10 Ways To Develop and Improve Your Social Skills

Jennifer Herrity

Updated August 11, 2022

Published January 3, 2020

Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.

Social skills are competencies that facilitate communication and interaction with others in any environment. Social skills, such as communication, empathy, interpersonal and listening skills, are beneficial not just to your personal life but also to your professional life. In the workplace, these skills can be an essential aspect of staff interaction, planning and collaboration.

In this article, we discuss 10 ways to improve your social skills, examples of social skills and how to apply them in the workplace.

A group of three people laugh and talk near a window.

10 ways to improve your social skills

Improving your social skills can benefit you in every area of life. Social skills are important because they can help you communicate more effectively and efficiently. As a result, you’re able to build, maintain and grow more meaningful relationships with colleagues, clients and new contacts alike.

Here are 10 ways to develop your social skills:

1. Engage with others

Find ways to further conversations with friends, family and close coworkers or practice your conversation skills by asking open-ended questions. Similarly, set a small goal for yourself to offer at least one project or business strategy at your next board meeting.

Related: How To Be Engaging in Workplace Conversations

2. Start in small ways

Start developing your social skills in small ways by engaging with people you interact with on a daily basis. For instance, if you're out shopping, you might reply with a question instead of a one-word answer when a checkout clerk asks how your day is going. Similarly, you can find ways to lengthen conversations with acquaintances or practice your conversation skills with long-distance relatives you speak to less often.

3. Ask open-ended questions

Asking open-ended questions can be an effective way to get others talking. It can help by allowing you insight and understanding into your friends, family, colleagues and even your superiors. When you engage with an open-ended question, it can help them feel validated in their thoughts and emotions, and this can have a positive impact on how you build relationships.

Oftentimes, coworkers may appreciate being asked open-ended questions, since it shows you're taking interest in their ideas. Try the following open-ended questions: “How do you feel about…?” “Can you tell me more about…?” “What do you think of…?”

4. Observe your coworkers’ social skills

Another step toward developing your social skills is to observe your colleagues. Take notice of nonverbal communication, body language (such as smiling and nodding) and the vocabulary they use to get a conversation going. Consider what makes your coworkers’ social skills effective and engaging. You can refer to these observations and incorporate them into your own communication skills.

Related: How To Understand Body Language in the Workplace

5. Practice maintaining eye contact

Practice maintaining eye contact during conversations. Consider setting a goal to make and hold eye contact for at least three to five seconds each time you engage with someone. You might practice with a close colleague with who you feel comfortable. Let them know you're trying to improve your ability to maintain eye contact. Practice holding eye contact during the beginning of the conversation, when listening to your coworker speaking and while thanking them and closing the conversation.

Read more: Why Eye Contact Is Important (With 8 Tips and Alternatives)

6. Develop your listening skills

Equally as important as being able to share your own thoughts is being an active listener. In doing so, you allow others to feel comfortable sharing their ideas and input. Practice your listening skills by maintaining eye contact, using nonverbal communication like nodding when you agree and asking clarifying questions when hearing something you misunderstand.

Read more: Soft Skills: Definition and Examples

7. Invite a coworker to lunch or for coffee

Building relationships with others can seem intimidating, but it helps to start with developing a relationship with one person at a time. First, find a teammate that works in a similar role as you and invite them to lunch or to have coffee. Having a role or job responsibilities in common can give you topics in common to talk about, but eventually, try asking questions to get to know them better as an individual. As you build more relationships, connect on a one-on-one level with people who work in different areas of the business. This can help you grow your professional network and gain a better understanding of how the work you do impacts the business as a whole.

8. Offer genuine compliments freely

Complimenting others on a job well done is a great way to demonstrate friendliness and appreciation of others. They can act as an opening to a larger conversation or ongoing conversation. Be sincere—a compliment that is disingenuous can work against you.

Read more: 30 Genuine Compliments To Give Your Coworkers

9. Find social skills resources

There are many classes, books, podcasts and tools available both on and offline to help you improve your social skills. Try searching for resources based on a specific topic such as body language, networking or active listening. From there, put your learnings into practice.

10. Keep up with current events

Staying up to date on current trends, events and news stories can give you topics to talk about with others. Consider subscribing to local news alerts or industry-specific newsletters to have content sent directly to you. As a best practice, avoid controversial topics like politics or religion to keep conversations professional and friendly

Related: 9 Types of Nonverbal Communication and How To Understand Them

Examples of social skills

Because social skills can include a mixture of different skill sets, it can be important to develop these areas, especially in the workplace. For instance, using effective communication skills is important in careers that require regular contact with clients and customers, which characterizes most career industries. Even if your role is not a customer-facing position, you likely need to communicate with your team, supervisors and other staff in order to do your job effectively. Here are four of the most in-demand workplace social skills:

  • Empathy allows us to genuinely understand another’s feelings, thoughts and ideas. When you better understand colleagues' perspectives, respect their ideas and feel comfortable providing your own insight, you’re much more likely to be able to collaborate effectively and find successful workplace solutions.

  • Interpersonal skills help you to interact with others effectively can help you engage in workplace discussions, identify and interpret social cues–like reading your coworker’s current mood–and find ways to understand the personalities of others to help you develop your work relationships. Better work relationships, in turn, offer more opportunities for career growth.

  • Intrapersonal skills are your capabilities of understanding your own thoughts, emotions and ideas. Developing your intrapersonal skills may include using appropriate ways to express your ideas, knowing when to share your thoughts in professional situations and being able to set social boundaries and goals for yourself.

  • Communication skills such as active listening and written and nonverbal skills can be essential in your career field. For example, if you interact with customers, you might learn and develop active listening skills to help your customers solve problems. If you're a team manager, you might learn and apply strategies to improve the efficiency and clarity of your team’s email and video conference communications.

Related: Top 10 Communication Skills for Career Success

How to highlight social skills

Social skills define a broad set of abilities, so you should consider highlighting specific areas of this skill set such as communication, teamwork and collaboration skills when applying for a job. Doing so, makes your social skills seem more quantifiable and actionable as values to potential employers.

Social skills for your resume

To highlight and quantify social skills on your resume, you should use scenarios in which your social skills helped advance a project’s or company’s success. For example, perhaps you managed and organized your team’s professional development training through teamwork and communication. Or, explain how your interpersonal skills helped a customer or client solve a problem.

Related: 10 Best Skills To Include on a Resume (With Examples)

Social skills for your cover letter

Your cover letter can be an effective way to showcase your communication skills. By keeping your cover letter clear, concise and relevant to the position, you can highlight your communication skills. Here, you can allude to examples of social skills along with how they resulted in success but you need to be able to do so succinctly. Remember, the cover letter is just a snapshot of your experience, skills and education with more details to be found in the attached resume.

Related: 10 Skills for Cover Letters

Social skills for the job interview

Social skills should be emphasized during your interview, both through discussing your past quantifiable career successes and through how you conduct yourself in the interview. Show the interviewer your interpersonal and communication skills by making eye contact, smiling and offering a handshake upon meeting. During your interview, show your potential employer your active listening skills by using nonverbal communication and asking open-ended questions to communicate interest and a desire to learn more.

Nonverbal communication is one of many tools that can help you make a good impression in interviews and in your professional life. However, candidate assessments should be based on skills and qualifications, and workplaces should strive to be inclusive and understanding of individual differences in communication styles.

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