Social Skills… Sometimes easier said than done! So just what are social skills, and why are they important? Social skills help us to understand how to act in social situations. Social situations include ANY time we are interacting with other people – they’re everything from riding the bus, to talking to our boss, to making friends, to going on a date, or even just going shopping. Anytime you’re with other people, that’s a social situation. In our society, there are certain things that help a social situation to go well. For instance, all social situations go a little better when you’re friendly to others. Other things can help us navigate social situations, like respecting personal space, learning to recognize and understand emotions, and learning what is appropriate.
For some people social skills come fairly naturally, but for lots of people it takes learning and practice! But getting comfortable with social skills is worth it: the better your social skills are, the easier it will be to get along with other people. That’s why social skills are so important to learn!
Below we’ve put together some tips on how to improve your social skills, to help you feel more confident going into new situations.
The Facts About Faces
When we talk to other people, it’s not just the words that matter. People express themselves in a ton of different ways, including tone of voice, volume, body language, and facial expressions.
Facial expressions are especially important, because our face can tell people a whole lot about what we’re thinking… So if you learn to recognize emotions on peoples’ faces, you’ll understand them better!
The number-one most important facial expression to watch out for is a smile. When someone’s smiling, they’re happy (or trying hard to look happy). If they’re frowning instead of smiling, something might be bothering them.
But it’s not always appropriate to talk about other people’s facial expressions. Sometimes people smile or frown for private reasons, or for no reason at all. Try not to bug them about it, especially if they’re not already talking to you.
Here are the seven basic facial expressions:
See if you can identify them in this video:
Eye Contact is Key!
Smiles and frowns are important, but what about eyes? You may have heard that “eye contact is key,” or that “looking someone in the eye” makes you seem more trustworthy. That can often be true!
When we look directly at someone’s eyes, we make it clear that we’re paying attention to them. We don’t have to stare into their eyes ALL the time, but there are a few moments where eye contact is especially important.
For example, when we meet someone for the first time, it’s usually a good idea to look them in the eye and smile as we say hello, listen to their name, and tell them ours. This is also a good time to take a look at their face and try to remember it (along with their name), so that we can greet them again later!
Another good time to make eye contact with someone is when they’re speaking about something very important. That way they know we’re listening, and not distracted by other things!
Personal Space: What Is It?
The tricky thing is that not everyone has the same personal space bubble, and the size of your bubble can change. For example, I wouldn’t mind if my parents or my brother walked right up to me and gave me a hug. But if a stranger did it, that would be pretty uncomfortable! It might make me unhappy, or even scared.
When we know people well, our personal space bubble is usually smaller. But some people have a big personal space bubble all the time: they just don’t like getting close or touching other people, and that’s okay! We have to respect personal space bubbles of all different sizes.
It’s also SUPER important to give lots of personal space right now, because of the pandemic. Try to stay at least 6 feet apart, or further when possible.
Have you ever been talking to someone who’s sad, and started to feel a bit sad yourself? Have you imagined what it might be like to be in their shoes, and see the situation from their point of view? When you feel what someone else is feeling, that’s empathy!
Sometimes empathy happens on its own, but we can also do it on purpose. That can be really useful, because it helps us understand what people are feeling… And when we know what they’re feeling, we can do a better job of helping them.
Check out this video to learn more about how empathy works:
For even more empathy info, check out this cool infographic by Happify.
Imagine that your friend was in a wheelchair, and they were feeling frustrated about how hard it is to get around in a building with lots of stairs. If you aren’t in a wheelchair yourself, you may never have thought about that before! You’d have to imagine what it would be like to be unable to climb stairs, and then imagine the frustration that would cause. Once you’re imagining those things, it’s easier to understand how your friend feels. You might even think up new ways to help them. That’s a great use of empathy!
Whenever you don’t understand why someone is feeling sad, frustrated, or anything else, try using empathy. Put yourself in their shoes, and who knows: you might discover something new.