To Improve Your Social Skills, Start with Yourself
There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it. —- Dale Carnegie
Mr. Carnegie gives us a good way to evaluate ourselves. Ask yourself his four questions:
- What do you do – Who are you? Yes, you are a student. What kind of student are you? What do you do in your spare time? Are you the person you want to be?
- How do you look? We don’t care if you are beautiful or handsome. Do you look happy, confident? interested? How do you dress? What does your style of dress tell people about who you are? How might you improve?
- What do you say? Do you spend a lot of time talking about yourself? Are you a good listener? Do you say things that are appropriate and helpful, that add to the conversation? How could your conversations be better?
- How do you say it? Do you use proper grammar and pronunciation? Are you polite or rude? Do you say things that show prejudiced or biased attitudes or do you show respect for the beliefs of others? Do you speak with confidence? What should you do differently?
Begin by Knowing Yourself
A Classic set of studies by Albert Mehrabian showed that in face-to-face interactions, 55% of the emotional meaning is expressed through facial, postural, and gestural means, and 38% of the emotional meaning is transmitted through the tone of voice. Only 7% of the emotional meaning is actually expressed with words.
— Stephen Nowicki and Marshall Duke
You might want to take a notebook and write answers and responses for these and similar questions on this page.
Describe your values, beliefs, and strong opinions. Are you open to having friends with different values, beliefs and opinions? Underline the ones that you would consider most important to you. What values, beliefs or opinions would you look for in a friend?
Describes your greatest fears and concerns, the things you worry about most during a conversation. What are your main fears and concerns about making new friends?
Study Your Past Relationships
We can do anything we want to do if we stick to it long enough. — Helen Keller
1. List some of the friends you had when you were a child, when you were in high school, and friends you have in college.
2. How did you get to be friends with these people?
3. What went well in these relationships? What problems did you have? What have you learned from these experiences about making friends?
Evaluate Your Social Awareness
Good manners have much to do with the emotions. To make them ring true one must feel them, not merely exhibit them.
Do you know appropriate dress, manners and behavior in different situations? If you aren’t sure, draw a simple chart. Across the top list “dress, manners, behavior”. Down the left side, write “dorm room, classes, cafeteria or coffee shop, fancy restaurant, in professor’s office, dinner with a friend’s parents, at a party with friends, and any other situations where you might find yourself. Then fill in the blanks.
Ask someone whose opinion you respect to go over what you have written. Where do you disagree?
We cannot give you answers here because they will be different in different countries, different parts of the country, different colleges, etc. Wearing sweatpants and an old tee-shirt would be fine in the dorm, but in most schools would be less acceptable in classes. In other, more casual schools, they might be acceptable. In some areas, Jeans and a dress shirt are fine at the fanciest restaurant. In other places they would not.
If you have recently transferred from another college, you might want to observe carefully or ask around to discover the customs in your new school.
Know What You Want
Before you begin trying to meet people and make friends, ask yourself what you are looking for.
1. What kind of friends do you want?
- Are you looking for someone to talk to occasionally, someone to eat meals with?
- Do you want someone to do things with? to watch TV with? to go to sports activities? to parties?
- Are you looking for a strong and lasting friendship, a life-long friendship? a BFF?
- Are you trying to create a network of friends that you can rely on for help or advice through the years?
- Are you looking for romance?
You might want several kinds of friends, people to do certain things with, to party with, to play frisbee with, but you may also be looking for one or a small circle of good friends, possibly lifetime friends, people you can count on to help you when you have problems and celebrate with you when you have successes.
2. What things are you most interested in? What would you like to do with your friends?
Some people advise students to join campus organizations to meet people and make new friends. This is a great idea. But, before rushing out to join groups, be sure they are areas you are personally interested in. You don’t want to meet someone who loves to go mountain biking if you don’t have any interest in mountain biking.
3. Do you want friends whose values, beliefs and concerns are like yours?
Consider where you might find these people. Will you meet them at church or other places of worship? Will you meet them in a particular organization?
On the other hand, you might also want to meet and develop friendships with students whose backgrounds and ways of thinking are very different?
4. Is it important that your friends are the best-looking, the most outgoing, the most popular students?
While they might include you in their large circle of friends, you might discover that some of these very popular people have so many friends that you’d never have a really close relationship. Most students find it more satisfying to develop of smaller group of friends including some who are less outgoing.
Learn the Basics: Are there any of these you need to improve?
1. You should always practice good hygiene and be well-groomed. This means regular showers, using deodorant, wearing clean clothes, dental hygiene, etc. Do you think all students do these? Not true. One student I know changed to a different dorm to avoid a roommate who never showered, never washed his clothes, and never used deodorant.
2. Always use good manners. Do simple things like saying “Please,” “Thank You,” “You’re Welcome”, “Excuse me,” “Pleased to meet you.”
3. Be nice to people, even people you don’t like or disagree with. Take time to listen to what they are saying and to get to know them better. You might discover that you do like them.
4. It is NEVER acceptable:
–to be rude or mean or cruel
–to make fun of others
–to laugh at or show prejudice or hatred of others (including people of different races, religions, sexual preferences, political or social opinions, or.with physical or mental disabilities)
–to be out of control because you are drunk, angry, jealous etc.
–to do or say things that hurt other people’s feeling.
Look for friends who are genuinely interested in you, people you really like and enjoy being with. It is far preferable to have few friends or no friends at all rather than to befriend someone who pushes you to do things you know are wrong or who constantly put you down so they feel more important. Such people will only make you miserable.