“It’s who you know, not what you know.”
This old saying really brings home the importance of our social skills.
After all, whether it’s in our work, friendships, or love life, our ability to connect in effective ways makes all the difference.
The tricky part is we’re not all naturals at it. As the name suggests, it’s a skill and it takes time to build.
Yet you may not even see the signs that something has been holding you back.
Here are some subtle yet powerful indicators that you may need to brush up on your social skills.
1) You never remember people’s names
…Even though they just told you about 10 seconds ago.
As pointed out by Dale Carnegie in ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’:
“… a person is more interested in his or her own name than in all the other names on earth put together. Remember that name and call it easily, and you have paid a subtle and very effective compliment. But forget it or misspell it – and you have placed yourself at a sharp disadvantage.”
I used to be one of those people who would excuse myself and claim “I’m just terrible with names”.
But why? I certainly don’t have memory problems in general.
Then it dawned on me, that the problem wasn’t my memory, it was my listening skills.
The truth is that when someone told me their name, it went straight in one ear and out of the other.
It was never that I was being intentionally rude or dismissive.
It’s just that in the heat of the moment, I was focused on all the other aspects of meeting a new person.
That’s why the antidote is simple, yet very effective.
How to fix it
Make a conscious effort to listen when someone tells you their name.
Rather than let it wash over you, repeat it to yourself in your head a few times.
Within the first few minutes, try to use their name in conversation so that you’re more likely to remember it.
If someone has an unfamiliar or unusual name, I will even ask them to spell it for me. That way I can visualize it in my head to help it sink in.
When we make an effort to remember someone’s name they appreciate it. It helps them to feel respected, and that builds better connections.
2) You speak really loudly or really quietly
These two things are on the opposite end of the same spectrum.
The reality is that the volume of your voice can impact how people perceive you.
Speaking too loudly can be off-putting and considered rude by others. Meanwhile, speaking too softly can make you seem insecure and lacking in confidence.
Researchers have pinpointed what makes some speak too softly and others too loudly.
As Dr. Amee Shah, director of the speech acoustics and perception laboratory at Cleveland State University explains:
“There are four different factors. There’s a biological component, a pathological component, a personality component and a cultural component.”
Whilst you can’t change your genes, you can be more aware of how other factors come into play.
How to fix It
Practice speaking at a moderate volume. Record yourself if necessary to gauge your volume.
If it’s still difficult to know if you may be too loud or quiet, ask a trusted friend or loved one for feedback about your speaking volume.
If you struggle with projection, try breathwork to improve your respiratory control.
3) You find making eye contact super awkward
Regular eye contact is crucial for effective communication.
But if it makes you squirm a little, I get it. There’s a biological reason for why it feels intense.
Research has shown that it can make us feel self-conscious, interfere with our memory, and impact our mental control.
But there’s no getting away from how this subtle cue is also vitally important to how others perceive us.
As highlighted by the BBC:
“We generally perceive people who make more eye contact to be more intelligent, more conscientious and sincere…and we become more inclined to believe what they say.”
So if you’re uncomfortable maintaining eye contact, it could be a sign of poor social skills that may be hindering your credibility and confidence levels.
How to fix It
Like so many things in life, practice is the easiest answer.
So start practicing eye contact. Try it with friends, family, or even yourself in the mirror. Gradually, you’ll get more comfortable with it.
However, do remember, there’s a fine line between attentive and creepy.
Aim to hold people’s gaze for 4 to 5 seconds at a time and maintain eye contact for around 50 percent of the conversation.
4) You’re guilty of interrupting others when they’re speaking
Do you find yourself cutting people off mid-sentence?
This has been a nasty habit I’ve had to work hard to curb, and here’s why:
I know that largely it comes from enthusiasm to contribute and engage in a conversation.
But sadly, that’s not how it comes across.
Interrupting others can signal impatience or even a lack of respect.
We can all interject a bit too quickly from time to time, but we need to be mindful of giving others the time and space to speak.
How to fix It
Practice active listening.
This goes beyond keeping quiet and makes you an active participant in the conversation even when you’re not the one doing the talking.
You’ll find some great tips on how to be a better listener in this Hack Spirit article.
It’s important to let the other person finish their thoughts before you jump in.
Some people may take longer than others. Sometimes when we jump in because we get excited, we need to work on our impulse control.
If you already know you have a tendency to interrupt, leave a few seconds gap after someone stops talking until you start to speak.
5) You share too much too soon
We are always told about the importance of
- Being your authentic self
- Being vulnerable enough to share
So why is it a subtle sign of poor social skills when you are a complete open book?
Because there are some unwritten rules about forming connections.
When we meet someone who reveals all their juicy secrets and intimate details to us right away, it can be very awkward. It steps over a line of familiarity.
Even if you don’t mind, that doesn’t mean the other person is ready to hear it.
We need to build up mutual trust, understanding, and respect before we give away certain information.
Otherwise, we unwittingly cross boundaries.
How to fix it
We all need to share, but confide in those closest to you instead.
When you are in new and unfamiliar situations, consciously think about what are appropriate and inappropriate conversations to have.
Oversharing becomes cringeworthy when someone cannot take a hint.
They are not necessarily picking up on all those subtle cues that the other person feels embarrassed, uncomfortable, or disengaged by what is being divulged.
Oversharing often happens when sharing becomes one-sided, so another tip is to not hog the conversation, which is another social faux par.
6) You do most of the talking in conversations
Natural chatterboxes like myself may not realize how much they talk.
Contributing is one thing, dominating is quite another. We’re not always quick to notice the important difference, and when we cross over from one to the other.
You may well be entertaining, witty, and a great storyteller. People might genuinely enjoy hearing you speak.
But that doesn’t change the fact that when you talk largely about yourself you can come across as selfish and disinterested in others.
How to fix it
As a talkative person, your best friend in this situation is questions.
Asking plenty of open-ended questions ensures you are giving other people the same opportunity to speak and share information.
This is important as not everyone is so forthcoming and will need more coaxing.
Research shows that asking questions, and particularly follow-up questions instantly makes you more likable.
It proves to others that you care what they have to say and are trying to get to know them better.
7) You speak your mind
Do you ever feel like you have inadvertently put your foot in your mouth?
Sometimes you may sense that you have offended, without truly understanding why.
I’m known for my candor, so I sympathize. We all have different communication styles. Many people appreciate straightforwardness.
It can be a strong sign of some admirable qualities such as truthfulness and transparency.
But it’s never an excuse for a lack of tact. And the trouble is some people may think they’re just being honest when they’re actually being unkind or indelicate.
Discretion is something we must learn if we’re to navigate social interactions with more grace.
How to fix it
Here’s where the real problem often lies:
- You misread people
- You don’t pick up on social cues
- You may need to strengthen your empathy skills
The better we get at reading the room and picking up on the vibe of those around us, the less likely we are to misjudge the things we say and do.
Putting yourself in someone else’s position before you speak can minimize insensitive comments.
It’s easy to forget that what isn’t an emotional topic to us may well be for someone else.
- Think before you speak
- Ask yourself whether it’s the right time and place for raising certain topics
- Be more mindful of the words you choose to express yourself
Social skills can feel like a minefield to navigate. But we don’t have to be perfect, we just need to be mindful.
That’s why cultivating stronger self-awareness is also the key to creating better relationships with others.
The more conscious we are about how we behave and why we do the things we do, the more power we have to make useful changes to how we communicate.
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