Social skills and learning from supercommunicators


We, people, are social beings. This socialness allows us to connect with one another and build communities, organizations, families, and relationships. We need to have and learn social skills to interact and connect with one another. Some people do this naturally and seem to always know what to say and when to say it. Some of us, to varying degrees, struggle.

Most people need to learn and work on their social skills. It is just a matter of at what level you start needing help. Personality and genetics can help make it easier to learn, but everyone can improve. Improving social skills can help reduce unnecessary conflict and misunderstandings, as well as lead to deeper and more fulfilling connections with others.

What are social skills?

Basic social skills are:

  • basic politeness (greeting people, thank you, you’re welcome, etc.)
  • facial expressions (appropriate smiling, appropriate frowning, etc.)
  • eye contact (making eye contact, not staring, etc.)
  • body language (knowing when to have open friendly body language and what body language is appropriate in different social circumstances)

Conversation skills are:

  • the ability to express thoughts in a way that others can understand
  • the ability to listen to others and for them to know that you are listening
  • knowing when and how to share personal information without sharing more than you should
  • knowing how and when to use “small talk”
  • the ability to use humor appropriately (knowing when and with who to use different types of humor)
Relationship skills are:

  • how to make acquaintances
  • the ability to consider other people’s opinions, perspectives, and needs
  • the ability to make compromises, or a joint decision
  • the ability to notice the feelings of others and appropriately take them into account
  • the ability to express an appropriate level of care and gratitude towards others
  • the ability to maintain a healthy level of contact (knowing when to reach out, the responsibility for maintaining contact should not always be on one person)
  • the ability to be a supportive companion
For a few people all of these skills sound obvious and easy to do, for most people some come naturally, while others are harder to do and require effort, and for some people they are all challenging and require a lot of effort to learn.

It is important to work on and have basic social skills. You can do this by working with a qualified therapist, taking classes, and practicing in specific environments with other people. It is important to know when it is appropriate to practice social skills with other people. If you struggle with basic social skills you should talk with a professional who knows you, to determine how to best learn and then practice your social skills with other people.

Even if basic social skills have been learned or came naturally, many people still feel like they aren’t great communicators. People can feel that they don’t regularly have positive and deep conversations with friends and loved ones. Sometimes we assume that if we aren’t naturally extroverted, charismatic, or talkative, we will never be a “super communicator”. These inclinations can certainly help, but they are not required to be a good communicator. You can improve communication skills in a lot of ways. Some ways include finding educational resources on these topics (books, videos, classes), therapists who specialize in communication skills and relationships, and learning from people in your life who are good communicators. 

Journalist and author, Charles Duhigg - whose latest book is titled Supercommunicators - suggests that to have deeper and more meaningful conversations and relationships we should start with knowing what type of conversation we are having or want to have.

This might sound silly - a conversation is a conversation after all. But sometimes it can be unclear what people want from each other. When your friend tells you about their bad day at work are they asking for support, solutions, or for your bad workday stories? If you knew this and responded accordingly, it could change the outcome of the conversation and chances are you would have connected better with your friend. And the tricky part is on Tuesday they might want practical solutions, but Wednesday they need emotional support. So, if you don’t naturally pick up on the signals that say which they want (polite and appropriate) direct communication is beneficial.

Types of conversations:

  • Practical- conversations that exchange information, discuss problems, look for solutions, and make plans.
  • Emotional- conversations for expressing feelings and being heard and understood by the other.
  • Social- conversations for the exchange of opinions, ideas, and experiences with one another.
The core principle, Duhigg suggests, is if people are not having the same conversation the conversation will probably not go well or at least not be as deep and helpful as it could have been. Some people do this naturally and can just sense what the other person needs or what they themselves need from a conversation. For others it isn’t as obvious. Asking questions and direct communication can help. If your partner comes home from work and seems upset and needs to talk, you can ask if they need to vent or if they want help finding solutions. If you’re having a problem and you want to have a practical conversation with your friend, you can tell them you’re asking for help making a plan and not to vent.

Being a good communicator doesn’t mean you only consider what other people need and never have the conversations that you need; knowing what you need from relationships and conversations and connecting with people who can provide what you need is an important part of being a good communicator. You need to know how to recognize and to appropriately disengage when people only want to fix problems without ever discussing feelings, or only want to vent and never come up with practical solutions. Communication goes both ways and being a super communicator means meeting your needs as well.

Super communicators take the knowledge of what conversation they are having and what everyone in the conversation is looking for, and uses this information to ask important questions, invite dialogue, talk about important and meaningful things, and ultimately connect to other people. They can adapt to other people’s conversational needs and create conversations that meet their own needs.

You don’t need to be a “super communicator” to have a happy social life. But if you want deeper and more meaningful connections with those in your life, improving your communication skills can help. The place to start is often with yourself. You can start by asking yourself if you know what kind of conversations others want to have with you and what kind of conversations you want to have with them. Then you can determine if you are doing your part to make those conversations happen. Are you asking what others need from you or explaining what you need from them in a considerate and understandable way? Are you creating an atmosphere where these conversations can happen, where both people feel comfortable?  We can all improve our communication and learn from “super communicators” whether it comes naturally, or we have had to work at it.

If you have questions or want to talk to someone about social skills and improving communication, please reach out to us!

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