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7 ways to improve your social skills

Anita D'Souza | November 09, 2005

Part I: Why you need social skills

imageIn today's world, social skills at work are as essential as hard skills and business etiquette.

Not everyone, however, is endowed with good social skills. If you happen to fall in this category, do not worry. Social skills can be developed with a little practice and they will go a long way in boosting your career.

iPractise taking instructions

This is easier said than done. Most of us think we already know what the other person is trying to say. Secondly, we may be preoccupied with other thoughts when our boss is instructing us on how to go about a certain task.

As a result, we may forget important details and make mistakes that could cost someone their job. Remember these points:

~ Listen carefully for things said and implied.

~ Clarify.

~ Understand what has been told to you.

~ Acknowledge that you have understood.

~ Reconfirm instructions by quickly summarising what you have understood.

iiPractise explaining a problem to your supervisor/ boss

Do you feel butterflies in your stomach the moment you encounter a problem and need to involve your boss?

Do you worry that s/he might think you are incompetent to handle it yourself? 

These feelings are quite justified. However, you still need to explain the problem to your boss. The secret lies in the term 'explain' and not 'complain'.  To explain effectively, pay attention to:

~ The volume of your voice and tone. It should not be too soft, loud or screechy.

~ Be respectful.

~ Keep your emotions in check. Be calm. You may be flustered by the problem; however, you don't need to let your boss know that.

~ Remember to include all the facts of the problem. Try to find most of the answers yourself before approaching your boss.

~ Offer a solution if you can. Your boss will appreciate your initiative.

iiiPractise asking for help

There are times at work when we are so overwhelmed by the things that need be done that we get all worked up and stressed out. We still do not ask for help, for fear that we might be perceived as incompetent. 

However, when you have a task at hand that must be completed and you know you cannot do it alone, you have to be humble enough to ask for help.

Identify people at work who handle a particular task better than anyone else and request them to help you if they have the time. They may be happy to help. Also, remember:

~ No man is an island. We all need people and people need us. 

~ Two heads are better than one and, yes, four hands are better than two.

~ It is nice to be important but it is more important to be nice. Help others; they, in turn, will help you

~ Be gracious when you accept or refuse help. This will enhance your chances of building a strong support system on which you can depend when you need help.

ivPractise accepting feedback

It is natural for us to become defensive when we hear anything negative about ourselves. However, have you considered it might be just as difficult for the person giving the feedback to be candid?

Besides, it is possible for others to see things about you that you may not even aware of.

~ Appreciate the fact that someone has taken the risk of giving you feedback.

~ Be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking.

~ Don't take criticism personally because, even though it is about you, it is still the other person's perception; his or her views need not necessarily be the 'real' you.

~ Feel free to accept or reject all or any part of the feedback without feeling obliged to explain your choice.

vPractise giving constructive criticism

The word criticism spells doom for some. It need not be that way. There are two types of criticisms -- constructive and destructive. All of us have been at the receiving end of these types of criticism at some point in our lives.

It depends on what you are criticising in a person and the purpose of the criticism. If the objective of criticising is to demean and insult a person, it would be destructive criticism. Such criticism is best ignored.

Do remember, the situations that bring about the need to criticise can become sensitive and volatile. It is easy for the person criticising, as well as the recipient of the criticism, to overreact and start accusing each other.

Giving constructive criticism and seeing that it is well received is a fine art. Things to remember:

~ Stay focused. Don't confuse the person with the problem.

~ Keep tempers down.

~ Use a suggestive approach rather than a dismissive one.

~ Reiterate that the person is good but the problem could be handled differently.

~ Be sincere, honest and caring while giving constructive criticism.

~ Express your faith in the person and his/ her ability to successfully implement and reap the benefits of the suggestions given.

viPractise receiving compliments

Many of us are especially wary or shy when someone compliments us. Why? Do we think we don't deserve  compliments? That we are not worthy of them? Or is it plain modesty? Whatever it is, it is time to get over it.

We need to understand that accepting compliments is not self-indulgence. So:

~ Don't feel embarrassed and brush it off.

~ Never counter it with something negative about yourself.

~ Don't be arrogant; accept the compliment graciously.

~ Smile and thank the person for the compliment. Express genuine happiness.

viiPractise giving compliments

I have very often heard people saying, "She is excellent at her work but, if we tell her that, it might go to her head."

This may not always be the case. It depends on how one is complimented. There is a delicate line between flattery and genuinely complimenting someone.

If you keep these suggestions in mind, you can easily compliment someone without sounding fake:

~ Use simple language. Smile and look into the person's eyes while complimenting him/ her. It sounds more genuine this way.

~ Using filmi dialogues and a lot of actions could make it look like your aim is to flatter, not compliment. 

~ Modulate your voice to match the expression of admiration on your face.

~ Don't laugh or giggle while complimenting someone. It could sound like you are being sarcastic.

Finally, remember a good social network will help you at work. You need social skills to find a job and to keep one. So, if social skills do not come easily to you, it will be well worth your time to pinpoint your weaknesses and work on them.

Part I: Why you need social skills 

Anita D'Souza is an MBA in Human Resources from the Welingkar's Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai University. She has 10 years of work experience and is currently a Corporate Trainer and Instructional Designer with Godrej Lawkim ITES division. 

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Number of User Comments: 9

Sub: Wonderful article

This is absolutely one of the helpful artical I ever read. I always thought of improving my social skills but never got such systematic and ...

Posted by Pramod Patidar

Sub: Why not in School?

These qualities, u are speaking off, are really fantastic.But why are these not thought in any schools or even in Technical institutes. I am an ...

Posted by Rajasekaran

Sub: Nice article

An extremly well written & practical article that deserves all the praise it's gotten and more.

Posted by Sid

Sub: Improving the social skills

Extremely good work by the writer. The article will definitely help in improving our social skills.

Posted by Shabina Khan

Sub: Improving the social skills

Extremely good work by the writer. The article will definitely help in improving our social skills.

Posted by Shabina Khan


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