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The 17 Most Important Social Skills No One Ever Taught You

Knowing these crucial social skills will make every interaction a breeze.

There are countless social skills so integral to our everyday lives that they almost feel like inherent parts of our personality. Whether you're saying hi to an acquaintance when you run into them, cooperating with your co-workers on group projects, or compromising with your significant other, many of these habits come so easily to most of us that we practically do them on autopilot.

However, there are numerous essential social skills that many of us still haven't mastered by adulthood. If you want to boost your social intelligence and make sure your interactions go off without a hitch, it's time to nail these social skills no one ever taught you.

Making eye contact.

an older couple making eye contact with each other in their kitchen

Your phone is always there, tempting you to look away from the person you're engaging with. However, if you want to give your social skills a boost, making sustained eye contact with someone while you're talking is a good place to start.

"It's a sign of respect and consideration to make solid eye contact during conversations," says psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, who calls it "simply inappropriate" to give your attention to a device while someone is speaking to you.

Learning the names of casual acquaintances.

Barista handing over two cups of coffee

You see the same postal worker, barista, and grocery store clerk every day, so it's time to make learning their names a priority.

Even if you're not planning on forming a social connection with them outside of their workplace, "it's a sign of consideration to learn the person's name and acknowledge the individual," says Manly.

Offering a heartfelt apology.

father hugs his adult son

While most people will say sorry when they've done something in error, really owning up to your mistakes is a skill that will serve you well.

"Not only does a solid apology reflect strong character as it increases trust-building—an apology is of personal benefit as it allows for increased awareness and growth after an error or hiccup," says Manly.

Staying kind when you're angry.

angry white grandma scolding young teen

Getting defensive or lashing out may feel like a more natural response when you're angry, but learning to keep your cool—and stay kind—is always the better choice.

"We truly can learn to stop, to contain our upset, and not act out," explains Los Angeles-based therapist Evie Shafner, LMFT.

Asking questions during a conversation.

serious father talking to his daughter in a classroom setting

If you've ever realized that you've been talking about yourself for the better part of a conversation, it's time to work on your question and answer skills.

"So many kind, caring, well-meaning people do not know how to ask questions," says Shafner. Her recommendation? Ask questions during a conversation and follow up with ones that show you've been listening. "It will make people want to be around you," she explains.

Making a good first impression.

older woman in glasses shaking hands
Shutterstock/The Art of Pics

There's a big difference between simply showing up and dressing the part, and actually making a good first impression.

"When you meet someone for the first time, it is important to smile, make an appropriate amount of eye contact (a few seconds), shake hands, and use their name," says licensed marriage and family therapist Jessica Small, MA, of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching.

Reading body language.

angry man and woman with crossed arms talking

People won't always explicitly express what they want in a given situation, so it's crucial that you know how to read body language cues and respond accordingly.

"Social cues are often indirect indicators of what someone is needing in a social interaction," says Small. For instance, if someone you're talking to is starting to look around the room, "this is an indicator that they may be bored and it is time to wrap up the story."

Gently confronting someone when you're concerned about them.

shot of a senior man comforting his wife at during a conversation at home

It may not always be comfortable to do, but learning how to tell someone gently that you're concerned about them is a social skill that will serve you well in the long run.

"Especially as more and more people have been struggling with their mental health, it's crucial that people know how to kindly approach a loved one when they are worried about them," says therapist Lauren Cook, MFT, author of Name Your Story: How to Talk Openly About Mental Health. Not sure how to start? Try asking if the person is OK, then expressing your concerns in a non-judgmental manner using "I" statements.

Introducing yourself to a stranger.

colleagues shaking hands, handshake, things husband should notice

It can feel like you're going out on a limb when you introduce yourself to new people, but knowing how to do so with confidence can open up your social horizons in no time.

"It's key that people know how to introduce themselves, engage in small talk, and build a connection with new people," says Cook. "This can make the difference in getting the job, going on the date, and landing the next opportunity."

Handling conflict appropriately.

Manager yelling at coworker.

Like it or not, conflict is part of life, and it's important to keep your cool when it arises.

"People need to learn how to properly assert themselves while listening to the other person," says Cook. So, how can this be accomplished? Check in with yourself to make sure you're not falling into passive-aggressive, closed-off, or irritable behavior, which will make it harder to work through the issue at hand, explains Cook.

Listening without fixing.

young couple walking along the river together

It's tempting to try to help people when they tell you their problems, but resisting that urge is an essential skill. People often just want to discuss what they're going through and feel seen in doing so, explains life coach and mindfulness expert Brooke Nicole Smith, PhD.

Smith recommends honoring these wishes by "listening with your full attention, asking questions for clarification, repeating back key elements in your own words to check for understanding, offering validation, and thanking the person for trusting you and sharing."

Taking responsibility for your feelings.

shot of a mature couple having a serious conversation at home

You can't necessarily prevent uncomfortable feelings from arising, but what you do about them is up to you.

"When we don't take responsibility for ourselves, we pick a lot of unnecessary fights," explains Smith, who recommends taking proactive steps to address how you're feeling instead of taking it out on someone else. For instance, if someone arrives late for lunch and you're getting hungry and irritable, order yourself something instead of blaming them for your bad mood, says Smith.

Asking for a hug.

Couple hugging and making up after a fight

Consent extends well beyond the bedroom, and asking before touching someone is good practice for any situation.

"Your well-intentioned hug of comfort, empathy, or solidarity might feel super intrusive to the recipient," says Smith, who recommends asking if someone if someone is comfortable with your affection before delivering it.

Handling rejection.

young interracial couple breaking up and upset
Shutterstock/Dusan Petkovic

Rejection almost always feels bad, but it's important to learn how to handle the situation with grace.

"When someone decides to break off a relationship and you feel rejected, it's not always about you," explains certified life coach Tom Marino, founder of Monarch Life Coaching, who recommends expressing gratitude to the person for your relationship and for the lessons you learned from it rather than airing your feelings of resentment.

Naming your feelings.

young couple sitting on a couch, apart from each other, girl looking upset and man on phone

"A lot of people feel tremendous guilt or shame over the emotions of anger, neediness, or sadness," says psychotherapist Laura F. Dabney, MD. However, she recommends pushing through that discomfort and letting others know how you're feeling in order to get those needs met. "You should not be insecure about naming your feelings about any situation," she says.

Expressing your point of view without trying to convince others.

young bored businesswoman listening to her colleagues talking in the office.

Sure, navigating the world would be easier if everyone shared your point of view. However, in the absence of that happening, it's important to be able to hear a different viewpoint without "burying [your] viewpoint or pushing [your] viewpoint on others," says Dabney, who notes that presenting your argument without trying to change someone else's mind may make it easier to reach a compromise.

Giving without expecting something in return.

two middle-aged black men talking at work

Though it's nice to imagine that your actions will be met with gratitude or reciprocation, it's essential to cast that quid pro quo mentality aside.

"When we give and expect something in return, we're doing business, not kindness," explains stress and anxiety coach and mindfulness meditation teacher Sandra Woznicki. What began as a seemingly selfless gesture to its recipient can quickly "turn into judgement, resentment, and broken relationships," she says.

Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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