Social skills are more important than most of us realize.
These aren’t skills we are taught in school. Instead, they are skills we pick up along the way through interacting with others.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
But not everyone is as good at picking up on social cues as others. This can leave some people with poorly learned or even nonexistent social skills.
And unfortunately, that lack of social skills can make a person hard to be around.
Plus, a lack of social skills can often contribute to negative outcomes for the person who lacks them. As this study by the University of Arizona demonstrates, lack of social skills can be a predictor of poorer physical as well as mental health.
Keep an eye out for these behaviors that can tip you off to someone whose social skills could use a little work.
1) Interrupting others
This is one we should all be taught as children. So it’s kind of surprising how many people grow up into adulthood and either never get this, or choose to ignore it.
Sometimes, it can be hard to resist the urge to interrupt. You may know exactly where a person is going with something they are saying and not feel the need to wait for them to get to the point you know they are making.
However, basic manners demand that you let a person finish what they are saying before coming in with opinions of your own.
Because if you don’t, it’s easy to give the impression that you aren’t really listening to what people are saying. Instead, you’re just waiting for your own opportunity to talk.
“Consciously or not, most people feel disrespected when not allowed to finish what they’re saying,” writes career coach Marty Nemko. “Interrupting implies that you deem your words more worthy than the remainder of what the other person has to say.”
The trouble is, it’s easy to get wrapped up in what we want to say in a conversation and forget our manners. Often, people don’t even realize they are interrupting others until it’s pointed out to them.
2) Not making eye contact
This is one I struggle with.
There can be lots of reasons a person has difficulty making eye contact, from shyness to autism. Unfortunately, eye contact is a huge part of communication, and when you don’t know how to play the game, it can make you seem disinterested, bored, or even rude.
Like adding hot sauce to food, using the right amount of eye contact is a skill that requires practice.
Make too little eye contact, and you seem disinterested. Make too much, and you seem too intense.
Often, the only way to get it right is through practice. And as psychologist and author Arlin Cuncic points out, the benefits of eye contact make it a skill worth mastering:
- It helps people remember your face.
- It helps people remember what you said.
- It encourages people to believe what you say.
- People will see you as more confident and competent.
3) Bad body language
Eye contact is a huge part of nonverbal communication. But there’s more to it than just that. In fact, thanks to body language, there’s a whole vocabulary of ways to say something without words.
Body language is something that we all understand on some level, but we aren’t all great at using it. And because it’s easily overlooked, people lacking in social skills often have poor body language without even realizing it.
Bad body language includes things like:
- Crossing your arms
- Talking too fast
- Looking around the room while talking to someone
- Not smiling enough
It’s easy to forget the power of body language and fall into bad habits. That’s why people who lack social skills often don’t realize how their body language is tripping them up.
4) Conversational narcissism
The term conversational narcissist “describes a person who often dominates the conversation, with little regard for the viewpoints of others,” according to leadership coach Shadé Zahrai.
In other words, this is a person who only wants to talk about themselves.
The trouble is, people don’t always realize they’re doing this. After all, we are each our own specialist subject. Besides, sharing anecdotes from your own experience can help you to relate to other people.
But it’s something you need to be very careful with. And often, people who lack social skills don’t have the ability to know when they are talking about themselves too much.
5) Failure to recognize nonverbal cues
This is another tough one that just goes to show that the art of conversation is something best learned through practice.
We all use various nonverbal cues in conversation, sometimes without even realizing it. People can tell you an awful lot with their tone of voice, facial expression, or even silence.
People who lack social skills rarely pick up on these nonverbal cues. That means they may continue a conversation long after the other party has lost interest, or keep talking about a topic the other person would rather avoid.
6) Lack of empathy
Often, this can be the root cause of someone’s lack of social skills.
Psychologist Jamil Zaki describes empathy as “psychological ‘superglue’ that connects people and undergirds co-operation and kindness.”
Simply put, empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and imagine their emotional life. And this ability lies at the heart of human morality and ethics.
But not everybody has the same ability to feel the emotions of others. And often, a lack of social skills is an indication of a lack of empathy, too.
When a person lacks empathy, they struggle to understand where others are coming from. They may minimize the feelings of others and tell them they are overreacting, or ignore their personal boundaries because they don’t see them as being important.
7) Not listening
We’re all guilty of this one from time to time.
But people who lack social skills are often worse at listening, or, almost as bad, worse at showing that they are listening than others.
No one likes to feel that what they say is being ignored or disregarded. So when someone doesn’t respond correctly to what a person says or allows their attention to be distracted by other people, their phone, or anything else, they almost always leave a poor impression on others.
Listening well means listening actively. It means focusing on what the other person says, asking relevant questions to get them to expand, and paying attention.
Yes, it requires mental effort. But it can often be the difference between having social skills and lacking them.
8) Ignoring personal space
This is another relatively subtle aspect of human relationships that’s easy to miss, but vitally important.
You see, everyone has their own personal space which they like to maintain, almost like a bubble around them. And when you invade that space, it makes people uncomfortable.
What makes this tricky, especially for people who lack social skills, is that the size of this bubble varies from one person to another and from one context to the next. For example, a person may have a different definition of personal space for someone they had just met versus someone they know very well.
Determining the correct amount of personal space to give someone requires careful observation. Often, the best strategy is to mirror the space they are keeping between themselves and others, since that is a distance they are probably comfortable at.
However, people lacking social skills often don’t think of this and can end up invading people’s personal space.
9) Being argumentative
Finally, being argumentative is often a sure sign of someone lacking social skills.
Now, I’m not saying you have to get along with everyone all the time. It’s fine to have your own views, and fine to stick up for them when necessary.
The important skill to master here, though, is knowing when it’s necessary and when it isn’t.
Do you really need to argue with your coworkers over your political views? Do you really need to fight with your family over Thanksgiving dinner?
There’s nothing wrong with healthy debate. But part of having good social skills is knowing what is an appropriate forum to have those kinds of discussions, and what isn’t.
Unfortunately, those lacking in social skills often get this wrong. This leads to them getting into pointless arguments that make people want to avoid them wherever possible.
Social skills can be learned
The good news for people who lack social skills is that it’s never too late to improve them. These are things we all have to learn, rather than being born with them. There’s lots you can do to get better.
If you spot these behaviors in another person, it’s a good sign that they lack social skills.
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