better about being there.
When having tough conversations — like salary negotiations, interviews, or giving bad feedback — brainstorm the main points you want to go over, so nothing important gets forgotten.
23. Remember, and Use, People’s Names
When someone tells you their name, make a mental note of it in an effort to commit to memory. You might want to pair it with something about the way the person looks, what they do, or what they’ve said to help solidify it in your mind.
Once you know a person’s name, drop it into the conversation a few times. Don’t overdo it, but using someone’s name is a powerful way of making them feel important and helping them warm to you.
If someone tells you their name and you forget, don’t be afraid to ask them again, but do this early on into meeting them — and make sure not to forget again.
Want more tips to ace social situations? We’ve covered self-introduction tips, how are you responses, and how to give an elevator pitch.