Improve Your Social Skills Without Talking To Anyone

We all know that the best way to improve your social skills is through practice and repetition. But that means talking to a lot of new people…

And sometimes you just can’t think of anything to say, right?

Sometimes what you do say doesn’t land. People don’t get what you mean so they look at you funny, laugh awkwardly and turn to the next speaker in the group… ouch.

Then you doubt yourself and overthink what to say next. You’re unsure of yourself now. You feel like you’re on a different wavelength to everyone else so you panic and retreat into your anxious mind.

So what now? How do you improve your social skills when you keep bombing like that?

I’ll Never Improve My Social Skills!

Many people will tell you that you can’t improve your social skills without going out there and practising with real people. But it takes a ton of motivation to do that… to push through your mental barriers and say “Hi” to someone.

You can’t just do it one time either. You have to do it again and again and again if you want to get better.

Maybe you’re a self-motivated juggernaut who smashes through mental resistance all day, but if you are then you don’t need my help. If you’ve read this far though, chances are you you need a new way to improve your social skills, and I just happen to have one.

You CAN Improve Your Social Skills With Your Mind

The mind is a crazy-powerful tool. Let me explain.

Most of us spend a good chunk of our time living in the past or in the future instead of in the present.

For instance, you’re living in the future when you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming job interview. You’re living in the past when you’re feeling frustrated about another interview that you messed up. You’re living in the present when you put your attention on what you can see, hear, smell, touch or taste right now.

If you imagine yourself in a certain situation, you ARE in that situation, as far as your mind knows. That’s why you feel anxious when there’s no real danger in front of you.

We’ve all heard about the studies where basketballers improve their free throws without practising, just by thinking about it, right?

Well you can do something similar to improve your social skills.

Why Talking To People Won’t Always Work On Its Own

Have you ever walked away from a conversation and then later come up with something brilliant to say?

“Why didn’t you fetch that zinger when I needed it, brain?!”

Because your brain is a lazy couch potato. If you ask it for the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody, or an Arnold Schwarzenegger quote, it’ll fetch that stuff like lightning because it doesn’t have to create anything original.

But if you ask your brain for a good response to “Tell me about yourself…” you get crickets, because it’d have to do actual work to give you that.

If you don’t talk to people often, your brain gets slow at coming up with good things to say. Slow at solving that problem. And because every social interaction is different, each one feels like a NEW problem that you’re adding to your growing pile of unsolved ones.

That’s why talking to people on its own won’t always work, if most of your interactions are bad, unless you supplement it with a bit of mental exercise.

Hit The Social Skills Gym, In Your Imagination

Imagine that you’re back in a conversation that you messed up recently. Or one that you didn’t even start because you couldn’t think of anything to say.

Restart that conversation with that person or group, and then continue it. Play out both sides of the conversation. Try out new responses, replay the parts of the conversation where you got stuck, and replace your responses with better ones.

Try to get to the point where the conversation flows on its own. Where you find a topic that you can explore deeply. Something that you’re genuinely curious about, or that genuinely interests you.

I’ll do it right now as an example and see what comes out…

I went to a Growth Hacking talk by Ryan Holiday at Google Campus in London a little while back. It was really inspirational. He had some great ideas and I wanted to talk to him after he got off stage, but I couldn’t think of anything to say beyond “Hey I loved your talk.”

So I’m visualising myself in that crowd after the talk had finished. What could I have said to Ryan?

Me:I loved your talk, man. I learned a lot.
Ryan: Thanks.
Me: How did you meet Tim Ferriss? (a hero of mine who Ryan mentioned he’d worked with)

Dead end. Reset. Make it about Ryan or his talk, not about Tim Ferriss.

Me (Cheeky Smirk): Have you had dinner yet? I’ve got a buy 1 get 1 free at Busaba Eathai down the street?

Ridiculous thought that popped into my head, right? I was going to reset it, but let’s see where I can take it. This is an imaginary conversation after all and I have all the charm in the world in my imagination.

Ryan: Ahhh, thanks but I’ve got plans.
Me: Haha, worth a shot. I actually just wanted to really quickly pick your brain about 1 thing from your talk if you’ve got like 30 seconds?
Ryan: Yeah of course.

See, the dinner thing was ridiculous, but it didn’t kill the conversation, and now it actually feels a bit more natural.

Me: I was just wondering how the hell you manage to read so many books? I struggle to read 5 or 6 over the course of a year.

He reads a shit-ton of books. It’s something I’m genuinely curious about, and something remarkable about him, so he’ll probably have something to say about it.

Ryan: I just made it a priority, man. Anytime I get 5 minutes free I squeeze in some pages. That’s the secret. I actually read quite slowly.
Me: Really? Wow. Because I’ve tried speed reading before and couldn’t really work it out, so I figured I was just a slow reader and that I’ll just never read all of the books I want. Damn, Ryan. You’ve made my day. I’ll try that.

When you do this exercise your brain starts solving problems and connecting ideas like that. That connecting of ideas is what improves your social skills. Just make sure you talk about things you actually care about.
And the point is not to guess how the other person would respond. You can’t know that. The point is to just get a conversation flowing.

Ryan: Glad to be of service. I meet so many people who say the same thing. The speed readers out there get through books as fast as possible because they’re busy and want to know something about everything, but they don’t realise that they’re often missing out on deeper level understanding. If you’re a slow reader your brain is probably connecting more dots in the background… that’s where the real learning happens.

Woah, now we’re getting deeper. We’re in a flow.

Me: Yeah I hear you. It frustrates me that I’m slow but I think you’re right, it does help me understand things more deeply. So how about that dinner? ;)

Here’s Why This Exercise Works

I’ve now spent a good 10-20 minutes in the mental headspace of a genuine conversation, trying things out, replacing responses with better alternatives and getting into a flow.

When I used to do this exercise regularly, past conversations would randomly pop up in my thoughts when I was on the bus, or lying in bed, or whatever, and I’d work through them to improve them. It felt almost like talking to people in real life, and I found myself coming up with better responses faster and faster, which also translated to real life conversations.

I also noticed big improvements when I began to push through responses that I initially thought I were bad, to see where I could take them. I discovered that you can almost always turn them around, which is also the case in real life.

The point of this mental training is not not prepare conversational scripts to follow. The point is purely to spend time connecting ideas and getting into a conversational flow. That’s how you learn how to talk to people.

When you actually speak to people in real life later, you’ll probably say completely different things, but those different things will come to you faster because you’ve trained your mind to connect ideas faster.

So try this now for a few minutes with a conversation you recently messed up. How would you improve it? What could you say to connect with that person?

And remember, improving your conversation skills isn’t something that can be done in a day. It‘s something you work at. It’s something you improve one step at a time. So don’t just try this once. Make it a habit.

15 Thoughts to “How To Improve Your Social Skills, Without Talking To Anyone”

  1. I have a family friend who’s always been kind of awkward, but it’s gotten considerably worse within the past few years. As a person he’s been close with for many years, he’s turned to me for help. I really appreciate this article explaining how to improve your social skills by using your mind to think in the present.

  2. Really good article Pete. I think what really made it is that you took it an extra step past “think of good conversations in your head” and really described some crucial points – having a concrete, realistic scenario; being OK with resetting the convo or even moving forward after some ridiculous thoughts and finding good ways to turn it around; and using the third person view to take away the negative emotions that can arise from imagining the situation too realistically. Thanks and keep it up!

  3. It’s a very interesting post. I am also a desperate shy person, so I have to try this. But i have some more questions about your example. It’s not clear to me. What makes you choose a question, where you already know the answer from previous interviews? Your head voice sounds pretty cantingly there. Why wouldn’t you loose your attention during a repetition of what you already know. And I would for sure have the feeling I bother him by asking the same question like hundres of others before. And as the person I wouldn’t go to eat with somebody, who asks the same question the 101st time. Please give me some more insight to how you choose your sentences.

    1. Hey, great question. The point of the exercise is not to rehearse a script for a real conversation. The point is to get words flowing (any words) by tapping into your right-brain (creative mind) and getting out of your left- brain (analytical mind). Analysing what is said trains you to be more analytical in your conversations… which is the opposite of what you want, right?

      If you want to train yourself to get into that natural flow state in conversations, just make up any response that you think someone might say in that situation. Then continue with the flow of that imaginary conversation.

      The reason I talked about things I already knew was because when my left brain started making connections, those were the things that popped up. I didn’t lose attention because I was connecting what I already knew with other ideas floating around in my head.

      Does that make sense?

  4. Great article!

    I noticed that you knew some information on this person based off previous articles you read. What if we know little to nothing about the person we’re supposed to visualize a conversation with?

    1. Glad you liked it, and good question. Knowing things about the other person isn’t the important part. What they would actually say in real life doesn’t matter. The important part is to get words flowing. So just make up any response that you think someone might say in that situation. If you can’t think of anything, ask yourself what you would say in that situation.

  5. Subscribed! Not only because I share my thoughts on social skills over WordPress as well, but because your site and infographics are pure gold! Keep it going :-)

  6. I love this, I will definitely try because as you stated. Soctal events with others becomes more of an observation than actually speaking and I’m beating myself up about having nothing to say and things that do come to mind I’m afraid to say because I can only think of random stuff going on with me. :/ it comes off self centered when really that’s just the easiest thing to say. I desperately wish to get past this because it’s hampering me so bad. Thank you for the great idea

    1. Thanks, Heather! I’m curious, what sort of things about you are you stopping yourself from saying? Because the more you tell yourself “Nope, can’t say that.”, the harder is to come up with something to say :)

  7. Wow, I should try this, although my visualization hasn’t been very good lately. I remember I could easily visualize when I was younger… It’s pretty sad now that It’s a lot more harder.

    But yes, this should be interesting little experiment. I too have the same experience with having nothing interesting to say sometimes because I feel as if I am socially awkward. So it really frustrates me when theres so much worries in my head, not just being socially awkward, but a whole bunch of crap. I should relay try this, because sometimes I get really anxious talking to people when there’s nothing much I can really say!

    THANKS! I WILL TRY THIS! Should be fun talking to an imaginary person.

  8. I think the one thing I would like to say about this is this may not work for most extrovert types. I am INTJ and these (all) are things i do on a daily basis, it seems to be apart of my programming. I know many others that would find this next to impossible to work through in their head. Just a note… great read, thanks for sharing your outlook on it all.

    1. Interesting thought, thanks! I consider myself an ambivert because I float somewhere in the middle of the 2 extremes, so it’d be cool to hear from some extroverts. I suspect they might be less likely to need the mental practice. It’s intended more for the introverts who “just don’t know what to say” and can’t seem to find the cojones to practice regularly in real life.

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