“You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie.
Social skills are the key to getting along with others. To influencing them and to learning from them. This dialogue is essential for our personal development and well-being.
Yet many of us with highly developed social skills have blind spots in how we use them. These blind spots make it hard for us to relate well to some people. We tend to use less signals of paying attention than we need to do. We nod or laugh less than we should. We also show lack of interest with our facial expressions. And we tend to take over a conversation and to dominate it. Or to interrupt or to look away from the person who is speaking.
We have lots of words to describe this lack of social skill. We call it “turning a blind eye”. “Giving someone the cold shoulder”. “Looking right through people”. We use these to explain away our habit of not using our social skills with people we see as being lower on the social ladder than we are.
Many of the blind spots in our social skills are non-verbal
Yes many of the blind spots mentioned above are non-verbal: 1.Not using signals to show that we are paying attention. 2. Not showing we are listening. 3. Not nodding to show we are listening. 4. Not showing we are interested with a facial expression. 4. Show lack of interest by looking away from a person who is speaking.
It is not that we lack the skill to do this things. We do them all the time with our equals. But we choose not to do them with people who are lower on the social scale than we are. In the mistaken belief that it is the way for people of our status to behave. Real leaders know better.
Why do we fail to use our social skills in these situations?
The problem is that we can do these things without knowing it. And we create a social distance between ourselves and others. That we do not intend to. One that goes beyond our interaction with them. And limits our ability to get on with them. And to understand them. Both in the short and longer term.
The surprising thing is that people who are skilled in many areas have these blind spots. Research shows that we use them to deal with people we consider to be less important than we are. We do this by paying less attention to them than we do to our peers. We choose to ignore them. To show a lack of interest in them. To interrupt them or to look away when the speak to us.
It is a kind of knee jerk reaction. A thing we do naturally without thinking of it. It is a in-build way of asserting ourselves. Of showing others that we know our place in the pecking order. When you think about it you will realise that is not a very good way to do so. Because it creates a gap between you and other people who have a lot to offer. So the next time you are with people who are not your equal. See it as an opportunity to chat with them as you would with your equals. They will respect you all the more for it.
We thrive when we use our social skills
When we choose not to use our social skill we can fail to feel for the needs of other people. As a result we fail to understand them. To learn what their views are. And to share our views with them. We fail to listen to them. To learn what they think. How they see the issues that are important to us. And to learn how we can frame what we have to say to win them over to our way of thinking.
It can also lead to us to dismiss awkward people and cause us to dismiss awkward truths about them. Of course this makes life easier for us. But we miss out on coming to terms with issues that may be awkward but important for us to know about. And to deal with.
How your social skills give you an advantage
Social skills are the key to good leadership. When we tune in to the needs and feelings of other people both of us experience empathy. We have a better understanding of each other. More concern for each other’s views and it can influence us to help each other when the situation is understood by both parties.
Our social skills help us to relate to difficult people. People who have different values than we do. People with a different point of view. This helps us to understand issues we are not aware of. And it helps us to learn how we might influence them.
The more personal contact you make the better you get at it. And the better you get at dealing with bias. It makes you more open-minded. And you are better able to influence people who have different views than you do. When you improve your social skills you enjoy interacting with other people. Social occasions give you the chance to mix with others. And to exchange different views in a friendly way.
How to overcome your social skill blind spots
The first step is learn to know them in yourself. What you do and what you do not do. When you do them and when you do not do them. Who you do them with and who you do not do them with.
Then you need to see it in yourself. To learn to spot when it happens to you. To see when you are able to change your behaviour and when you are not able to do so. With practice you will begin to hit the sweet spot of getting it right. The more often you get it right. The more likely you are to hit the sweet spot of getting it right most if not all of the time.