One reason is that social skills can’t be outsourced (although I would like to see Tim Ferriss try). So unless you plan to live on a desert island for the rest of your life, you need to learn how to deal with other people. Otherwise social awkwardness, difficulty meeting people and being unable to communicate your ideas will hurt no matter who you are.
On the reverse side, having great social skills can be helpful in almost any situation. If you can easily make friends, share your thoughts and empathize, these abilities can make you better at almost anything else you do. Lack willpower to go to the gym? Having a dedicated gym partner can help. Not sure how to start a business? Talking to a mentor can give you ideas. Want to learn faster? Finding the right teachers is essential.
Your Social Skills Aren’t Set in Stone
Genetics definitely plays a role in determining how outgoing, attractive or charismatic you can be. If social skills aren’t your strengths, it can be easy to assume that your genes destined you to introversion. But social skills, like reading and writing, can be trained. If you weren’t born able to read, why do you expect any other skill to develop automatically?
Several years ago, if you had told me social skills was all in your genes, I probably would have believed you. I had few close friends, difficulty sharing my ideas and spent most of my time in isolation. Things could have been worse, but my social life was near bankruptcy.
Finally, I got fed up of the way things were and made efforts to change them. I joined Toastmasters to work on public speaking, I started writing every day and I put myself in new places to meet new people. No improvement took place immediately, but after a few years of work, my old life is barely recognizable.
Today I have dozens of close friends I can count on and hundreds of friends in every area of my life. I spent the first day back at University knocking on doors to introduce myself–something that would have been too terrifying to consider only a few years earlier.
Being Smart isn’t a Handicap
A lot of otherwise smart people have poor social skills. And some incredibly dumb people can be popular and friendly. Given this, some smart people assume that their intelligence gives them no advantage with social skills. They might even start treating it as a handicap, that others’ jealousy is holding them back.
Once again, this is nonsense. Raw brainpower won’t make you friends any more than it will help you bench press 300 lbs. However, if you want to improve your social skills, there is no better asset then your brain. Being able to think and solve problems is crucial for taking your communication skills from awkward to charismatic.
How to Improve
Going through my own experiences with building communication skills, I believe success has two parts:
- Surrounding yourself with new opportunities.
- Putting in the effort to practice.
One of the big reasons people fail to improve social skills, I believe, is because they trap themselves within a social network. If you keep seeing the same people, having the same conversations and repeating the same habits, you can’t improve. Unfortunately, there isn’t an obvious “social gym” where you can build your communication muscles, so most people stay home.
Find Fertile Ground
The first step to improving your social skills is to break away from the familiar. Talking with one of your current friends won’t give you an opportunity to boost your social skills. Unfortunately, if your social skills are weak, meeting new people can be difficult to do. This is where you need to use your brain to come up with alternatives:
Join Groups. Small clubs and classes with group participation are a great opportunity to meet people. Since the setting encourages friendliness, you don’t need to be extroverted to meet new people.
Photo by Fred Armitage.
Get Introductions. Leverage your current social circle to meet new people. If your friends are going to be attending an event where they could introduce you, ask to tag along.
Make “Easy” Cold Calls. Walking up and saying, “Hi,” is harder than sending an e-mail. Use e-mail as a way to contact people who you might like to meet in person.
It’s no secret that practice makes perfect. But how do you practice your social skills. You might be meeting people right now, but that doesn’t mean you are on the fast-track to being charismatic and extroverted. Once again, using your smarts to solve this problem is crucial.
The key is to put yourself in a setting which trains you harder than your regular social interactions. If you went to the gym and lifted 5 lb. dumbbells, you probably wouldn’t win a bodybuilding contest. Only by lifting more weight than you do on a regular basis can you expect growth. The same rule applies with social skills, so it is important to find your “gym” where you can test harder interactions.
Here are a few “gyms” where you can practice social skills beyond what you might be used to:
Toastmasters. I’ve been a member of Toastmasters for several years, and this is one of the best ways to build communication skills. There are some things Toastmasters can’t teach you, but it can give an excellent base for the fundamentals.
Clubs and Bars. Thought going out was just for time-wasting drunks? Think again. Few places give you a chance to test your social skills more than places like these.
Volunteer Positions. Join a volunteer organization where there is a lot of group interactions. Volunteer positions can force you outside your comfort zone, without requiring that you leave your day job.
Sales. Communicating is selling yourself. Working in positions which force you to use sales and marketing skills will help improve your social skills. Try volunteering for a charity drive if you want to get practice without switching careers.
This week we have 15 copies of A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen to give away. From Amazon: “Bowen is a minister with a very simple message: quit complaining. If you do, you’ll be happier and healthier.”
I (Peter) haven’t had a chance to read this book yet, but it looks very interesting and the Amazon reviews are all positive (it seems readers have no reason to complain about it). To be in the running, just leave a comment on any of the articles we publish this week. We will let you know the winners next Monday.