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How to Improve Your Social Skills: 8 Tips from the Last 2500 Years

How to improve your social skills

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One source for pretty reliable advice is what has been repeated. Not what’s been repeated throughout your life but throughout history. Time-tested advice, advice that has survived and been rediscovered over the centuries often has a good deal of practical value.

I think this applies to tips on improving your social skills. Society may have changed but people are people. So what worked a couple of hundred or thousand years ago can still be useful today. Here are eight tips on social skills that have been told over and over. Maybe you’ll find them helpful.

1. Listen

“Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak.”
Epictetus

“The less you speak, the more you will hear.”
Alexander Solshenitsen

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
Ernest Hemingway

This is probably one of the most underappreciated social skills. People are often centred on themselves. Nothing surprising really, but it doesn’t mean that they are selfish jerks either. But because of this a lot of people are just used to talking about themselves or waiting for the other person to finish so they can start talking again. I know I have done this many times and still do from time to time.

How do you get past it?

One useful way that I have found is to just forget about yourself. Focus your attention outward instead of inward in a conversation. Place the mental focus on the person you are talking and listening to instead of yourself. Placing the focus outside of yourself makes you less self-centred and your need to hog the spotlight decreases.

If you start to actually listen to what people are saying it also becomes easier to find potential paths in the conversation. By asking open-ended questions – the ones that will give you more than a yes or no answer – you can explore these paths and have better and more fun conversations.

And this ties into the next tip…

2. Actually be interested in the other person.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. Which is just another way of saying that the way to make a friend is to be one.”
Dale Carnegie

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”
Henry David Thoreau

If you become more interested in people then you’ll naturally become a better listener since you are actually interested in what’s on their minds.

And it beomes easier find out what someone is really passionate about and to dispel negative assumptions that can mess up the communication.

If you listen to what someone has to say then you may find that s/he for instance isn’t as boring or different from you as you may have guessed when you were first introduced.

And as Carnegie says, it’s a lot easier to create and improve relationships if you focus on the other person than on yourself. Why is that?

Well, for one, as I wrote just a few paragraphs ago, people often don’t listen that much. So you’ll be a pleasant exception among the others that are waiting for their turn to talk again.

But the big reason is simply that you make them feel good because of your attention, validation of them and their interest and the connection that is made.

3. Don’t listen too much to criticism.

“If evil be said of thee, and if it be true, correct thyself; if it be a lie, laugh at it.”
Epictetus

“When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical.”
Unknown

Well, Epictetus got this one down. Listen to criticism. If you feel that there is some relevance to it explore how you can change yourself. But also recognize that lot of the time criticism is mostly about the other person.

Maybe s/he has had a bad day. Maybe a pet or child is sick. Maybe s/he is jealous of you or angry at someone else. Since people often are centred on themselves it’s easy to make a mistake here. Someone may criticise you but is actually focused on something in their own life. And you are probably also focused on yourself. And therefore you draw the conclusion that the criticism must have something to do with you.

But the world doesn’t revolve around you. Which is bad if you want more attention and validation from others.

On the other hand, it can be liberating since people don’t seem to care that much about what you do. The big problem of not daring to do something because you’re afraid of what people may say becomes a smaller obstacle.

4. Don’t babble on and on.

“The less people speak of their greatness, the more we think of it.”
Sir Francis Bacon

“The more you say, the less people remember.”
François Fénelon

This one’s connected to listening. If you talk and talk there will be little time, energy or focus for listening. But if you start to focus outward then your mind will become more focused and you’ll spend less time babbling for too long about something. If you want more reasons to stop babbling and start simplifying check out 5 Reason to Simplify What You Say, and How to Do It.

5. Treat others as you would like them to treat you.

“The people with whom you work reflect your own attitude. If you are suspicious, unfriendly and condescending, you will find these unlovely traits echoed all about you. But if you are on your best behaviour, you will bring out the best in the persons with whom you are going to spend most of your working hours.”
Beatrice Vincent

“It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate. It takes guts to be gentle and kind.”
Morrissey

The Law of Reciprocity is strong in humans. As you treat someone else s/he will feel like treating you. Maybe not today or tomorrow. But over time these things have a way of evening out.

One of the most important things in relationships and conversations is your attitude. It determines a lot about your interactions and how you treat other people.

The attitude you have, the lens you hold up and view the world through determines what you see. And the thoughts you keep in your mind control how you feel. Your thoughts and feelings direct how you say something and what your hands, eyes, posture etc. says through body language.

So even if you say nice words you may create an different feeling in the person you are talking to because your thoughts, feelings, voice tonality and body language aren’t aligned with your words. And words are only 7 percent of communication. So the attitude behind your words is absolutely crucial.

6. Keep a positive attitude.

“I am convinced that attitude is the key to success or failure in almost any of life’s endeavors. Your attitude – your perspective, your outlook, how you feel about yourself, how you feel about other people – determines you priorities, your actions, your values. Your attitude determines how you interact with other people and how you interact with yourself.”
Carolyn Warner

“Two men look out the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars.”
Frederick Langbridge

“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility to evaporate.”
Albert Schweitzer

If your attitude is so important then what can you do about it? One good tip, that has worked for very long, is simply to keep a positive attitude. And by that I don’t mean that you should just react in a positive way to events in your life that may be seen by society as positive. For instance, getting a raise in salary, an A on an exam or winning a competition.

But before I continue with that train of thought I’d just like to say something about negativity. I wouldn’t say that it is all bad. I wouldn’t say that people want to get away from negative people all of the time. Sometimes you can find camaraderie in complaining about your boss, job, salary and the government. But overall and long-term I think that going positive is the more useful and fulfilling approach.

Now, what I mean with adopting a positive attitude is choosing to stay positive regardless of your external circumstances. You may not be able to do this all the time, but being positive is habit just like eating well or doing your daily exercise. It can be hard to get started and slow going at first. But when your mind gets used to this new behaviour it becomes almost automatic. Your mind just starts to interpret reality in a different way than it did before.

Instead of seeing problems everywhere it starts to zoom in on opportunities and what’s good about just about any situation. Instead of sighing and feeling like you’re working in an uphill rut you’ll find reasons to be grateful and happy.

Yeah, I know, it might sound like wishful thinking. But it really works. The problem is just that it is difficult to see this – and to realise that you can actually change – from a current worldview and attitude that may be a bit more negative.

If you’d like to read more about this, have a look at Take the Positivity Challenge for some more reasons to change your attitude – they include making better first impressions and becoming more attractive – and how to do it.

7. Use silence.

“A good word is an easy obligation; but not to speak ill requires only our silence; which costs us nothing.”
John Tillotson

“Be silent, or say something better than silence.”
Pythagoras

“It’s good to shut up sometimes.”
Marcel Marceau

There are several good reasons to learn to be more silent. It will help you to develop your listening skills. And instead of saying something you wish you didn’t you can learn to keep your piehole closed. This can help you avoid unnecessary arguments and reduce the hurt you do unto others by, for example, criticising.

Sitting in silence day in and day out while your inner pressure builds up is of course not good. Then you may need speak up, take charge and change whatever it is in your environment that causes the problem. But often a great deal of negative things can be avoided just by calmly staying silent.

8. Communicate with more than your words.

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
Carl W. Buechner

“I speak two languages, English and Body.”
Mae West

“We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

The words you use are just a small part of communication. How you use your tone of voice and your body language is over 90 percent of what you are communicating.

To become a better communicator these two areas are ridiculously important. You can for instance improve how you say something by loading your words with more emotions. If you use tip # 6 – Keep a positive attitude – this often improves kinda automatically. You’ll naturally convey more enthusiasm and positive emotions through your voice.

Your attitude, as mentioned before, also has big impact on your body language. If you feel relaxed, open and positive this comes through in how you use your body.

You may want check out these additional 17 body language tips though. Just to be on the safe side. And to not repeat and reinforce some old and ingrained body language habits.

Manually correcting your body language can be useful. When you for instance are listening, you can lean in and keep eye contact to reinforce that you are actually listening. If you keep your body language interested you’ll also be able to keep your focus and interest longer since emotions can work backwards. As your body is “interested” your mind becomes interested and focused on what is said.

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  • PCWiz August 27, 2010, 1:41 pm

    Good post thanks.