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