Research shows that 42% of all workers are in occupations in which social skills are ranked as the most important, over other skills like analytical, mechanical, fundamental and managerial skills.
What this means is a huge number of people are in a role where their soft skills are far more important than their technical knowledge or experience. Yet so often, learning and development strategies and individual personal development plans don’t factor in improving social skills.
Many people are naturally gifted with social skills, but for many others, it’s something they need to work on regularly, both at work and in their personal life, in order to function well in both regards.
What are social skills?
There are many different definitions of social skills. They’re also often referred to as soft skills, life skills, people skills and interpersonal skills to name just a few.
Broadly, we can define social skills as any means by which we communicate with people. These skills can be verbal, non-verbal, written, visual and so on.
Anytime we interact with another person, at work or in our personal lives, we’re using our social skills to do so. However, for most, they utilise different social skills in different situations. For example, how you talk to your boss likely differs from how you talk to a family member.
As it’s such an all-encompassing term, it can be helpful to try and categorise social skills. Good examples of social skills categories include:
- Communication skills: this could include verbal and non-verbal communication, as well as listening and negotiating
- Emotional intelligence: understanding our own and other’s emotions
- Team working: being able to work with others towards a shared goal
- Conflict resolution skills: knowing how to productively resolve issues
- Problem solving: working with others to resolve problems
The importance of social skills at work and at home
Social skills are of vital importance both at work and in your personal life.
Social skills at work can help you communicate more effectively, better understand those around you and ultimately, build better and more productive relationships with colleagues. No matter what your role, social skills can hugely benefit your career in the long run by making you a more communicative person. There are very few roles where you wouldn’t ever need to interact with another person or where these interactions wouldn’t be important to your career development. Even in roles where technical skills are important, for example healthcare, social skills are still of huge importance and can benefit your career.
This extends out beyond your colleagues to clients and customers too. Your ability to make interactions, activities and tasks more enjoyable can make you more successful in your career and open up new opportunities for you.
For those in leadership roles or management in particular, social skills can help you become a better leader. They help you better understand your colleagues and how to motivate and inspire them, as well as communicate better with them.
Just as effective social skills can help you have more positive and productive interactions at work, they can similarly benefit you in your personal life, helping you to communicate better with family and friends and be more empathetic.
10 Examples of effective social skills at work
There are no end of social skills we could list that could help you in a huge variety of different work situations, but to avoid making an exhaustive list, we’ll focus on the 10 we think help people become more effective and productive in the workplace.
1. Emotional Intelligence Builds More Meaningful Relationships
The importance of emotional intelligence as a social skill in the workplace cannot be overstated, particularly for management and leadership.
Many of us have had managers that scream and shout, pass the blame or simply don’t seem to care about their staff’s well-being. This comes from low emotional intelligence. They simply don’t have the capability to understand or control their own emotions, nor understand the impact they may have on others. The knock on effect is low productivity, high stress and decreased employee retention.
On the other end of the spectrum, those with high emotional intelligence are better able to control their own emotions, as well as understand how their emotions may impact those around them. They’re also able to build stronger relationships by managing the emotional needs of others. People with high emotional intelligence make excellent leaders for this precise reason.
2. Humility Builds Respect and Trust Across Teams
There is nothing wrong with taking pride in your accomplishments, but a little humility goes a long way. The majority of people have far more respect for a colleague who is humble than one who brags or takes too much credit.
Better yet, use the opportunity to share what you learned from your own experience with others and take onboard a range of views on how it could have been done differently. For leadership in particular, acting as a supportive and humble coach within the team, instead of the dated command-and-control management style.
3. Empathy Helps us Better Understand Different Perspectives
Not to be confused with emotional intelligence, empathy refers to the ability to recognise and sympathise with what other people are feeling, as well as understand how it may impact their performance. Empathy starts with the ability to see things from someone else’s perspective and put yourself in their shoes. You can then act more authentically and supportively to help colleagues, making them feel more accepted. Empathetic people are far more approachable and often excellent motivators.
4. Active Listening Helps us be Present and Reduces Miscommunication
Social skills aren’t all about how you get your message through to people. In fact, hearing what other people are saying is often even more important. People who are present when others are talking, as opposed to just waiting for their turn have great social skills. Those who can actively listen are calm, clarify any confusion, ask open-ended questions and are empathetic. This allows them to come up with better resolutions, reduce miscommunication and build stronger relationships.
5. Authenticity Makes us More Relatable and Approachable
Authenticity might not be the most obvious social skill, but being the most true version of yourself makes you human. It makes you more relatable and more approachable. For management and leadership, it can help encourage people to support you and follow your lead. You’ll be better able to engage and inspire your colleagues, as well as build more authentic and worthwhile relationships.
6. Non-Verbal Communication is More Important Than Verbal Communication
One of the most effective social skills is non-verbal communication. So much of our communication is based not on what we say, but the non-verbal indicators used when we communicate. The main components involved are body language and facial expressions.
For example, say you’re having a discussion with a colleague you supervise, with feedback on the work they’ve done. There’s good feedback, as well as some critical feedback with ideas on how to improve next time. If you give this feedback while frowning and with tight, restrained body language such as crossed arms and avoiding eye contact, chances are this colleague will feel like the interaction is mostly negative. Whereas if you have more open body language, with open palms, nodding your head and good eye contact, as well as an occasional smile for encouragement, chances are the colleague will feel like it was a more positive and constructive interaction.
7. Be Impeccable With Language and Choose Your Words Carefully
Language is a funny old thing. A word that means one thing to you may mean something completely different to someone else.
Choosing your words carefully is an excellent social skill. This allows you to have more productive conversations. Knowing how to frame things, whether good or bad, in a more positive light through language helps lead to better outcomes.
This is particularly pertinent for constructive criticism. Management and leaders who wish to have more productive interactions with employees are impeccable with their choice in language.
8. Conflict Resolution Helps Create More Productive Solutions
Conflict resolution is another effective social skill for the workplace. In reality, conflict resolution is built up of several different social skills, including some mentioned above like empathy, active listening and emotional intelligence to name just a few. As well as these, those who can resolve conflicts often have excellent negotiation skills, allowing them to influence others to come to more productive solutions together.
Ultimately, a range of these social skills work well together, allowing those with strong conflict resolution skills to get to the source of problems faster and quickly find positive solutions for everyone involved.
9. Collaboration Creates Higher Performing Teams
Collaboration is a highly effective social skill, so much so that many business experts rank it as the most important social skill.
Those who can collaborate understand their own skills and limitations, as well as the various skills held within their teams. They can divvy out tasks and activities accordingly based on who would be best suited to them, leading to more engaged and productive employees. This can additionally reduce stress and burnout and create higher performing teams.
10. Be Complimentary and Recognise Achievements Regularly
The ability to give positive feedback and recognise others achievements and work is a highly effective social skill for the workplace.
The current mindset in many businesses is that financial motivators are the best way to engage employees and increase productivity. While bonuses have their place, the reality is many employees value social interactions at their work far more so than monetary compensation. The ability to recognise colleagues achievements and empower them through encouragement, praise and gratitude can help effectively motivate and engage employees.
How to Improve Your Social Skills at Work
Knowing how to improve your social skills starts by understanding the social skills you already possess. So many people jump into social skills training with little idea of their unique strengths and weaknesses and end up with lacklustre results that don’t really effectively address their challenges.
Identifying your social skills is the first step to improving them. You can achieve this through workplace personality testing. This can highlight areas you’re already strong in and areas you actively need to work on to progress in both your career and personal life.
Once you know the key areas that you need to work on, you can find more bespoke training workshops to help you improve in your target areas.
Other steps to take in the meantime include:
- Asking for feedback
- Practicing reflection
- Finding resources
- Be consistent
Asking for feedback from your colleagues is one of the best (and simplest!) ways to understand yourself through a perspective other than your own. Other people will be able to give you feedback on your strengths and weaknesses, helping you identify key areas where you can improve your social skills, as opposed to taking a one size fits all approach.
Practicing critical reflection is another great way to become more self-aware. The next time you’re dealing with a stressful situation at work, take the time after to pause and examine how you behaved. Think about how your emotions impacted your behaviour and actions and how you could have behaved differently that may have led to an alternative outcome. Many people also find it helpful to keep a journal to make notes to look back on.
There are so many incredible free and paid resources available to help people improve their social skills. Once you’ve identified the key areas you want to improve in, look into resources around the specific skills you’re hoping to develop using Google, Amazon eBooks and more.
Finally, behaviours and skills don’t change overnight. Developing our social skills takes time and more importantly, it takes practice. Once you’ve identified your areas of development and found the resources you need to help, you need to practice your new social skills and keep practicing until it becomes second nature. For example, if you’ve identified that you need to work on your non-verbal communication, you might practice making eye contact during conversations with colleagues.
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