When socializing seems to come so easily to certain people, it can be particularly frustrating to be someone who struggles in social situations.
Sometimes, it can feel like you‘re simply missing out on something that everyone else understands, or that you just can‘t get on the same page with other people. In these cases, it can be helpful to think about the social skills you have, and which ones you can work on, in order to catch up.
Caroline Maguire is a professional certified coach and the author of Why Will No One Play With Me?, a book about learning to make friends and thrive socially. Keep reading to learn all about the seven things she believes are critical for social success.
1. Managing Emotions
The first social must-have is the ability to manage emotions, rather than have them manage you. It‘s about being able to process your emotions, and have perspective, and live a life where you‘re not constantly flooded by emotions and besieged by drama. Perspective helps you realize when something warrants a big reaction or needs to be processed so you can move on.
The life of a girl is really complicated, and when girls have weak emotional regulation and struggle with this, it consumes them and derails them from their goals. It‘s not that it doesn‘t happen to boys too, but I think teen girls are often confronted by this need to regulate their emotions. Everyone knows that person who isn‘t able to cope with their emotions, or whose life is constantly haunted by their emotions, so my goal for young people is to learn strategies to manage their emotions so they can go in and take the test they‘ve studied for, and have social interactions where they can be proud of the way they reacted. – Caroline Maguire
2. Reading the Room
Some people have a really hard time not only understanding what‘s going on in a situation and adapting their behavior for it, but also reading the mood and context of a situation. By understanding and scanning what‘s happening, they can start making choices about how they‘ll react and how they want to behave.
When you don‘t read the room, you wind up constantly baffled by what‘s going on. That‘s really hard, because it puts you in a position where you‘re not really sure why everyone is constantly annoyed with you. That can affect self-esteem, and there‘s a lot to navigate in social situations in the teenage years, so reading the room is pretty essential in terms of the nuances of figuring out which friends you want to be with and who makes good choices. – Caroline Maguire
3. Meeting People Halfway
We all have that friend, and somehow we‘re always at their restaurant, doing what they want. Meeting people halfway is about cooperation, but it‘s also this idea that when you‘re in a friendship, it should be reciprocal. You shouldn‘t always be doing favors. You shouldn‘t always have to bend. It‘s about setting boundaries. It can be a stereotype for girls. We‘re asked to adapt, rather than ask other people to adapt to us. Think about how people treat you, and how you actually want to be treated. – Caroline Maguire
4. Understanding Social Cues and Unspoken Rules
This skill underlies everything else on the list, because everywhere we go, and in everything we do, there are these unspoken rules. It‘s important that people tune into the fact that social cues are really about reading the room. However, when you‘re feeling anxious, that can prevent you from tuning in, and when you can‘t hone that, you‘re not necessarily going to be able to navigate social situations as well.
I‘ve been reading a lot of research about political skill, and the need not to be a politician, but to adapt your message in order to influence people. If you want to be a leader, you have to be able to read social cues in order to make that work. – Caroline Maguire
5. Walking in Someone Else‘s Shoes
This is actually my favorite social skill, because we talk so much about empathy and kindness, but what exactly are they? Empathy is simply seeing from the perspective of another person and being able to walk in their shoes. It‘s thinking about other people and being able to react to them. It‘s also about having an understanding of what‘s going on with other people and their emotional lives.
This is critical for all ages. It‘s the underlying skill you need in life. Empathy and kindness are often the piece that‘s missing, and for so many young women, there‘s just so much of this “me, me“ syndrome going on. They‘re asked to see other people‘s perspectives, while not seeing the same for them in return. All literature shows that if you can do that, then you can influence people and you can really be successful in life. – Caroline Maguire
6. Being Flexible and Adaptive
This one can be tricky with young women because we don‘t want to send the antiquated message that they need to bend over backward for anyone. Still, to work cooperatively with others, you need to be able to adapt. We need to collaborate with people and be willing to hear the other side. It‘s not about always giving in, but working collaboratively. Working with others is a key skill at all stages of life. – Caroline Maguire
7. Knowing Your Audience
We all communicate with all kinds of people every day, and we need to know who that person is, and what motivates them, and then adapt our message to that audience. We have to always look at who we‘re talking to in order to know what tone and what language we want to use. That‘s an invaluable life skill. – Caroline Maguire
8. Honing Your Skills
Start by looking at which of these skills are hardest for you and which ones you‘ve been given feedback about. Sit down and think about systemic struggles you have, or things that folks have said. Where do they trace back to?
The most important thing to remember is that nobody can change everything about themselves. It‘s just impossible. If you look at the list and realize you need to work on three of the seven skills, that doesn‘t matter. Instead, pick one, because if you pick more than one, you‘re going to get mired in the cycle.
My biggest tip is every time you enter a doorway, you should focus on tuning in. Use that as a trigger to remember to work on reading the room, or reading social skills. You have to have a cue because you can‘t go around working on things every minute of every day. – Caroline Maguire
9. Setting Healthy Boundaries
The key with boundaries is figuring out what‘s good for you and what you‘re okay with. You‘re putting your self-interest first and thinking about what you‘re responsible for, and understanding when someone is taking advantage of you. It‘s knowing the difference between what a good friend would do, and what a pushover would do. It‘s helpful to look at other folks and to have a role model who you think sets good boundaries. That‘s a key element for anyone who‘s maturing. – Caroline Maguire
10. Tuning in
One of the things I emphasize is that context, mood and energy are so important. The vibes we pick up are intangible. I recommend picking some people in your life—your teachers, your boss, your coach—and looking at the social signs and signals they put into the world. What do those signs say? Are they frustrated, or happy, or growing annoyed with you? Then make a mental catalog of them. When you next walk through a door into a new situation, notice those physical signs and signals, or words. It‘s all very subtle, but they cue you in to the mood, and the context, and the situation.
It‘s also important to remember that everyone is working on something. Our brains can make things really difficult for us sometimes, even when they should be easy, but we‘ll all be better off if we can be mindful that everyone is working on trying to improve themselves. – Caroline Maguire
Social Skills Deeper Dive
More actionable advice, exercises and videos can be found in the Store
Adults with ADHD Social Skills Training: How to Get Along with Everyone – 2-Part Seminar with Caroline Maguire – Starting December 7, 2021
Rusty Social Skills Bundle – Everything you need to help students return to the classroom for the development of critical social skills.
How to Read the Room as an Adult – Managing perceptions and engaging successfully
Coaching Conversations Video Course – How to use the lessons in Why Will No One Play with Me? in everyday life using real people and real scenarios
From “Hi” to a Full Conversation – How to adapt conversation starters to initiate small talk.
Joining a group Infographic – Make joining a group less intimidating – and more fun!
Building a Conversation Infographic – Learn how to engage in reciprocal give-and-take
Steps for Joining a Group Video – Step by step details to comfortably and successfully join a group
How to SEL – HOW TO help children build social skills