Career Development

Social Skills: Definition and Examples

November 16, 2020

Social skills are essential in building both personal and professional relationships. Demonstrating strong interpersonal skills can help you accomplish career goals, contribute to company achievements, perform well during the hiring process, expand your professional network and much more.

Understanding and improving your social skills can benefit you in every area of life. In this article, we discuss what social skills are, why they are important and how you can improve them with examples.

What are social skills?

Social skills are used to communicate with others daily in a variety of ways including verbal, nonverbal, written and visual. Social skills are also referred to as interpersonal or soft skills.

Verbal skills involve the spoken language, while nonverbal communication includes body language, facial expressions and eye contact. Any time you interact with another person, you’re using social skills in some way. Strong social skills can help you build and maintain successful relationships professionally and personally.

Related: 20 Skills in Demand in Today's Workforce

Why social skills are important

Social skills are important because they can help you communicate more effectively and efficiently and, as a result, help you build, maintain and grow relationships with colleagues, clients and new contacts alike. These skills are important to maintain and improve no matter your position, industry or experience level.

Investing in relationships by developing your social skills is beneficial for your career in many ways, some of which include:

  • Gaining ideas, information, techniques and perspectives from people with different areas of expertise
  • Providing your own perspective for the benefit of others
  • Accomplishing tasks and collaborating with others toward a shared goal
  • Providing mutual support for difficult or hard-to-navigate situations
  • Expanding your network to learn about and pursue new opportunities
  • Gaining feedback and referrals from people who can personally attest to your work, skills and qualities (and for whom you can do the same)
  • Making the workplace more enjoyable

It is also important to display your social skills during the hiring process. Being able to work and build relationships with others effectively is a crucial quality employers look for in candidates and it can show your fitness for their company culture.

To show social skills in your cover letter, provide an example of a time you worked with others to achieve a goal that drove success for your team or organization. On your resume, list specific, measurable achievements, then you can elaborate on how you used your social skills to reach your goals during your interview. Use the STAR method for behavioral interview questions to explain times you have found success using social skills.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

Six examples of useful social skills

Here are examples of behaviors you can develop to build your social skills and facilitate better interactions in any workplace:

1. Effective communication

The ability to communicate effectively with others is a core social skill. If you have strong communication skills, you’ll be able to share your thoughts and ideas clearly with others. Effective communicators make good leaders because they can easily explain projects and goals in an easy-to-understand way.

Read more: How to Become an Effective Communicator

2. Conflict resolution

Disagreements and dissatisfaction can arise in any situation. Conflict resolution is the ability to get to the source of the problem and find a workable solution. Good conflict resolution skills are important in any job, but they might be particularly well-suited for a position in HR, where you’ll often address disagreements between employees or in a customer service role, where you resolve conflicts for clients about a company’s products, services or policies.

Read more: 9 Key Steps for Conflict Resolution at Work

3. Active listening

Active listening is the ability to pay close attention to a person who is communicating with you. Active listeners are typically well-regarded by their coworkers due to the attention and respect they offer others. You can increase your listening skills by focusing on the speaker, avoiding distractions and waiting to prepare your response only after the other person is finished (rather than while they are speaking).

Read more: How to Improve Your Listening Skills

4. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and identify with the feelings of another person. If you have empathy, others will often be more likely to confide in you. Being more empathetic takes a conscious effort to carefully consider how others feel. If you strengthen your empathy and rapport with others, you can build stronger, more respectful and open relationships.

Read more: How to Be Empathetic in the Workplace

5. Relationship management

Relationship management is the ability to maintain healthy relationships and build key connections. For example, if you have a job in customer service, you might be responsible for nurturing the relationship between your company and a specific set of clients. Executives at organizations manage partnerships with stakeholders and investors. This social skill allows professional relationships to flourish and all parties involved can benefit.

Related: Relationship Building Skills: Definitions and Examples

6. Respect

A key aspect of respect is knowing when and how to initiate communication and respond. In a team or group setting, allowing others to speak without interruption is a necessary communication skill that shows respect. Respectfully communicating can also mean using your time with someone else wisely—staying on topic, asking clear questions and responding fully to any questions you’ve been asked.

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

How to improve social skills

There are several ways to improve your social skills. Here are just a few things you can do to begin:

Get feedback

It can be helpful to ask trusted friends, mentors or managers to provide you with honest feedback about your areas for improvement.

Set goals

Use this feedback to start setting measurable goals toward building a strong, well-rounded set of social skills. The SMART goals framework might be helpful to track your progress.

Find resources

There are countless classes, guides, books and other tools both online and off. While you can certainly pay for resources, there are also many free options. You might also try to search for materials based on specific topics such as body language or charisma.

Identify areas for practice

Once you have learned tactics and tips for improving your social skills, put them into practice at home and work. You can also look for volunteer opportunities or extra-curricular activities where you can practice interpersonal skills with less pressure.

If you’re looking for soft skills that will improve your employability and help you excel in nearly any job, social skills are a great place to start. The best way to improve your social skills is to put your learning into practice. A background demonstrating success with social skills will serve you well in many areas of life.