Good social skills can enhance your quality of life. Your professional relationships at work and personal support systems will improve from the increased confidence and reduced stress you'll experience. By implementing your observational skills and actively practicing your new social skills, you can enjoy increased success in your life.
It takes time to develop social skills, so be patient. Set realistic goals for yourself so you won't be disappointed by what might seem to be lack of progress. Start by observing others. Pay attention to how they interact with people, particularly how they approach one another to start a conversation. If you know someone -- a family member or colleague at work whose sociability you admire -- watch what she says and does to get a positive response from those around her. It also helps to learn what to avoid; for example, asking personal questions too soon in a relationship might offend.
Set a small goal to begin to hone your conversation skills. This might be as simple as saying, "Thank you and have a nice day," to the cashier in the supermarket. Asking your co-workers about their plans for the weekend shows you're interested in their lives and gives them the opportunity to interact with you, suggests the educational website Skills You Need. Find some common ground. For example, if someone mentions a movie he saw on the weekend, let him know how much you like the star of that film.
Your body language reveals much about yourself. You'll want to project confidence, so become aware of how you might stand and where to put your arms. For example, slouching in your chair and looking down signals a reluctance to participate in the conversation. Keeping your head up, making eye contact with those who are speaking and smiling at those around you suggests you are actively participating. Avoid crossing your arms in front of your body, which indicates close-mindedness and a need to protect yourself. Open gestures suggest you are receptive to others. Tone and volume are also important, so moderate your voice -- too loud might be perceived as aggressive, while too quiet suggests insecurity.
Practice and Persistence
Start by practicing your new skills alone in front of a mirror. Rehearse one line until you are satisfied with how you look and sound. Seek out situations where you can practice your conversation skill. For example, you might consider asking a quick question of a store clerk or customer while you're shopping. The more often you engage in conversations, the more comfortable you will feel.
When to Seek Help
If you find it impossible to improve your social skills on your own, consider getting professional help. Painfully shy individuals, those who have been alone for a long time and people with mental health disorders such as those on the autism spectrum might need the help of a trained therapist to help develop appropriate social skills. Consult your family doctor and ask for a referral. Assertiveness training groups can be very effective at helping you improve social skills.
Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.
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