Feeling Badly That You Can’t Read People at Work? Working On Social Communication Can Help

Yesterday still stings, huh? During an important meeting, you interjected a comment that wasn’t in line with your goals, nor with the persona you have been working so hard to project. In an anxious moment to get your thoughts conveyed, you blurted out a remark that not only caught others off-guard, but actually offended some of the participants.

Are You Feeling Shame and Pain, Realizing That You (Again) Did Not Read The Room?

  • Do you have a difficult time interacting with others, especially people you don’t know well or in high intensity situations?
  • Do they have a hard time sharing or engaging in back and forth conversation?
  • Can you make off-topic remarks, or struggle with reading body language and understanding personal space?

[Read: How To Read the Room So You’re More Confident Around Your Co-Workers]

Working on Social Communication Skills Can Help

Social Communication skills are a vital part of the human experience because they help us interact positively in social situations. Without these skills, we may appear uncooperative or rude. Honing the skills to notice and to interpret others’ social cues and possible reactions will in turn help us better peer interactions and help us bond with one another.

What Do We Mean By “Social Communication”?

Social communication is how and why we interact with other people. It is the ability to tailor our communications depending on the Where, What, Who, When and Why we are communicating. We learn these skills through instruction, ex: being taught directly (how to say “Please and Thank you,”) and through experience (reading the room to judge energy and participants). We learn how to communicate by using non-verbal means (ex. gesture, signing or pointing) and/or verbal means (ex. vocalizing or speaking).

Knowing and using these unwritten rules makes communication easier. Once we’ve figured out the rules, we don’t even think about them, they become automatic. Further, as each of us are different from each other, we can tailor the rules to match our own comfort level.

Why Work on Social Communication Skills?

We all want to be socially accepted, regardless of our age. Social communication skills maximizes our abilities to interact appropriately and to build social relationships with other people. It is also important in work environments as many formal and informal situations rely on working in groups and communication between peers.

Some of us haven’t developed social skills as quickly or as effectively as our peers. There are many reasons why someone might have trouble with social communication, which can include people with ADHD who have impulsive or overactive symptoms that can interfere with the communication styles of others.

Examples of Social Communication

Every company, business meeting, culture—and even every family—can have its own set of rules. As these rules are not written down, they can be difficult to interpret successfully in different situations.

There are limitless ways to use social communication, but here are a few examples:

  •             Saying “hello” when walking into a room
  •            Tailoring language to match the situation, such as asking for a turn instead of demanding it.
  •            Understanding sarcasm and how to use it without offending others
  •             Knowing when and how to change the conversational topic
  •             Understanding expressions like “at the end of the day”       
  •             Understanding humor and making jokes
  •             Following rules for conversations and storytelling, such as
  •             Taking turns being a talker and being a listener
  •             Staying on topic and letting others know the topic when you start talking
  •             Editing what you are saying when others don’t understand you
  •             Using facial expressions, eye contact gestures, and body language
  •             Knowing how close to stand to someone when talking

10 Ways to Build and Incorporate Social Communication Skills Into Daily Life

1. Start with small steps

As an easier way to segue into strengthening your social skills is to interact more deeply on a daily basis. For instance, if a neighbor is walking by, you might offer more than a simple, “Hi”. Reply with a question instead of a one-word answer when asked how your day is going. Similarly, find ways to add more “meat” and meaning to everyday conversations with acquaintances and colleagues.

[Read: 10 Phrases to Move the Conversation Along]

2. Plan ahead

You may need to plan in advance of a board meeting on how you participate more. Set a goal for yourself to offer at least one project or business strategy at your next board meeting.

3. Ask open-ended questions

This is a great way to get friends, family, colleagues, coworkers and even your superiors talking while allowing you to better understand their perspective. Open-ended questions also have the benefit of making others feel wanted and validated in their thoughts and emotions since it shows you are taking interest in their ideas. This can have a positive impact on how you build relationships with them. Try the following open-ended questions: “How have you experienced…?” “Can you tell me more about yourself?” “What do you do when X happens?”

4. Be a “Social Spy”

Observe your colleagues, neighbors, classmates, etc. and take notice of which ones have effective and engaging social skills. Consider how they start conversations using nonverbal communication, body language (such as smiling and nodding) and vocabulary. Next, start incorporating the traits you admire most into your own communication style.

5. Maintain eye contact

During conversations, make it a mental habit to hold eye contact for at least three to five seconds. Many people feel awkward doing this, so consider practicing with a family member first. I recommend letting them know that you are trying to improve your ability to maintain eye contact. Of particular note, place greater emphasis holding eye contact at the beginning, when listening and while thanking them and closing the conversation.

[Read more: How To Stop Avoiding Eye Contact with People at Work So They Start Paying Attention To You]

6. Listen actively

When you engage by listening intently to others, you make the other person feel comfortable sharing their ideas and thoughts. Maintaining eye contact, adding non-verbal communication such as nodding and asking questions all contribute to making you an active listener.

7. Invite others

Start with one person at a time as you work toward building workplace relationships. Invite someone who is on your team or has a similar role out to lunch, coffee or for a walk. Initially, ask questions that are non-intimidating, then slowly work your way up to more personal questions to get to know them better. As you gain confidence, connect with people in other departments and companies to grow your professional network and gain a better understanding of how your role impacts the business as a whole.

[Read more: 13 Social Skills Activities For Adults Who Want To Learn How To Relate To Others Better

8. Compliment others

Genuine compliments can open the door to a longer conversation, as well as help bridge a gap with someone with whom there is tension. We all know a fake compliment when we hear it, so be sure to keep it genuine, but don’t expect one in return.

9. Be in “The Know”

Talk around the water bubbler often involves discussions around current events and series. Stay up on current trends to give you topics to talk about with others. Subscribing to news alerts or industry-specific newsletters will give you content that is current. Be sure to avoid controversial topics like politics or religion to keep conversations professional and friendly.

10. Research and practice

There are countless resources both on and offline on how to build social skills. You can even break it down to individual topics such as starting conversations, making eye contact, etc. From there, put your learnings into practice.

Social Skills In The Workplace

Communication is central to most business success. Our communication, teamwork and collaboration skills will help us thrive and advance, so it is critical that we work on and highlight this skill set.

Looking for more information? Here is a list of past blogs about social skills:

                        Teaching Friendship Skills

                        Sharing – An Important Social Skill!

                        Giving Advice – An Important Social Skill

                        Improving Your Child’s Social Skills: Making Eye Contact

                        Social Skills Group Overview

                        Social Skills for Children with ASD

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