March 16, 2020

School teaches us many useful (or unuseful) things like geometry, thermodynamics, syntax and why Hitler is probably someone you wouldn’t want to date. While knowing calculus may be great if you are a mathematician, the real skills needed for life are often the ones untaught in school. How does one pick up social skills then? It would be dangerous to assume that they can be acquired intuitively—sometimes they can, and at other times, guidance is required.

Society tends to place a higher value on cognitive intelligence, but in order to successfully traverse the challenges in life, that needs to be paired with a good dose of emotional intelligence, which is the ability to acknowledge your own emotions, recognise them in others and use that information to guide your behaviour. If you’re looking to develop the social skills essential for success, here is a helpful guide on how you can be more likeable.

Control your emotions and manage conflict objectively

Throwing ridiculous tantrums or slamming your fist on the table will certainly not get things done quicker. When things do not go your way at work, look at the situation calmly and objectively, and find real solutions to address the issues at hand. Learn to properly control your emotions and manage work disagreements in a positive manner. If something is bothering you, speak up and avoid keeping it to yourself

When we feel upset about something or with someone, first identify the real issue that is bothering you. If you’re annoyed that your partner forgot your birthday, for example, don’t be quick to launch into a tirade about his/her forgetfulness. Use statements like “I feel hurt because…”, as they allow the other party to know what you are feeling. This gives them the space to be forthcoming with their explanations and allows them to see what’s really bothering you—setting the tone for an open and honest conversation. When we learn the art of healthy confrontation, we can develop better relationships with ourselves and others. 

Learn how to deal with group conversations

It is a common tendency in a group setting, to not be heard. The real challenge is managing how you react to being interrupted. In an ideal world, everyone would be polite, civil and good listeners. But the real world is full of different characters: some more dominant than others. If someone should interrupt you, instead of becoming agitated and trying to outtalk the person (which is as productive as flogging a dead horse), take a step back and learn to go with the flow. 

Don’t be fixated on trying to get that one sentence in—it could cause friction or be a turn-off to the people around you. Find other chances to join in the conversation harmoniously. Accept that conversations are a “vortex of noise and chaos”, and you don’t have to fight it.

Adult friendships should not be neglected

Making friends as a child can be fairly easy as long as you aren’t an obnoxious bully, perennial snitch or kleptomaniac. By default, your classmates become your best friends. However, as an adult, this whole business of making friends is harder. People are busy, exhausted or lack the mental capacity to forge deeper and more meaningful connections. 

Make friendship a priority and learn to show up by giving your all to a person or situation. Avoid making sweeping statements like “We should hang out sometime” without really meaning it. Take some time to reach out to someone new, as you never know where that connection could lead to. Pick up a new hobby, join an interest group or participate in events to enlarge your social circle. By meeting new people, they can help you learn new perspectives and expand your horizons. 

Don’t be afraid of giving compliments

There are very few things in life that are free, and paying compliments is one of them, so never be stingy with them. Offer your colleagues a genuine compliment if the occasion arises—it could be that radiant glow on her face or that killer powerpoint presentation, which impressed the client. A flattering remark can make you appear more friendly, and people will naturally gravitate towards you if you’re exuding positive energy. 

Manners maketh man

As it turns out, your mother wasn’t trying to be a draconian Victorian prude. Instead, she was imparting wisdom to you by teaching you the importance of being courteous and respectful of others. Always remember (and practise) the basics. Simple words like sorry, please and thank you can go a long way in endearing yourself to others. Always show humility and gratitude, even in the best of times and acknowledge those who have helped you along the way. During social meals, serve others first and avoid piling your plate too high; you don’t want to be that person who ate everything and left nothing for the rest. 

Be mindful of your body language

While it is important to have solid verbal communication skills, non-verbal communication can be just as effective in getting across your message. This could be through facial expressions, hand gestures, and even the way we stand. Your body language can also be a powerful tool to put people at ease. When we take turns speaking, listen intently and engage in eye contact. Nod your head to show enthusiasm and do not fold your arms—it makes you appear defensive and closed off like you are putting a barrier between you and the other person. Another useful practice is to mirror the body language of the person you are speaking to, which creates rapport and keeps your energies in sync with each other. Having the right body language will leave a good impression.

Ask people about their lives

Whether we like to admit it or not, we love to talk about ourselves (all the more with the rise of social media). Instead of rambling about yourself, start by asking questions and display a genuine curiosity about their life, career, or interests. This will make them feel good talking to you, and open up more. The best conversationalists use their eyes to observe changes in body language or how engaged the other party is in the conversation. These cues can help them change the topic or stir the conversation in the right direction to maintain mutual interest. The art of social skills is a delicate one that requires balance; you can come across as off-putting if you’re a people-pleaser or disingenuous if you flatter too much. At the end of the day, it’s more important to be interested in others than in being interesting, and that is how you win people over.