Humans are social beings and if there’s one thing universal about us, it is the fact that we interact daily with the people around us. And this interaction takes place for multiple reasons. We usually communicate with the people around us to share our thoughts, emotions, ideas, feelings, needs and many things along these lines.
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We can unanimously agree that one of the most important skills to master is communication or social skills. People are constantly evaluated based on how well they can communicate. To a major extent, it determines the personal and collective well-being of a person. As we spend a substantial portion of our lives communicating, it is integral to get a good grip on this essential skill as it levers one forward to get ahead in life and succeed.
What Are Social Skills?
Social skills are skills which facilitate and ensure smooth interaction between people to share needs, ideas, thoughts, feelings, emotions etc. It is also referred to as interpersonal skills. These skills help in making communication effective.
As the famous saying goes “practice makes a man perfect”, Social skills aren’t something that is born innately. It is developed over years through consistent practice and learning.
Children during the early years of their life don’t possess social skills as competent as that of a full-grown adult. They use simple hand gestures and illegible sounds to communicate with the elders around them.
What Are The Most Important Social Skills?
1. Active Listening:
Communication cannot take place successfully without listening actively to what the speaker says. Listening isn’t just a standalone skill; rather it comprises hearing, processing and understanding. The information is heard first and then it is processed after which the meaning is understood.
However, there are instances when the information we receive isn’t processed effectively and this may lead to misinterpretation of the message. Therefore, even better than listening is active listening where the message is processed considering the sender’s contextual nuances.
For example, when Rebecca put down Sam’s invitation to go to a movie, instead of taking offence he understood that she wasn’t in the mood for a movie and chose to give her the space she wanted.
One may wonder how empathy is a social skill. In reality, empathetic conversations can save a lot of interpersonal issues. In simple terms, empathy is putting oneself in another person’s shoes and trying to view the world from their angle.
It is one of the most important social skills as that helps make conversation about the other person rather than just focusing on one’s own wants and demands.
For example, when a stranger shared their past mistakes to Anna, instead of being judgmental about it, she chose to empathize with that person and see them for who they are.
3. Sound Non-Verbal Cues:
Our subtle non-verbal cues have a bigger role during conversations compared to verbal information. Things like eye contact, body movement, facial expressions, hand gestures, clothes, smell, vocal intonations, volume etc. can further enhance the information shared verbally.
For example, when Susan went to meet her boss regarding the promotion which was promised to her, her boss looked at the watch and hesitated for a moment. Susan picked up the cue instantly and told the boss that it could be done later.
Some of the best examples of non-verbal communication come from babies. Humans master the skill of sending non-verbal information at a very early stage. This skill is an innate trait in babies as they beautifully learn to use their resources to successfully send messages.
They communicate through sounds (such as laughing, squealing, crying etc.), facial expressions (like smiling, eye contact, grimacing) and hand and leg movements like pointing towards something they want someone to see or moving their legs vigorously when they are happy.
Self-awareness helps understand oneself and their behaviors. This is an essential skill as that provides insight into one’s thoughts and the way one interact with others. This allows us to be more mindful of the way we address others and also be mindful of how others feel about the things we say to them.
When Amy realized that her facial expressions were giving out wrong messages to people. So she worked on improving them.
5. Conflict Resolution:
Conflicts are a part of daily life. When there are two people, conflict is most likely to take place. One of the important social skills is to be able to resolve conflicts effectively. Conflict resolution means to acknowledge the existing problem and attempt to solve it using logic and rationality rather than emotion.
Building New Relationships And Establishing Rapport
On planning to stretch one’s network of people, it would require having to show up for social gatherings and interact with like-minded and diverse people. The first meeting would create a long-lasting impression about someone and would also later become the drive to take the relationship forward. In the course of building new relationships, establishing great rapport can give a good kickstart.
- When establishing rapport with someone, take a mental note of their non-verbal gestures and mirror them. This would make them feel relatable.
- Find a common ground and discuss things which both of you can resonate with.
- Mind your body language as well. Maintain eye contact, have pleasant facial expressions, have a relaxed but straight body posture and make sure that your body is facing them and not elsewhere.
- Ask open-ended questions about them and give them an open and non-judgmental ear.
- Another magical trick is to always remember their names and make sure to address them by their names quite often.
How Are Social Skills Acquired?
Acquisition Of Social Skills From Childhood:
Vygotsky’s theory of social development is an excellent way to understand how humans acquire social skills from childhood. He conceptualizes the role of three important aspects in the process of cognitive and social development.
1. The Role Of Social Interaction:
SDT predominantly talks about the essence of social interaction is acquiring any sort of cognitive development. Vygotsky claims that environmental and cultural factors play a key role in any type of skill acquisition.
For example, the environmental conditions of the place in which a child grows up will have a direct or indirect impact on learning.
2. The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO):
MKO is a person who has a higher level of knowledge compared to the learner and this person plays a key role in helping a person acquire a skill. They facilitate scaffolding and guide the process of learning.
3. The Zone Of Proximal Development:
This aspect states that skill might be hard for a child to acquire on their own but is possible with the guidance of an MKO. In the case of social skills, a child doesn’t learn to talk on its own but only with the help of the parents do they master the skill.
One classic example to demonstrate Vygotsky’s theory of social development is when teaching a child how to ride a bicycle. When a child sits on a bicycle for the first time and tries to pedal forward, she/he falls getting injured. In such a situation, the role of a more knowledgeable person is essential as they enter the zone of proximal development and guide the child in acquiring the skill of riding a bicycle.
As mentioned above, social skills evolve with time and practice and this is marked by some of the developmental milestones of a person. Social skills can also be taught, practiced and learnt from own & other’s experiences and past mistakes. So what are some of the behavioral markers that indicate the acquisition of social skills?
- Speed: This is one of the most important indicators to determine whether learning has taken place or not. Speed increases with fluency and fluency comes when one’s bandwidth of knowledge has been stretched.
- Accuracy: Another important indicator of skill acquisition is accuracy; which means better precision and lesser errors.
- Flexibility: Flexibility refers to making situational adaptations and being less rigid and more open to change. Acquiring social skills would mean being able to converse even during unprecedented instances.
- Multiple Task Performance: This refers to being able to juggle many tasks at once. In such a situation speed and accuracy might be a tough thing to hold on to as doing more than one task at a time can lead to divided attention.
How To Initiate Conversations During Novel Circumstances?
Social skill, as mentioned above is a primary skill to be built as they enhance the quality of the relationships and lead a harmonious life with the people around us. It helps us fulfil our demands and wants because a good communicator is a good persuader. So how it is that one can game up in the area of interpersonal skills?
- Invitation: Daniel Wendler, in his book “Improve your social skills” talks about two crucial hacks to make sure that there’s a smooth flow in the conversation; they are invitation and inspiration. An invitation is nothing but asking open-ended questions to the people we converse with.
For the most part, people love to talk about themselves and therefore kicking the ball to their court makes them feel heard and they naturally start enjoying the conversation. This would consequently make them pay heed to what we have to say and be considerate of our ideas and demands.
- Inspiration: Another integral hack is an inspiration which is to simply share things from our side which would consciously or unconsciously inspire them to open up and spill some tea about themselves. Disclosure always encourages people to talk about themselves.
Particularly during therapy, therapists usually disclose some information about themselves to the clients to cultivate a feeling of belongingness and also to make them feel comfortable enough to share things about themselves.
- Acknowledgement: As mentioned above, people loved to be heard. One great way to make people feel heard is by verbally and non-verbally acknowledging their narrative. Acknowledgement can be done verbally by saying phrases such as “I understand”, “I hear you”, “Hmmm”, “Right” and other things like asking questions in between, making subtle comments etc.
Non-verbal acknowledgement can come in the form of head nods, eye contact, turning the body towards the speaker, relaxed hand posture, pleasant smile etc.
- Giving Compliments: Compliments are the easiest way to get on the good side of someone. People are always looking for a good boost of self-esteem and this makes them more attentive and compliable.
- Be Confident: People naturally gravitate towards those who are confident. When a person is confident, they are heard more and their ideas and opinions are always considered. So believing in oneself and boldly expressing one’s views could be the smartest hack to master the art of social skills.
The Essence Of Social Skills In A Work Setting
- It ensures a fun work environment because social skills help in making great interpersonal relationships.
- It makes one a good team player.
- Social skills also make one become an important stakeholder in major decisions taken within the organization.
- It also helps in expanding one’s network and connections.
- People with good social skills are at a higher chance to be selected during interviews and also for promotions as employers are always on the lookout for people who can communicate efficiently.
- As organizational structures are becoming flattered, the leadership role is on the rise. Hence, effective social skills help in delivering instructions effectively and delegating tasks with precision.
- A person with good social skills seems more open and approachable and hence they’re always chosen for important tasks.
- It predicts better job performance as a major part of any job designation expects communication.
- It facilitates effective conflict resolution.
- It paves way for overall improved quality of work life.