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Social Skills

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 26th 2016

There isn't one social skill; there are many. They involve actual skills, knowledge and beliefs about self and the world that come together to make people better able to manage relationships:

Socially skilled people tend to be confident people. They feel generally good about themselves. While they know they aren't perfect, they do feel they are "good enough", and worthy of other's love and caring. They expect that other people will probably like them if they give them a chance.

Socially skilled people tend to be outgoing and positive about life. They take the initiative when meeting other people, and make it clear, through their body language manners and words that they are in a good mood, or (and this is the important part) at least willing to look for the good in a situation when they are not feeling so hot. Other people tend to find these qualities to be rewarding and want to be with such people. Less socially skilled people tend to be less outgoing, and frequently less positive when they meet others. They may be perfectly nice, but no one gets to find that out, because they do not tend to introduce themselves, but instead wait for others to introduce themselves.

Socially skilled people tend to have a good grasp of social protocol. A protocol is a shared convention for communication. Protocols allow two people (or groups) from different backgrounds who may have very little in common to know how to speak with one another without anyone getting offended. For example, socially skilled people understand what other people are expecting to hear when greeted or approached, or how they expect to be thanked when they have given a gift. Because they understand what to do, they are able to produce desired responses that those people want and expect. They know, for instance, to shake hands when meeting a business partner, kiss on both cheeks when meeting a European friend, and make a special hand sign or give a hug when greeting a close childhood friend. Other ways that people express their command of social protocol might include that:

  • They smile and share their good mood with others.
  • They know how to "small talk" and don't find it offensive or demeaning to do so. They understand that it is inappropriate (and often frightening) for people to share too much too soon. Small talk is a way of sharing very little, but still expressing interest in another person. After a little small talk, people feel more comfortable, and (depending on the relationship and the situation) deeper subjects may be brought up.
  • They ask the people they interact with about themselves, expressing interest in their life and interests. They know that people like to talk about themselves, and will typically appreciate the audience.
  • They use body language to communicate their interest:
  • They lean forward slightly rather than reclining backwards
  • They look at people when they talk to them, making eye contact frequently
  • Their arms and legs are open, rather than crossed and closed.
  • They do their best to remember the contents of conversations, and show people they remember when they meet again. They know that people are appreciative of being remembered.
  • They are polite. For example, they say, "Thank you" when someone makes them a compliment, and "I'm sorry", when they want to express concern or apologize.
  • They make sure they are reasonably well groomed, so that people don't look at them and form a negative first impression.
  • They behave reasonably well, showing awareness that they are in a public place. For example, they don't pick their nose or scratch their buttocks.
  • They are willing to be vulnerable as becomes appropriate to the situations they find themselves in. They aren't closed people, but instead are willing to share themselves appropriately. They are sensitive to the possibility of oversharing (saying too much, too soon), and avoid doing that.
  • They are careful when choosing partners for long term relationships. They do not commit themselves quickly or easily, but rather take time to get to know the character of the people they are considering. They understand the importance of partner compatibility in keeping long term relationships healthy. This is to say, they understand that partners' values, fighting style and ways of expressing themselves need to mesh well if relationships are to work well. They understand that compatibility is separate from love, and that while two people may love one another, they may not be good long term partners for one another if they are incompatible.

Social skills are, in essence, the personal skills equivalent of marketing skills in business. You may be a wonderful person, but if you don't know how to present yourself to people in a way that helps them want to "buy into you", you won't find yourself with many "customers" (e.g., friends). There is a competitive aspect to many relationships, especially when those relationships are new. A good command of social skills helps you to put your best foot forward, and be maximally proactive. When you have good social skills, you have the tools necessary to make relationships happen.


Reader Comments
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Finding Suggestions on Social Skills Development - Thomas - Sep 28th 2011

I am definitely in agreement with you that a smile coupled with an amazing communication skills will help someone with his/her social skills training development .

But as they say, it’s not easy learning how to have that effective social life so I must thoroughly read your article and learn all of your suggestions for they seemed to really helpful.

Do you believe that having social skills cannot be learned but people are simply born with it?

Developing and Maintaining friendships - - May 2nd 2010

This is more a question than a comment and would really appreciate a response please. I make friends very easily with many people from various backgrounds. However, even when I get on very well with them, the friendships do not develop into very good friendships. I still spend many of my nights alone and am not asked out. Initiation of time spent together tends to come from me. I feel terrible about this because I cannot believe  that I do not have good friends and people who care about me. When I see them we get on well but it is like I remain in the background of their lives. I do not repetitively approach them because I believe that they need to reciprocate. People do not realise that I am so lonely and I am very sick of the situation. I do not feel like making new friends because it is like a recurring cycle. I'm not sure what I am doing wrong and I have adopted different approaches but nothing seems to matter. I am an acceptable person in terms of looks and behaviour, etc. I would like to hear your views, thank you.

Good Work - John Ashton - Feb 25th 2010

I'm a teacher specializing in teaching people how to improve social skills - I have to say that this is one of the better articles I've some across on the topic. The "feeling good about yourself advice was spot on. The bullet points were very accurate and applicable to anyone who wants to learn social skills. Mark and Jolyn really know what they are talking about. Thanks for spreading the truth.

Social Skills are often not taught - Larry - Mar 13th 2009

I am 55 and everything has changed in social skills.  I was taught a thing called "manners".  When I used them at work on the "younger generation,"  they think I am a "sucker" and take advantage of these "manners."  It seems that Assertive behavior and good boundarys are the new social skills.  Like I was told by a young man,"put up with it, get used to it or do something about it."

I am trying to re-educate myself and your traing is helping.  More could be taught about the "new social manners",especially for us from another generation.



Americanizing - Donya Brown - Jan 28th 2009
I teach Advance American Accent and Cross-cultural skill to Asian scholars and upper level students and scientist. I found this article and the website to be a very big help in my work. It enhanced our discussion period considerably.

a word on timing - crazykoosa - Sep 9th 2008

After an extensive review of this article, I found a better understanding of how easy it is in life to just simply react, without any consent to the well being of others. Life is much more simple if its selfishly unraveled on the world without fear of negative reaction. But when there is openness and honesty with your feelings, the realization that the world is so much more rewarding when complex comes to fruition. And when this world turns over, it’s the complexities of life that will keep it spinning.

The differences between my sisiter and I - Chris - Jun 2nd 2008

After reading this article about social skills it explains a lot about why my sister and I are so different. I know that siblings can be very different but after reading this it really explaines us. I have always been the out going one and she is very shy. I can now connect that the social skills that I have make a difference in me. She avoids social events and it explains why she behaves the way that she does. Thank you for making this so clear to me.

vulnerability? - anatole noziere - May 23rd 2008

Since when did being woundable acquire the connotation of good manners? Do you mean "open, not defensive, amenable"?--perhaps "complacent" in the Chesterfieldian sense of "willing to be pleased"? What, really, do you mean?

Editor's Note: We mean, "open, not defensive".  Thank you for asking us to clarify. 

I'm from Denmark... - - May 11th 2008

and I just want to say, that we DON'T kiss friends when we meet.

It is very true - Abena Adoma - Mar 11th 2008
I agree totally, socially skilled people easily fit into any group because they are exciting to be around. It is a skill worth emulating but unfortunately sometimes due to the temperament (introvert) of a person it becomes very difficult to be that "easy going".

Lies! - Zip - Oct 16th 2007

Obviously, the writer's grasp on social skills is lacking - for example, where kissing on both cheeks is perfectly acceptable with a Russian friend, try it with a Finnish one and you'll invariably get a negative reaction.

Depending on the background of the people - this applies especially globally, but even within United States - what is suggested as "good social skills" here is in many cases incredibly offensive.

Also, pretending to care is NEVER a good thing socially.

about love and compatibility - Nex - Aug 20th 2007


First I want to say that this is an excellent website, you have made a very good job. 

Concerning compatilibity and love, it cannot be said in my opinion that compatibility is a totally another thing and different from love; if there is love, if love really starts to exist between two people, there must be something compatible that has connected them in the first place, otherwise real love feelings could not have been developed. Talking about love I understand not infatuation or sexual attraction but real tender and healthy feelings towards each other, real love between partners that has started to develop out of similarity and compatibility. Of course we cannot be 100% compatible with anyone but also finding good compromises and seeking similar values and interests, developing them in the relationship, working on relationship, developing good skills and adapting to the partner is something that leads to a loving relationship. On the other hand, if there is no compatibility there cannot be real love but maybe infatuation and sexual attraction as I said, because similarities (even if they are not very obvious at the beginning of a relationship) are something that connects us and that is why I think that compatibility and love are not strangers, as suggested here.

Greetings from Vienna, Austria


teach ourselves social skills? - katchja - Feb 25th 2007
some of us have social skills, others are trying to appear socially open and friendly. we all have influence upon the other. a pleasant social encounter encourages a less social skilled individual to open up. but can we teach ourselves social skills? it may take time to emprove your social competence and therefore loose motivation. but keep in mind that if you try for yourself (your well being and satisfaction) you may not get there. but if you try for the others, you may contribute to a better social world.

I agree and I agree, agree and agree! - ana - Dec 21st 2006
this is an AWESOME site! THANK YOU squared 3

I love, I love, I love - Boss - Nov 27th 2006
I'm only a teenager, not many friends, but i thank u so much for this. Without surfing the net and stumbling upon your site, i can't think of another day without the skills i've just attained. I've been trying to get social skills into the school curriculum!

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