Scott H Young

How to Improve Your Social Skills


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Most advice I’ve heard for improving social skills falls into one of a few categories. First, there are trite suggestions like, “be yourself”, which are at best feel-good platitudes and at worst, gross simplifications. Although this advice may be correct, it isn’t practical.

Next, there is the advice to improving your character. Be honest, loyal and trustworthy. Show respect and be friendly. This is the type of advice in books such as Steve Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Good ideas, but they aren’t useful if you just want to be more sociable.

Finally there is the area of self-improvement from the dating community. Although this is the first time social mechanics are often broken down in a useful way, it has a pretty narrow focus. Social skills are important for more than just sex.

What are Social Skills?

I’m a pretty ordinary guy. I don’t have magic powers of persuasion and charisma. But I have a great social life, and this hasn’t always been the case. I believe I started at a point of below average social skills, and I’ve made a lot of progress in the last few years.

I believe part of the problem when it comes to improving social skills is that the term is a blanket statement for many different areas of self-improvement. I’ve seen so few comprehensive guides to improving social skills because the term includes everything from:

  • Being extroverted.
  • Persuasiveness and selling.
  • Maintaining relationships.
  • Friendships and having a social circle.
  • Meeting new people.
  • Dating.
  • etc.

With such a diverse range of different attributes, it’s hard to pin down exactly what “social skills” are, never mind create a complete guide to improving them. Despite this giant list of ideas, I’m going to focus on just two. Aside from dating (which already has a lot of coverage), these are the two I feel people identify with most when they use the term “social skills”.

Becoming Outgoing and Shedding Social Awkwardness

When I read an email from someone trying to improve general social skills, it usually takes the form of:

  1. Becoming more outgoing and being more comfortable around other people.
  2. Shedding the awkwardness they feel in some social situations.

There is certainly a large range with this. Some people might be hopelessly introverted and fumble basic interactions. Other people might just have difficulty being as completely comfortable as they would like in certain situations. You don’t need to be a social moron to want to improve this aspect of life, just like you don’t need to be grossly overweight to want to go to the gym.

How to Become More Outgoing

Get over the label “introvert”. I’m not here to discuss the scientific merit of using these labels. They might be accurate, they might not. But, if you want to become more outgoing you have to stop thinking of yourself as an “introvert” and more like an athlete who is out of shape. You can build the muscles, it just takes some practice.

The first step to become more outgoing is to systematically destroy all your social fears. This isn’t an easy feat, but if you break it down into manageable steps, it can be done. You may be to terrified to walk up to complete strangers and introduce yourself. But, you might be able to if you had friends accompany you.

I remember a story about construction workers that built skyscrapers. They said that when you work on the job, you get used to the heights. Dangling hundreds of feet in the air didn’t bother them, because their bodies became conditioned to it. However, if they stopped working construction for a few years, the natural fear of heights would return.

Being outgoing requires constantly exposing yourself to things that make you uncomfortable. You wont fall to your death if you slip, but the fear can still hold you back.

The next step to becoming outgoing is to find social activities you actually enjoy. This sounds obvious, but it’s a difficult step. If you don’t like spending time with the people in your surroundings, it’s easy to become withdrawn. Becoming outgoing means you need to travel further and experiment more with different social groups.

Join Toastmasters, take classes, drop in on obscure organizations. It might take a little work, but eventually you’ll find social activities that combine something you enjoy with other people. This steps works with breaking down your fears as a means of becoming more outgoing.

Shedding Social Awkwardness

Social awkwardness results from not understanding social norms. These are the little steps in the intricate dance of social life. They vary between cultures and even within different groups of people. If you want to shed any social awkwardness, you need to understand this dance and see why people judge you on it.

For those of you who read my article on social independence, this may seem like a complete betrayal of those principles. Doesn’t following the crowd violate the spirit of independence?

Independence is important for the things that matter to you. Violating social norms that don’t have any meaning to you, just makes you insensitive, not independent. Where you draw the line between following norms and being yourself depends on what your values are. I couldn’t care less about fashion, so I’m happy to follow the prevailing fads on this one. But I care a lot about my health, so I don’t eat meat even if hamburgers are in vogue.

Most social norms are insignificant, so understanding and following them shouldn’t violate your independence. Break the norms that have a deeper meaning to you. Don’t just do it to be a rebel.

Decoding Social Norms

Nobody can teach you the social norms of your group. Norms are hidden assumptions in the background that people rarely talk about in the open. Everyone understands the norms, but they don’t make their way into conversation.

In my experience, becoming more socially aware is a process of trial and error. This involves two things: paying attention to other people and occasionally violating minor social norms.

The first step is to pay more attention to how people behave. Look for patterns and observe what happens when people violate the understood norms. If you commit faux-pas, don’t beat yourself up, just make a note of it and move on. Spend more time with other people so that you have an intuitive understanding of what makes people tick.

The second step is to occasionally violate social norms. Sometimes awkwardness can be the result of believing social norms exist when they don’t. If you have a bad experience saying hello to a stranger, you might believe this is an unwritten rule. That person might have been grumpy, instead of revealing a great social truth.

Decoding social norms can only be done through practice. You can’t sit at home and read about what the rules are, you can only go out and practice.

Practice is the Cure-All

When you boil down any self-improvement effort it usually becomes a matter of experience. If you can force yourself to digest a lot of experiences, you’ll usually become better. Social skills are no different. It might not be fun initially, but it’s a lot better than sitting at home alone. You may even find out that you were an extrovert all along, and just needed the right push.


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36 Responses to “How to Improve Your Social Skills”

  1. Trevor says:

    I find that sports leagues are a great way to get out and meet people. My favorites are ultimate frisbee and kickball, but there’s also softball, golf, and tennis.

    They’re a lot of fun to play and people usually go there ready to meet people and be friendly. It’s easy and fun… and healthy!

  2. Preston says:

    Thanks for writing this article Scott. I consider myself an introvert and developing myself in this area has been a priority of mine lately.

    If I may, I’d like to recommend the site http://www.succeedsocially.com for anyone who would like some advice in this area. It’s written by someone who struggled with social skills themselves, and contains a lot of down to earth, practical information. It’s the most complete resource I’ve been able to find on this topic and it mostly avoids the three types of unhelpful advice you mentioned.

  3. Gary says:

    I’m wondering if there is a forum specifically designed for people who want to improve their social skills, which allows them to post what practical steps they are taking, where the community can give and receive encouragement in the process. One of the problems I see with being nonsocial is that you can be under the mistaken impression that you are one of the few who are like this. And quite often it’s the last minute urge to not go out that kills me. Such a community just might be of benefit to anyone who, like myself, finds the process of being more outgoing to be like climbing Mt Everest.

  4. Hey Gary, it might not be exactly what you’re looking for, but I know the PUA (pick up artist) community does a lot of work on improving social skills and I’ve been told there are some popular PUA forums out there. I’m not sure where they are but some googling should point you in the right direction.

  5. Gary says:

    Ha, I know the PUA community well. It has been a disappointing experience, with a lot of inauthentic needy guys acting as ‘performing monkeys’ as one leading figure put it. There’s only one part of that community that I find to be good, that is Pickup Podcast and its associated forum (http://pickuppodcast.com). I’m slowly trying to get something going locally.

  6. Another broad source of social skills information are books and manuals published for use by professionals. They’ll be things like curriculums to teach kids social skills in the class room, or how to teach communication skills to a client with Asperger’s in individual counseling.

    These can be good and detailed, but also harder to find (try a university library maybe) and sometimes a little too basic (as they’re often geared towards kids or people with large deficits).

    I think the seduction community is best thought of as an advanced supplemental class on a specific type of social skills. If you’ve got a more basic foundation, then it can help you in the particular area of dating.

    But if you have no basic people skills, and you rely on the community to teach you everything, you can not ‘get it’ and go a bit funny in some regards. In The Game by Neil Strauss he talks about how some guys can become ‘Social Robots’ and how he feels sorry for
    younger guys whose whole personalities are formed based on what the seduction community teaches.

    The community has some good things to say about group dynamics, being entertaining, and getting your act together mentally. It’s also probably the single best source of advice on how to get over social fears. It’s good about providing a structure guys can follow to systematically improve themselves.

    It doesn’t teach everything though. As Scott says, there’s more to social skills then picking up women. I’ve seen guys go wrong trying to extend the relatively restricted amount of community advice onto all their social encounters. It doesn’t all translate over.

    Where I’ve seen guys go wrong following the community’s social advice is in relating to other guys (they put too much emphasis on being the ‘alpha male’), relating to groups sometimes (they feel they always have to be the center of attention), humor (they try too hard to be cocky and funny or bust balls), and seeing everything women do as a test and power play.

  7. Scott Young says:

    Chris,

    I completely forgot to link to your site! Hopefully Preston’s promotion can make up for it.

    Great comments, everyone, as always.

    -Scott

  8. Chris says:

    No worries.

    Hey, keep up the good work yourself. Ever since I read some of your older articles on people skills, I’ve thought you had a lot of insightful things to say about this area. I’m glad you’re writing about it more these days.

  9. Dhruv says:

    Hey Scott!!
    Really nice article. It’s remarkable that you come up with so many good one’s at such a fast pace.

  10. david says:

    Hey, great article!

    I like your analogy to construction workers and fear of heights, and how facing social fears will weaken their power.

    However – and I’m sure you are aware of this – there is a difference between those fears, that I find helpful to think of when trying to overcome social fears: When you fear heights, you fear something that is actually physically dangerous – falling down a building will hurt you, regardless of what you think. Social fear, on the other hand, comes more from conditioning and is not directly physically dangerous – getting turned down by someone actually won’t hurt you at all. Of course, it might embarrass you, but only if that is what you think it will do. So; fear of heights is in that sense a real fear, while social fear is somehow constructed.

    The tricky part is that those fears feel exactly the same – in fact, they are the same, physically speaking. They both feel equally real, and this makes them quite hard to distinguish, if you’re not used to it.

    Anyway. I find it helpful to try to be aware of this difference – if I find myself in a socially fearful situation, I try to be aware of that the fear I feel is something I am creating, and that it doesn’t have the power to actually hurt me.

  11. Scott Young says:

    David,

    If you go back further in time, social fears probably made sense. Humans lived as tribes. If you made a bad social faux pas, that could mean eating last or being exiled from the group. That could mean a virtual death sentence for a cave man. Today, those fears have less of a basis.

    -Scott

  12. david says:

    That’s a good point, Scott! Didn’t really think about that.

    Still. Being aware of the difference helps me and, as you say, those fears makes less sense today!

  13. Laurie says:

    Good post, Scott – thanks. I really like that you suggest to conquer social fears by breaking them down into manageable steps. This is so important. It’s intimidating and overwhelming trying to face all social fears at once and that can result in going backwards because going forwards is too hard. You’re right with taking manageable steps – each success builds on the one before and with a bit of time and practice, social fears can be eliminated. Thanks for the post!

  14. [...] you can all have a good catch-up or just spend a quality day with your best mate. If you feel your social life is lacking, search for a club you can join so you can mingle with like minded [...]

  15. [...] the idea of how to become more social, expanding on the ideas as I’ve written about them before.  You might want to bookmark this post if you don’t have time to read it all [...]

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  17. [...] the idea of how to become more social, expanding on the ideas as I’ve written about them before.  You might want to bookmark this post if you don’t have time to read it all [...]

  18. Grant Cole says:

    Great article! I agree with everything you said.

    I actually use this as a compass in learning social skills. It’s usually the things that make you uncomfortable which are things you must work on. I’ve improved alot.

    I stumbled upon this while trying to challenge this idea, because the only way to be a real good thinker is to challenge your own ideas.

    The problem with this way of thinking is that it almost seems too promising. My social skills got better because of it, but this may not work for everybody. If social skills were that easy to improve there wouldn’t be autism.

    So right now I’m on the journey to understand just how much people can improve social skills with practice. I still believe that some weaknesses can’t be improved to what people wish them to be.

    Your article is great, but almost too hopeful for some people who can’t develop in that area. But again, you can’t find out without practicing.

    I’d like to hear your opinion on this matter.

  19. Brian says:

    I was reading some of the comments on this blog about this and I somewhat agree with some of them some of them are very inaccurate.

    First, the pick up community is not an “advanced dating skill set”. You can be very socially inept and be able make it work for you.

    The mystery method teaches you exactly what to say, which allows you to work on you body language and delivery, which is 90% of successful communications.

    It’s the repetition that sinks into your subconcious and going out and pushing your self through interactions with this material that improve your social skills.

    Basically, you start out pretty much “reading from a script”, then after many approaches you start to gain a sense of how to talk to women without the routines.

    Also, Pick Up can be applied to other areas of your life. No, not all of it is going to be useful for day-to-day life. But a lot is. It teaches you a structure to becoming a cool confident guy.

    Once your social skills become decent from the community, then you want to get into sales and push yourself to become better.

  20. Brian says:

    Grant: If you don’t have Asperger’s, then reading a couple of books here and there isn’t going to cut it. You have to push yourself hard.

    If you weighted 500 lbs. you would have to take massive action to lose weight.

    Take a sales job; model the best people in the office, listen to all the stuff you can on sales self help, and really push yourself.

    Also, if your single, get into the pickup community and join a local chapter (aka lair). Start out with the Mystery Method, it is the easiest to learn and go out at least 4 nights a week.

    In a year, you will be a totally different person.

  21. Scott Young says:

    Brian,

    I’m sure it’s a great system, and I know people who have succeeded with it. But it is a system, and I also know people who practiced without the system and still made huge improvements. Everyone needs to find the path that resonates best with them.

    -Scott

  22. Kurt says:

    Brian wrote:
    “First, the pick up community is not an ‘advanced dating skill set’. You can be very socially inept and be able make it work for you.

    The mystery method teaches you exactly what to say, which allows you to work on you body language and delivery, which is 90% of successful communications.”

    The often quoted idea that body language and delivery are 90% of successful communication is based on a misrepresentation of the actual research studies on the subject. The following article elaborates:

    http://ezinearticles.com/?Debunking-the-Myths-of-Non-Verbal-Communication&id=974778

    As for the pickup community: As I see it, if you’re socially awkward and rely purely on the seduction community for social skills advice, you can get fairly messed up, a point that is well-defended on the site datinggroundwork.com, written by Chris of succeedsocially.com.

    In Mystery Method “going out” four nights a week means going to a bar, not to a yoga class or some non-pickup spot. Most normal guys pursue sports, clubs, classes and friendships in their off-hours, they don’t go to bars four nights a week. Doing that is the right idea only if being a pickup artist is pretty much your only social goal. The pickup community tends to push guys towards achieving sex with lots of women their only goal, because it’s a goal that makes perfect sense to the guys like Mystery who teach it. It’s like a golf pro telling you that you need to spend at least eight hours a week on the putting green: to him that advice makes perfect sense, because he’s devoted his whole life to getting good at golf and figures you’ll naturally want to do the same. I believe pickup artists tend to assume you’ll want to spend most of your non-work hours pursuing casual sex.

  23. [...] enjoys a great social life, aims to help readers who wish to follow in his footsteps.  Here in an article on improving one’s social skills, Young chooses to focus on two main issues:  Becoming more [...]

  24. Karen says:

    As a business and lifestyle coach who lives near a large city over run with “community” weirdos, I was thrilled to find Chris’s articles online. However I’ve struggled to find out who he really is, as I am reluctant to refer a client who is already struggling with below par social skills and perhaps the messed up sub-culture of the community to an anonymous “expert”. There are many sound and healthy ways to pursue women, careers and everything else and I look forward to seeing more smart men move on, and away from “the community”.

  25. Scott Young says:

    Karen,

    Chris has a great website and I’ve emailed with him a few times. If you want to send me an email, howtochangeahabit@gmail.com , I’d be happy to connect you both.

    -Scott

  26. I have to agree that the only way to improve your social skills is to practice. If we sit around wishing we were more outgoing, then you get nowhere. I also want to add the importance of learning magnetic body language to draw people in.

  27. Gabriel says:

    Really great article Scott!

    A lot of people who do not know how to be people are socially awkward because they do not understand social norm.

    A lot of advice in the dating community is that you should just be confident and don’t care about what other people think.

    Yes, that is true confidence can take you a long way, but if you don’t have the skillset you will not know how to perform, and just be a quiet statue, confident but quiet, not socializing with anybody.

    And of course, you don’t have to care about what other people think, but that as what you mentioned violating social norm and you will appear social awkward, without taken into account social calibration.

    Being able to socially calibrated your behavior in different types of situation is important to having social mastery.

  28. Erika says:

    I was feeling incredibly anxious tonight after a very unsuccessful day (many awkward interactions with people!)

    My greatest problem is that I’m really hard on myself. We need to learn to give ourselves a break! So it didnt work out the way we wanted it to, let it go!(I know, easier said than done)

    Here are somethings I’m learning to do that really help:

    1) get outside of your head (we are called INtroverts for a reason) do this by putting the attention outside of yourself, meaning, focus on something you really care about, a cause, or better yet, focus on giving and or helping others, this can be anyone from your parent to a sibling, a stranger etc. (It’s really hard to feel bad about yourself when you’re contributing to the world!)

    2) Change the way you think! Instead of “why is no one interacting with me” think something more constructive, positive or neutral “I cant wait to interact with someone” or focus on how lovely everyone appears to be (even if this is not true to you think something positive about the situation, changing your thinking is half the battle when trying to overcome awkwardness)

    3) Let go of negative pogramming! Let go of anything negative that you’ve been conditioned into believing. This requires time and perhaps therapy but its doable. Programming such as “if i fall everyone will laugh” “the world is a bad place” “people are waiting(or expecting) for me to fail “changing your programming will allow you to feel free to make mistakes and be human! The world is whatever you decided it is going to be, good or bad!(I personally think its amazing!) Also let go of hurt and all the memories of you not doing well (visualize yourself doing well, visualize the person you want to become and practice til you become that person)

    4)Live in Love: focus on love all day, no matter what the situation is, think about how much you love yourself, how much you love everyone you come in contact with, it’ll make it difficult for you to interpret any direct/indirect interactions as negative ones. Literally think “LOVE” and it will be hard to rack your mind with self defeating thoughts.

    5) Affirmations really work, you can practice doing them daily, and especially when you’re feeling particularly doubty or negative, think and believe! Thoughts such as “I AM BEAUTIFUL”, “I AM POWERFUL”, “I AM ASSERTIVE” Hey,fake it til you make it! You will begin to believe what you tell yourself!

    6)Keep a journal and write what you’re thankful for everyday, also write inspiring quotes that you run in to, write a new affirmation that you will focus on for that day. Only positive things can go in the journal!

    7)Know that you are successful as long as you are living in love and as long as you are giving in this world, remember you count! There’s only one of you! Awkward or not, We(the world) love you for who you are and we’re waiting for YOU to leave your mark, big or small!

  29. Lots of the advice out there on social skills are very impractical indeed. Practice for experience is your best teacher.

  30. I have this desire of having lots of friends for I enjoy the company of many people, yet my shyness and being socially weak always hinders me from meeting new acquaintances.

    Having social skills training, specifically on improving my personality and becoming outgoing is what I need. I am so thankful for your article here for it certainly tackles my problem about not being outgoing enough and what I can do to solve it.

    Hope to read more of your advices.

    Joshua

  31. Jonas says:

    I’m a bit disappointed about the `Decoding Social Norms’ paragraph. It seems to me that it assumes that the reader already knows the relevant social norms.

    For instance this snippet: “observe what happens when people violate the understood norms. If you commit faux-pas”—how do you know whether people (including yourself) violate the norms if you don’t know the norms?

    Then there’s this: “The second step is to occasionally violate social norms.” How would I know when I do that without knowing the social norms?

    In fact, I don’t see anything in that paragraph that tells me how to arrive at new knowledge of social norms. But maybe I’m just reading it wrong?

  32. Tim says:

    This is a very interesting article, I’ve never read anything like it before and it rings true very much.

    When I think about it, I do have a feeling that there are areas of socialness I just ‘don’t get’ … but also ‘social landmarks’ – things like following sports, knowing about sports, music, films, actors etc also – that other people just seem to ‘know’ about and I never been interested in

    But very interesting article. Tho it would be good if there was more practical ways / exercises to notice social norms better / some deeper discussion of them to find exactly what they are.

    Nice article

  33. Jonathan says:

    I feel like creating a preconceived idea of yourself limits you to becoming who you want to be. Labelling yourself as an introvert and then fulfilling that prophecy upon yourself is silly.

    I feel, as you mentioned, you must be willing to make mistakes! No one is perfect. That and practice, practice, practice.

    With social fears, they seem so scary to us and we inherently believe they must be dangerous. But we forget to question this fear and really contemplate the meaning and value of this fear.

    I feel a lot of your points really ring true to my experiences in improving my social skills and it is another example of how problems one may have generally are not isolated, many experience the same thing.

  34. Chris says:

    When it comes to social norms, a good question is to ask why. Why is it seen as normal or not normal to do this?

    If the reason is because it makes people feel uncomfortable, then follow the social norm.

    However there are some social norms, especially here in the UK that do nothing but hold people back. It’s quite unusual for people to approach others in the street, on the bus or train for instance. But why? Is this because people won’t like it? Maybe some won’t. But many will appreciate it when you do initiate conversation in these environments. So in this case we do ourselves no favours by sticking to social norms, because they’re holding us back.

    Of course, if we go around asking people we don’t know for favours, either directly or indirectly, trying to ‘get’ something from people we don’t know, that could backfire. The people that succeed socially are the ones that invest in an interaction, who give value to. As long as we’re giving value and not asking or worse, begging, we can largely forget about social norms.

  35. shree says:

    kind advice….and the below article link gives more info..
    http://bingoose.com/improve-social-skills/

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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