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Ask Ramit: How do you practice improving social skills?

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Earlier this week, I was at a dinner party with a few friends. As I was sitting in my usual position of reclining, drinking and telling dirty jokes, I spotted my mortal enemy: an avocado.

“Hey,” I asked my friend, “can you show me how to cut an avocado?”

Twice this week, I got an avocado sent to me. The first time, I just looked at it and threw it in the trash. I don’t know how to cut that shit.

The second time, I realized this avocado probably cost me like $10, so I tried to figure out how to eat it. I started cutting it like an orange, only the slivers were too thin and I had no idea what to do. Then I cut into the middle and found a pit (which I did not expect). By this point, I was yelling and cursing, and I threw the gutted remains angrily into the trash.

If you’re wondering HOW ARE YOU EVEN ALIVE RAMIT?? you are right. I have very little idea how I made it this far in this life. Anyway, imagine the glint in my eye when I spotted that soon-to-be-cut avocado on my friend’s kitchen counter. She showed me exactly how to cut it into beautiful chunks, and the next morning I cut the first avocado of my life.

Why am I telling you this? Am I turning this site into a cooking blog?

No. It’s because most of us can laugh and enjoy a story about Dumb Ramit not knowing how to cut an avocado…but how many of us don’t know how to do something and never ask anyone to teach them?

This happens with money, careers, health and fitness, and most of all, social skills.

Think about it:

  • When was the last time you asked someone how to make small talk?
  • Have you ever systematically studied someone who’s really good with people…then deconstructed how they do it? (Or do you consider that too “weird”?)
  • How many of us have fallen back on the crutch that “I’m shy” or “I dunno if I should go out tonight…ugh…I’d rather just watch TV” — and then wondered what we missed out on?

It’s fascinating to me that social skills are one of the most important skills we can develop — maybe THE most important skill — yet we rarely look at it as a teachable, learnable skill that we can improve on.

Who here has been to a party where you didn’t know a ton of people, and you weren’t sure what to say? Or feeling tense during a social situation, then endlessly analyzing everything you said afterwards and even cringing?

All of us.

That’s why I wanted to talk about systematically improving social skills.

Today’s Ask Ramit question comes from Richard.

“What are some of the best ways to practice the social skills you suggest — and with that, how do you deal with the initial bumps? So many of the things you tell us to do are easy to practice. But social skills require someone else. If it’s not working, how do I keep the motivation to try again?”

Watch my video response. I’ll show you exactly how you can practice and improve your social skills before you actually have to use them in the real world. My advice may surprise you.

What’s your biggest social skill or networking challenge?

  • How to network at cocktail parties?
  • How to make small talk in an interview?
  • How to improve your body language when you’re meeting someone for the first time?

Leave your biggest social skill or networking questions in the comments below, and I’ll record answers to as many as I can.

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  1. This is great. Actually, as far as person-to-person interaction goes, I have improved quite a bit over the last four years (motivated largely by IWT). However, my biggest question is about how to bring people together.

    In your email scripts e-book, you offer some helpful suggestions for inviting people to events. My concern is that I’m not always sure what kind of event will attract the kind of people I want to get together. In particular, since I like to recruit people at the earliest stages of their career, especially young people just coming out of college, it’s very hard to tell whether they would feel comfortable committing to a dinner party, even if they know other people on the invitee list.

    Is there a subtle, non-creepy way to figure out what kind of event such people would go for? Or do you think it’s even possible to get college students to come to this kind of networking event?

    • David Shefchik Link to this comment

      Recruitment dinner party? You have to be kidding, that sounds creepy as hell. Maybe kids right out of college would fall for that, but I think they’d just appreciate honesty from a recruiter a lot more.

    • David, thanks for your note. On this site, we don’t offer useless comments like “That’s a dumb idea!” If you don’t like Timothy’s idea, that’s cool, but please offer a better alternative.

    • Haha, “recruit” may have been the wrong word. In the particular case I’m thinking of, this is a body of student musicians (most of them friends of mine) that I’d like to connect with better, particularly because I’d like to collaborate with them to start a chamber orchestra. This would be a social thing, not a business thing.

    • I believe a further question to ask is how you pitch during such events? how do you assess who is better fit as an employee? do social interactions provide that kind of opportunity to quickly assess who is more qualified or they just offer a glimpse of seeing some heads and then deciding whom to call based upon the way they act in such social interaction? What do you say Ramit?

    • I like to try and connect people together in the creative industries, and tell them about things that are going on. Then again, even now, a dinner in itself would probably freak me out (apart from Girl Geek Dinners). Personally, if it’s some sort of open (or semi-open) meetup where someone is giving a talk … or even a get together for organising that sort of thing, it’s far easier to suggest people come along “it’s interesting, and there are some great people I can introduce you to”.

      That said, a guy in my area (Newcastle UK) just set up a Geekest Drink which is exactly what it says: geeks get together at a pub on a certain date. May be more of a English thing though.

  2. To me it would have to be body language, not only in social settings but professionally as well. What would you recommend (tips, books, anything!) Thank you Ramit!

  3. I like this advice a lot. Smiling is really important! I was listening to a podcast just this morning on the subject, and they brought up the point that the reason so many of us feel awkward in social situations is because we basically filter social situations through our insecurities. For example, before approaching someone, we start to think “is this the right time? What should I say? What if I get turned down?” rather than making a quick decision and just starting a conversation.

    I’ve been working on this lately by using mindfulness to notice the “what if” thoughts and let them dissipate so I can proceed to take action with a clear mind, rather than agreeing with the thoughts and allowing them to get me nervous. My biggest challenge still is being a conversation starter at events. Have you found any other successful techniques that we could try to address the reasons behind our social issues?

  4. I’m really pretty good at networking and making connections, but I have no idea how to KEEP business connections. Collegues at an old job who weren’t quite friends, old supervisors who thought the world of me, people I meet and have a good connection with at networking events. I connect over linked in, and that’s about it. So I have all these fading work connections, and no idea how to keep them robust. I’m a college student, so I’m making a lot of connections at internships (short, so I’ve done quite a few), and other events I go to to make connections, but unless it is a social connection, I don’t know how to stay connected.

  5. I love the trend (led by you, it seems) towards helping people realize that those things/skills that “just happen” aren’t miracles – they’re learnable.

    There’s a major common thread between Dream Job king of stuff and this social skills stuff. It’s all articulating the stuff that seems weird to be learning, but is hugely important.

    I think the transition between “Uhh, how are you? Nice weather, huh?” and a real conversation is where a lot of people stumble. I’d love to hear how you handle that (both in professional and personal situations).

  6. All of Ramit’s suggestions are great, but I want to suggest one other way to practice and get feedback regarding your communications skills.

    Join Toastmasters International. (TMI) And, oh yeah, participate. I don’t believe you will find a better value out there. Leadership is communication. Improve your communication, improve your leadership.

    One of the best things I have ever done is join Toastmasters. I am now 65. I joined only four years ago, and my confidence in my ability to communicate and lead has improved significantly.

  7. excellent ramit. learned a lot

  8. Rami: My social skills are great but my work puts me in situations where I am the pack leader and I just fall apart! It takes me about 10 minutes to calm down (we are talking sweats, shakes, dry mouth, you name it) and these are people that I don’t even know but my livelihood depends on me selling to them! How can I help myself not be such a dork when I start? After the 10 minutes, I gain control and am calm. I have tried prepping for meetings with all my “ducks in a row” (as they say) but even that does not help for those first few minutes! My lack of abilities at this point is driving me crazy!

  9. I’m told that my problem is being too “sharp” or letting my frustration show when talking with clients. I was told by someone else that I need to be able to disagree with someone and have them be happy about it. This generally happens on voice calls, but I can see how smiling more would put that smile in my voice. I’m looking for more info on disagreeing with someone in a pleasant way.

  10. This is great advice! It’s amazing how far a smile will take you.

    It is still important to be genuine though, so while you’re smiling and pretending to be way more excitable than you are in the interview, don’t fudge any other details unless you can deliver. 🙂