Updated on 04.03.07

Nine Social Skills To Practice – Even For The Socially Unskilled Like Myself

Trent Hamm

This morning, I got a first hand glimpse of how good social skills make all the difference in the world. I watched an individual who looked tired and angry (but other than that was attractive) get told that the coffee machine at a local gas station was out of order, then less than five minutes later, a smiling, upbeat gentleman (who was also overweight) asked about the coffee machine and almost immediately the person behind the counter went over, took a look at it, and got it working.

Here are nine social skills you can practice throughout your day that will open all kinds of little doors for you and eventually lead you to financial rewards as well.

Look people in the eye. Whenever you have any sort of interaction with anyone, look them directly in the eye and hold it for just a second or two – don’t let it devolve into a stare. If they return the look, you can hold it for a bit longer. This is a quick way to subtly show the other person that they can have confidence in you.

Smile. Smile at everyone. Smile when you’re looking someone in the eye. Always smile at anyone providing any service to you. Always smile at children and the elderly. If you do it enough, it begins to come smoothly and naturally. This is a quick way to lift the mood of the others around you, and thus they begin to associate you with the positive mood lift.

Remember as many names as you can. Every person loves to hear their name said back to them, because it’s a sign to them that they have value to someone else. Thus, by saying someone’s name to them in a greeting, you’re showing that you remember and value them as an individual. Try as hard as you can to pick up names quickly and then use them when you greet them upon a second or third interaction.

Offer greetings to anyone and everyone. A well placed “good morning” or “good afternoon” can often make all the difference in the world. It innately creates a sense of goodwill in the other person. For example, if you’re starting a new job and can manage to come in the front door, greet the administrative assistant, and say something like, “Good morning, Mike,” you’re already on your way to establishing a healthy and positive relationship with that person.

Ask questions. If you are like me and often have a hard time starting a conversation, ask a question, even if it’s something as generic as “What’s new?” This allows them to feel welcomed into a conversation with you, breaking down any potential barriers. If you can remember a fact or two about the person, this is almost always good fodder for a conversation opener: there’s one person in my office who enjoys the television series Lost, so I often use it as a conversation opener with him by saying, “Did you catch Lost the other night?” This makes people feel comfortable in conversation.

If you don’t know what to say, ask another question. You can usually build from anything that has previously been said with another question. This enables the other person to continue talking, and for most people an invitation to talk and an open ear means that they are being welcomed. That doesn’t mean you should just sit and ask questions, but that if you are completely stuck, ask another question.

Talk about your own mistakes. When conversing with someone regularly, I find it is always useful to eventually admit to smaller mistakes of my own. Mistakes make you appear human, and thus the thing you relate about yourself should regularly include imperfections. If the other person sees you as human and having small faults, you will seem more real and thus they’re more willing to accept you and include you. Keep the mistakes small and real, though; don’t suddenly say something like “Once, I ran the lawnmower over the cat.”

Take an interest in what is important to them. If the conversation starts to go down a path that you know nothing about, don’t withdraw. Instead, admit you know little about it and ask them to explain. Most people eat this up because not only do they get to talk about something familiar, but they get to relate from a position of superior knowledge, which is something many people enjoy. Even if the topic is boring to you, pay attention. Look at the person, smile, and nod. What I do is try to formulate connections to things that do interest me, like if I hear a woman go on and on about her purse, I try to make connections to personal finance and ask something like, “Where did you buy that?” and so on. This makes it appear as though I’m interested in what she’s interested in, but I’m also attempting to leverage my own interests.

Keep clean. I can’t stress this enough: cleanliness is one of the biggest keys to successful social encounters. It makes you appear in a more positive fashion to everyone around you.

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  1. Gal Josefsberg says:

    Heh, I can definitely tell that you’re a frequent reader of “how to make friends and influence people”. It’s such a great book. Easy to learn to since it’s essential lesson is “be nice to people.”

  2. Carisa says:

    You are cracking ME UP with the cleanliness comments. Love the site.

  3. Sachilefever says:

    My husband Lee and I were just at a conference for online community folks, which led us to a long discussion on the plane ride home. We met a few people there who were also speakers and found they did not ask a single question when we stopped to introduce ourselves and get to know them. They could tell us about their book, but couldn’t bother with getting to know us. Within four minutes, we had subconsciously written them off as people we wouldn’t want to know better. We decided to try to change that reaction, but isn’t it natural to feel that way?

    I’m also now on the lookout for the unclean in our midst!

    Keep up the frequent posts – I look forward to them.

  4. Chris says:

    I would also add that you can build TREMENDOUS rapport with those who are not from or were not born in this country by asking “How are you?” or saying “Thank You” in their native tongue. I’ll admit, I’m very interested in languages and linguistics, so I probably have extra motivation to keep a list of these simple phrases in my head for numerous languages. But I can attest to having easily changed the mood/cooperativeness/friendliness/etc. of the person I’m talking to many, many times, by asking “Aap kaise hain?” or “Kak dyela?” or by saying “Muito obrigado” or “Komapsumnida”.

  5. Amy says:

    Do you run across a lot of dirty people in your neck of the woods? I kind of thought daily showering was a given already!

  6. Jesse says:

    There’s a key point to remember on names, though: Don’t overuse someone’s name in conversation. If you call them by name once or twice, you sound like you’re friendly and care to know them. If you use their name every other sentence, you’ll come off as artificial and manipulative.

  7. Chris says:

    “If you can remember a fact or two about the person, this is almost always good fodder for a conversation opener”

    Just be careful not to overuse this one. After a while it becomes obvious to the other person that you only know that one fact about him and he will feel like your perception of him is very one dimensional.

  8. Sometimes shy social skills have to do with your state of mind. I used to assume people didn’t want to talk to me unless THEY approached ME. But that’s not the case at all. It’s perfectly ok to walk up to people and introduce yourself and strike up a conversation. People will let you know if they don’t want to be bothered. And don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t want to talk. There are many reasons that could occur, most of which have nothing to do with you.

  9. Prabu says:

    You know a lot of things. I wonder who taught you! Great job, man. If you do all the things you say, you could easily pass for a father!

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