Key social skills are among the most important abilities a person can have.
In business or social situations, why is it that some people make such a positive impression? What behaviors actually imprint a person on your memory to the point where that person is unforgettable — while there are other people whom you can’t forget soon enough? What are the actual behaviors that define someone as a confident class act? The answers are found in five key social skills.
These are among the most important abilities a person can have. Human beings are social animals — and a lack of key social skills can lead to a lonely life. On the other hand, mastery of key social skills can be of great help in every area of your life and career. And while these abilities are inborn in a certain percentage of people, they can also be learned — as you’re about to find out.
The first of the social skills is not really anything you do, but how you feel. It’s the capacity to relax in a social or business setting. Stress and anxiety are contagious. When you seem ill at ease, that feeling is transmitted to others around you. If you seem confident and composed, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter that same state of mind in everyone else.
In developing the ability to relax, the first step is identifying exactly what it is that makes you anxious. This varies from person to person — but among people who really
have a problem with interpersonal situations, there’s one anxiety that’s stands out above all others. It’s anxiety about anxiety. It’s nervousness about being nervous. It’s the fear of being found out as an anxious person — which elevates the very behaviors you’re trying to hide.
If this self-confirming anxiety is a problem for you, here’s a suggestion: honesty is the best policy. Without overly dramatizing your feelings, just mention that you’re sometimes a bit uneasy meeting new people or speaking in public. Think about how you’ll do this beforehand. Injecting a little humor is always a good idea. The main point is to be upfront about the issue, and thereby defuse it. Rest assured that nobody is going to hold this against you. In fact, admitting these very human feelings is a great way to get people on your side.
Keep in mind also that certain actions act as triggers for anxiety, even though you may think they’re calming you down. Try not to do anything too quickly, whether it’s walking, talking, eating, or even sitting down in a chair. Rapid, jerky motions awaken a primitive fight-or-flight syndrome that’s the last thing you want. So take your time. Subvocally, tell yourself to relax. You’ll be surprised at the heightened level of confidence you’ll feel, and the positive effect it will have on others around you.
So the ability to relax is the first social skill of a confident person — and the second of the key social skills is closely related to it. It’s the ability to listen. People who are ill at ease often have a habit of talking too much, too fast, or too loud. It’s a misdirected attempt to take control of the situation — because they’re afraid of what might happen if they don’t. The sad part is, it’s extremely annoying to be around a person when you can’t get a word in edgewise.
Conversation is really like automobile traffic. Sometimes your light is green; sometimes it’s red. There’s a kind of cooperation that gives everyone a chance to get where he or she is going at a balanced pace. Many people, of course, would like to just talk all the time — just as there are people who would like to ignore stop signs and speed limits. But that impulse can deprive you of your driver’s license, just as it can deprive you of anybody to talk to.
As you’re listening, tap into the third skill of confident interaction. This is empathy and genuine interest in the experiences of another person — and it’s about as rare as a three-dollar bill. Training yourself to really feel what someone is trying to communicate is probably the quickest way to make yourself truly unforgettable — maybe just because it’s so rare.
Here’s a simple rule that can help you develop empathy very quickly. It involves recognizing a certain very common interpersonal behavior and making a conscious decision to eliminate it. I’m referring to the game of Topper. You may never have heard of that game, but there’s an excellent chance that you’ve played it anyway. And if you haven’t, there’s an even better chance that it’s been played on you.
Very simply, here’s how Topper is played. Someone tells a story — it’s usually something that happened to the speaker — and then you tell a story about yourself that tops the first one. It’s so simple. Maybe that’s why it fills up so many conversations — and maybe that’s also why so few people have any sense of a real empathic connection.
Topper is such a seductive game that you can actually see people struggling to hold back until they can start talking about themselves. Strangely, despite the way it might seem, Topper shows lack of confidence in a social situation. It’s another way for people to get back into their comfort zone — which is themselves. A major part of social anxiety is self-consciousness, which is greatly helped by focusing strongly on someone else. The word for that is empathy.
Empathy is a feeling. Rapport, our fourth of the key social skills, is the outward expression of that feeling. When you feel empathy, you act so as to build rapport. Rapport is a state of understanding or connection that happens in a social interaction. It says basically "I am like you; we understand each other." Rapport occurs on an unconscious level, and when it happens, the language, speech patterns, body movement and posture, and other aspects of communication can synchronize down to incredibly fine levels.
Rapport is an unconscious process, but it can be encouraged by conscious efforts. One way is by mirroring or matching the verbal behavior of the other person. It’s nothing complicated — just reflecting back language and speech mannerisms, including rate, volume, tone, and choice of words. Sometimes, when two people feel good about each other, this happens all by itself. Rapport has taken place spontaneously. Other times the mirroring technique is a good way to create rapport where it would otherwise be absent.
An important sub-category of building rapport is appropriate eye contact. This doesn't mean you have to stare at people — in fact, staring at someone can communicate anger — but keeping your eyes on them while talking or listening is a matter of basic civility. It simply shows them that you have their undivided attention. You’re focused on them and what they have to say.
If you don't maintain eye contact, several ideas can pass through people’s minds — and none of them are positive. They may think you’re ignoring them or that you’re trying to get away from them. If they have any worries about their own confidence, this is sure to bring them on in a painful way. People like this will blame themselves for the lack of rapport. But if you’ve failed to even look them in the eye, it’s really you who should be taking responsibility.
Other kinds of people will have a different interpretation. Instead of blaming themselves, they’ll conclude that you’re a shifty and untrustworthy individual. Although there are places in the world where it’s considered rude to look people directly in the eye, the United States isn’t one of those places. So act accordingly, and you’ll be considered not cunning, but confident and classy.
People need to receive attention — and they need to give it also. Listen empathically to what others say, and then share similar ideas and concerns of your own. Don’t try to overwhelm someone with your own drama — don’t play Topper — but by the same token, don’t be so reserved that you seem aloof.
People need a sense of meaning, purpose, and goals. If you’re a manager in a corporate setting or a business owner, satisfying this need is a basic element of confident leadership. Whatever they may tell you or whatever they may think, no one works just for money — at least not for very long.
Finally, people need a sense of status. As a confident person and as a class act, you are in a unique position to confer feelings of recognition and importance. This can take many forms. Sometimes it means singling someone out for praise in front of a group. Other times it’s taking someone aside to offer thanks for a job well done. Apply these five key social skills in your personal and professional life, and you’ll radiate power, and in its reflection you’ll shine brightly.
Yes, I want to gain the respect and admiration of others while I gain high levels of prestige and career satisfaction.
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