The Top 6 Social Skills: Don’t Leave Home Without Them

Social skills rule the world. Even if you’re not a social animal — if the thought of going to a party amps up your anxiety — you can play the social game with skill. Here’s how.

How do you roll at a party?

Are you at the core of the action, loud and gregarious, always ready with a sharp one-liner or two? Or do you hang at the edge of the group, wanting to contribute but worried you’ll be off the mark, appear stupid or even — shudder — boring?

Or does it not even get that far? That you worry so much about what to wear, how you’ll look and how you’ll come across, that you pull out late, text in with a weak excuse — or just don’t show at all.

Social anxiety (or phobia) — intense anxiety or a fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social situation — is distressing and can be debilitating. If you find it taking over your world, or even disrupting your relationships and life satisfaction, it might be worth seeking professional help.

But it’s worth noting that most people experience social fear on some level, in some situations. Very few rock up calm, confident, with a backpack full of witty retorts for every occasion. (And — sometimes — these people are not as fun to be around as they think. Just saying.)

If you are socially shy or nervous, remember so is practically everyone else. And they are not thinking about your party performance; they’re thinking about their own.

So with that in mind, go forth and (slightly) conquer the social world. Or at least don’t leave home without the top six social skills in your bag.

The Top Six Social Skills: Do You Have Them

1. Hold good posture because your body talks.

Body language is super-important: people can’t see what you’re feeling — but they can see you and how you’re presenting. People notice less what you’re wearing — and more how you’re wearing it. So put your shoulders back, raise your chin from your chest and adopt an open, relaxed stance. You can practise this at home in the mirror, even with a drink in your hand. Sounds geeky but it works.

2. Make it personal (and listen).

Use the person’s name. Start when you are introduced: “Hi Johnny.” Don’t make the excuse you are bad with names because if you forget a person’s name seconds after hearing it you are not trying. Reflect what they’re saying back to them — it’s proof you have heard what they’re saying. If you have to choose between delivering witty repartee and good listening skills, go with listening. It’s the social trump card. No-one will ever be the target of post-party criticism for being a good listener.

3. Show people you like them (without touching).

Even if the jury’s still out for you — or you know this is strictly a one-time conversation — convey warmth and (non-tactile) empathy towards the person you are speaking with. Listen to their opinions; smile; laugh at their jokes — well, only if they’re a bit funny. Conveying warmth to everyone doesn’t hurt you — it may even make you a new friend.

4. Ask a question (not about work).

People worry they’re boring because they don’t know enough about world events or even what happened in the news today. That’s the wrong approach — people are thinking about what THEY know, not what you don’t. Just ask them a decent question about anything. If the best you can come up with is “what do you do?” or “where’d you get your jacket?” then you need to step up. There are thousands of questions you can ask so, if you’re worried, put in some prep: Google is ready and waiting for you.

5. Hold non-creepy eye contact.

Try not to let your eyes slide from side to side or roam over the shoulder of the person you’re with. It’s the fastest way to convey to them that you’d rather be somewhere — anywhere — else with anyone else. Or that you’re out to steal their bag. It’s not their fault that you are feeling uneasy so look into their eyes — but try not to stare.

6. It’s not you, it’s them.

Social fear comes from our negative beliefs about how other people will perceive us. I’ve already said this but I’ll drop it again because it’s the biggie: people care about themselves more than they care about you (possibly even your own partner). So when the party’s over you will not live on in their heads. If you can hang onto that, it’ll set you free.

Enjoyed this? Lots more in my new book Busy as F*ck , a DIY approach through stress and striving to build a life that matters. Available as an ebook or in paperback at Australian and New Zealand bookstores. Other territories coming soon.

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Clinical psychologist, writer. Editor of On the Couch: Practical psychology for everyday life. karen@onthecouch.co.nz

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