5 Steps to Boost Your Social Skills: A Guide to Better Communication and Interpersonal Relationships

Read More

Are you looking to improve your social skills and better connect with others? In this lesson, I share 5 practical steps for boosting your communication and interpersonal skills. From seeking out voluntary discomfort to focusing on active listening and gestures, learn how to take your social skills to the next level.

Improving social skills is very similar to the art of building muscle and getting stronger. So I'm going to draw a few parallels between working on your muscle strength as well as working on your social skills to have better social interaction and more effective communication. If you're ready, let's get into it.

All right, so the first idea here is to voluntarily seek out discomfort. For those of you who are familiar with being at the gym or being in your home gym and picking up a set of dumbbells or picking up that barbell and doing a couple of reps, but not really feeling like it was that taxing on your muscles, on your body, on your mental state and on your CNS and you're just coasting through the workout.

You're going through the motions, you're feeling like you're hitting a couple of muscle groups, but it's not really moving the needle forward in any way. You're not feeling like you really got a solid workout in. 

The same goes for social skills if you are just going through the motions of interacting, but not really paying attention to your word choice, your tonality, your expressions, your vocabulary, the way you're saying it, your prosody, your intonation, your non-verbals, your micro-expressions. You're just going through the motions and maybe listening a little bit, but not listening as much as you should, and just showing up to conversations a certain way, but not really trying to get any better at it, then it's the same thing that I just said about that type of workout where you're coasting. 

We're not going to improve if we're just coasting. So the first big thing here is to seek out voluntary discomfort. Go to those moments where you feel like you are pushing yourself, where you feel like you are essentially straining yourself in some ways. There are moments in time where you feel, "okay, that's the last rip that's I'm maxing out. That's the last one I can do." 

Same with social skills. You might feel like, okay, this small talk is really taking it out of me, but: "I am thinking of all the things I need to do. I'm listening more than I'm speaking. I'm reading the room, I'm thinking about the situation. I'm being mindful of what they're telling me. I'm not focusing on myself. I'm not being hyper-vigilant. I'm not focused just on my feelings and my emotions and my anxiety around the social setting." If you have anxiety around a social setting, let's say, or whatever it might be, you're really putting in the time to seek out those types of social interactions that are going to make you even better at communicating. So the easiest example here would be getting better at public speaking. Signing up for a Toastmasters group or a public speaking group at your university or maybe there's one in your town or maybe there's a meetup group on the internet that you can participate in virtually. 

There are so many ways these days of being able to practice the skills that we learn. To take advantage of that and to put ourselves out there in the ways that we want to enrich ourselves, enrich our lives, and get better at a skill that we're building and developing.

So I really encourage you to think about those heavy dumbbells or putting the barbell into perspective of adding that heavier weight and trying to max out as many times as you can, and in the safest way that is possible for you, of course, safety first, both in the gym and in our social interactions, of course-- there are so many parallels as you can tell-- and thinking about finding those situations that you can push yourself beyond your limits, get out of your comfort zone because whatever you were doing, your in comfort zone is not serving you a purpose anymore. It's had a time and place for that, and you've gotten to the point where you've grown enough that this new status quo is now your current comfort zone.

And in order to grow even more, you need to get out of it. You need to be in your zone of proximal development, which is where you are just beyond your comfort zone, but not too far beyond that you are completely out of sorts and completely lost. You're not going to go from doing bicep curls with five pounds and then going immediately to 30 pounds. That would not make that much sense, particularly if you've been maxing out at maybe 10, you're not going to go then to 30 pounds. So really thinking about it in a smart way and being proactive as well, seeking out those moments of discomfort. That is how we grow. That is how we get better at what we're trying to do.

The next thing is to think about progressive overload. In the gym, you are incrementally increasing your weight. Maybe one week you're lifting a hundred pounds with your barbell. Maybe the following week you're lifting 120 (pounds) or 150 (pounds) or whatever. Whatever you have decided is going to make sense. Maybe you're working with a fitness coach and they're helping you with that. 

But now taking that metaphor into our social skills and our social interaction and our communication, you can do progressive overload as well.

So progressive overload in the gym is not just in terms of the weight you use, but maybe your tempo, maybe the number of reps you're doing. The same with social skills, maybe one day you decide you're going to have five zoom calls and you're going to try out different things. So that could be a way of progressively overloading, right, you start out with two zoom calls and you work your way up to three and then four, and then five. So progressively overloading in terms of quantity. 

You could be progressively overloading in terms of frequency. Maybe you have phone phobia, the only way to really get beyond it is to work on it instead of shying away from it. Maybe your job requires you to be on the phone part of your day. Maybe it's part of your job. Maybe it'll get you to be better and more effective at your job. So really thinking about "how can I make this effective for me in a way that is going to progressively overload" and the operative word here is progressive. So you're not doing this just overnight, just the next day you're doing a complete 180? No, you are progressively overloading. So it's incremental and you can decide the cadence, you can decide the frequency, you can decide the extra weight that you're going to give this task, so to speak. That's all up to you. 

You have control over that, and I would recommend, starting small, don't worry about trying to just fit everything in from the get-go. Maybe it doesn't work with your schedule. Maybe you are still a little bit anxious. Maybe you have a little bit of anxiety around social interaction or face-to-face communication or public speaking or meetings or phone calls.

The list goes on and on in the ways that we interact with everyone day to day, both online and offline. So it comes down to your priorities. What are your top priorities when it comes to communicating more effectively? Maybe it's small talk, maybe it's talking over the phone in a better way. Maybe it's getting better at emails. Maybe it's getting better at your asynchronous communication in general. Or maybe it's your synchronous communication. Maybe it's the slack messages that you send or the instant messaging that you have to do for work or with clients. Whatever is your specific particular case, go with that. 

So look within, see what seems to be maybe lacking or things that you want to improve upon. We all have areas of improvement that we can be focusing on. And I would just start with one or two and then slowly build up on that. And you can do this by seeking out discomfort and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, as well as doing progressive overload.

And then once you've gotten to the place where you feel like you're in a good new, challenging spot, you're no longer in your comfort zone, but you're not really anxious anymore about the social settings that you're in or the types of interactions that you're having, that's a really good place to be.

So in that phase of the game, I want you to maintain. Just like when you might be reaching some of your strength goals or your physique goals, or your other benchmarks that you have set for yourself, maybe your goal is to do bicep curls with 20 pound dumbbells. Then you want to stay there, enjoy it.

You don't want to then say, " now that I've reached my goal of doing dumbbell curls with 20 pound dumbbells. I'm going to do 25 pounds and 30 pounds," and so on and so forth. No, enjoy it. You've gotten there. Enjoy it. So wherever you are with your social skills, same thing.

Maintain, enjoy it. Don't let it go. Now that you've been able to do, your Zoom calls with much more ease and being much more effective and really reaching that goal of those Zoom calls, then you can scale it back, do three a week. Or whatever your goals are. I don't know your goals, you know your goals.

So the point here is the maintenance. Stay with those parameters, stay with those protocols, and be there for a while. It's still a challenge. You're no longer in your comfort zone, but it's no longer excruciatingly difficult. 

It's no longer an anxiety laden situation. It's "okay, this is challenging, but I'm going to maintain this. This feels good to me, and I know that I'm learning because every once in a while I get those butterflies in my stomach. But you know what? I'm rising to this challenge and it feels really good." 

So these are the three ways, the three main overlaps I see in the gym, let's say on a strength building program and in life with our social skills and our communication to be better at social interaction and more effective communicators.

And I really encourage you to think about building your social skills in this way because it is approachable, it is manageable, and the best thing ever is that it's in your control 100%. The output will be based on your input. So however much time and effort and energy you put in to enriching yourself and improving your social skills, and also reaping the benefits of the confidence boost that you get, you will start to see a real and meaningful shift and difference, not only in just the way people are responding to you and the way they're communicating with you, but in your own self-esteem, your own feeling of confidence. Your own efforts will be rewarded. So stick with it. Be consistent. Have a plan. Make a plan for yourself and stick with it. And once you reach that maintenance level, stay there for a while. Stay there until it becomes your new comfort zone. 

Alright. Thank you so much for joining me.

I hope that you enjoyed this analogy. I like drawing analogies that have to do with strength training because there are so many parallels in life with overcoming a physical challenge and a mental challenge and a challenge that we might have in the social setting in the social world. So definitely let me know what you think of it, and I look forward to seeing you in another Explearning lesson.

Bye for now and Happy Explearning everyone.