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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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67 Comments on "Ask Ramit: How do you practice improving social skills?"

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Timothy Moser
3 years 26 days ago
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… Read more »
David Shefchik
David Shefchik
3 years 26 days ago

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.

Timothy Moser
3 years 26 days ago

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.

Adnan
3 years 23 days ago

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?

Vicky
Vicky
3 years 22 days ago
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… Read more »
Rachel
Rachel
3 years 26 days ago

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!

Meg Sylvia
3 years 26 days ago
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… Read more »
Caroline
Caroline
3 years 26 days ago
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… Read more »
Casandra Campbell
3 years 26 days ago

Hey Caroline!

I know what you mean about letting connections fade away. I used to do that a lot but I am getting better. I found Ramit’s Closing the Loop Technique very helpful!

It’s about halfway down the page.
http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog/ramits-definitive-guide-to-building-your-network-with-scripts/

Zach
3 years 26 days ago

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).

Eric Hansen
Eric Hansen
3 years 26 days ago

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.

Vish
3 years 26 days ago

excellent ramit. learned a lot

Rebecca
Rebecca
3 years 26 days ago
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)… Read more »
Jennifer
Jennifer
3 years 26 days ago

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.

Jessica
Jessica
3 years 26 days ago

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. 🙂

Alan
3 years 26 days ago

a $10 avocado :O!?!
where do you get your fruits? (yeah avocado is a fruit) they’re ripping you off.

Kevin Rogers
3 years 26 days ago

One thing I noticed about you at BehaviorCon was your posture. You have very good physical posture. It says a lot about us, doesn’t it?

This is something I’d love to improve for myself so I’m curious to know if you’re just built that way or is good posture something you’ve worked on developing? And if so, can you share some techniques?

Thanks,
Kevin

Richard Kolkovich (@sarumont)

Demonstrating that nothing happens in a vacuum, I have been conscious of my speaking speed for many years now as well as consciously thinking of smiling. Like a few other commentors, I’d like to be able to incorporate some scripts to help get over the initial hump and find some common ground, especially with a less-talkative person.

On the other end of that spectrum, however, how do you deal with the conversational steamroller? This is especially frustrating in group conversations, as getting a word in edgewise seems to require shouting.

Rachel
Rachel
3 years 26 days ago

I would say I have three really big challenges when it comes to social skills: I interrupt all the time, I’m not aware I’m making faces and I’m really direct and apparently that sometimes comes off as intimidating or just plain not nice.

June
June
3 years 24 days ago

I have this same problem too!

Lindsay
Lindsay
3 years 21 days ago

Rachel,
I did this too for a loooong time – start videoing yourself during social interactions. Your close friends usually won’t car,e especially if you’re really just shooting the $#!T and not gossiping, and it’s usually with those folks that I would get the most animated and be my most silly, expressive self. After taping 5-6 of those convos, now I’m aware of what my animated silly self looks and sounds like externally. HUGE help!

Karen
Karen
3 years 26 days ago
I struggle with making that transition from chatting with people at work or in a group to hanging out outside of work and becoming “real” friends. I’m also talking to a lot of single friends lately who want to meet people to date or even just find friends in a new city, but have no idea where to go or how to initiate conversations. The default seems to be going to bars, but then everyone just stands around talking to their friends while looking around. Approaching people in bars usually comes off a bit creepy, but maybe there are ways… Read more »
James
James
3 years 26 days ago

Hey Ramit,

For me, it’s not just making small talk in an interview — if the interviewer makes small talk, I can roll with it. It’s when I HAVE TO TAKE THE LEAD on making small talk because the interviewer isn’t that I feel uncomfortable and unsure of what to do. Maybe I’m just afraid of not being professional, or just being too casual for the interviewers liking.

Adam
3 years 26 days ago

No effin way Ramit, you are too good. I just started a similar blog to share my experience and exercises of how I overcame my monotonicity and improved my social skills. You hit the nail on the head: it’s something to practice. Though it seems weird or awkward initially, it’s like learning any other skill. They just don’t really teach you that in school.

Muhammad
Muhammad
3 years 26 days ago

I totally agree with you. Of course, it’s too taboo to suggest that it was a class in school, but it’s a skill that’s arguably more important than any class. I felt like an idiot when I practiced some things in the mirror, but they truly helped. Just have fun with it

Wendy
Wendy
3 years 26 days ago

I’ve noticed that different social situations require different personal introductions. Sometime I nail it but other times I choose the wrong way to intro myself and it falls flat. How do you create the different types of intros, read the situation to determine the right approach, and deliver in the most effective way possible?

Nicole
Nicole
3 years 26 days ago
Ramit, Great post. Smiling, speaking slowing and asking questions comes easy for me…when the person is on my level. My problem is that I feel weird or like a pest when I try to engage people in a conversation for opportunity purposes. For example, I am going to a book conference next month and I would like to be able to talk with agents and book editors without the fear of sounding “needy” or “desperate” to get my book published. Lots of authors will be talking with these agents and most are desperate to have someone represent them. I also… Read more »
Manuel
Manuel
3 years 26 days ago
Man, I think this is a very important topic to get a level up in life. I’m an introvert guy and I thought that I was like a special case, but now that I’m learning about how to break the ice and talk to people I realize that theres a lot of people that is struggling with the same, this is one of those topics that most people are afraid to talk with friends because it is weird but in fact it is a very common problem. It would be cool if people join together and confess their fears and… Read more »
Shirley
Shirley
3 years 26 days ago
Wow! Your email came heaven sent. I just started my MBA program this week and have been invited to so many social events that I’ve declined because #1 – I don’t drink alcohol and it totally weirds me out when everyone is tipsy and giddy and I’m standing there 100% sober and out of the loop and #2 – for some inexplicable reason, although I am a complete extrovert in any other situation, at social mixers I completely shut down and become dumbfounded. I have been struggling with this for awhile now and felt stupid asking anyone to teach me… Read more »
Michael
Michael
3 years 26 days ago

When I bump into acquaintances who I haven’t had a formal interaction with, sometimes get nervous and be aloof. In other cases, how do you progress from a “hi”/how are you doing?

TK
TK
3 years 26 days ago
Ramit, I’ve been working on my small talk skills and I think they’re getting better, but my challenge is getting my foot in the door to start a conversation with a person I’m interested in meeting, especially when they’re already talking with someone else. I don’t want to impolitely barge in on their conversation, but I also don’t want to miss the opportunity altogether because someone else manages to catch their attention before I can get a word in. I feel as if I’m afraid to interrupt them and put the light on me, but without that light, I’m SOL… Read more »
Jadah Sellner
3 years 26 days ago
This is a great tip Ramit! What I struggle with the most is jumping into a conversation where I know no one. Mostly at conferences. I’ve had some very awkward moments of trying to jump into conversations. I’m a little too soft spoken when I try to dive in, so no one usually hears me. I am going to try your tips and practice introductions in the mirror, then with a friend and record to see how I could do it differently. Do you have any good intro/pick up lines? I know Marie Forleo says, “We haven’t met before…” P.S.… Read more »
Brian
Brian
3 years 26 days ago

Hi Ramit,

I have three areas where I struggle – stories, confidence, and delivery. I have some ideas on what to say, but often don’t properly calibrate my story to the audience. I’ve also been in meet and greet situations with executives where I feel like small talk discussions will be transparent and won’t inspire interest. Lastly, and I think this relates to the previous, I’m concerned my small talk delivery is sometimes awkward, causing the overall conversation to spiral to an end.

P.S. I love NY.

Jeremy
Jeremy
3 years 26 days ago

Great article and I like how your tackling this issue.

My question after reading your article and watching the video is, how to find meaningful and interesting stories that people will be engaged with. Too often I find that the stories I tell seem to be boring or do not really have great purpose. Telling a funny or interesting story is a great way to start conversation or make small talk during an interview, but the hard part is finding and delivering a good ice breaking story. So I was wondering if you had any tips for this?

Brianna
Brianna
3 years 26 days ago

Ramit: How did you work on being CONCISE in your speech? (Stories, business, explanations in professional contexts, etc.).

The times I’ve heard you speak in Q and A settings, you have a way of speaking “off the cuff” in a casual, relaxed manner, but you never dilly-dally around the point. I appreciate that and would love to learn that skill.

simone
simone
3 years 26 days ago

I suspect that my current difficulty is related to, but on the other side of, your third question. I ask questions to other people and they definitely do love talking about themselves, but I don’t get any questions in return. However, one of the things that creates connection and lasting relationships between people is shared contribution and vulnerability. If other people aren’t asking me questions, how do I know when to talk about myself and what to say when I do?

Esmaeel Akther
Esmaeel Akther
3 years 26 days ago

Hey Ramit,
I really struggle to keep my conversations going.
I am good at going upto people asking few things about them and introducing myself too. But after that I just dont know how to keep my conversations going. And the result of this is that our conversations ends in less than 5 mins.

I would be really grateful if you could help me out. Infact, I guess there are going to be thousands of other people facing the same difficulty. Expecting, yet again an easy to use formula from my Guru.

Brian
Brian
3 years 25 days ago

I can practice the social skills to apply it outside, but is there a way to acquire the motivation and willpower to actually go meet people in the first place? For example, I am intimidated by meeting high-status people for coffee, and I will make an effort not to press send despite having drafted emails already.

M
3 years 25 days ago

The speaking slowly thing is definitely something I need to still work on. I took a voiceover class and the most common critique was my talking speed. The running joke in class involving me was that when we had to read copy within a certain time limit I would *never* go over.

Andrea
Andrea
3 years 25 days ago
This is great. Social skills are so important in so many areas, both personally and professionally. I’m a huge nerd and a bit of an introvert, so I tend to feel a little awkward socially. I have a friend (who works in marketing…go figure) who is AMAZING at initial introductions and small talk; areas where I really struggle. She is, by her own admission, the best first date in the world. (She also claims to be the worst second date, and her challenge is opening up when it’s time to move past the superficial into deeper conversations.) I learned a… Read more »
Brian
Brian
3 years 25 days ago

What about putting them in front of you with one hand over the other? Like one of those bouncers at a club.

Or put one or both hands on a table nearby?

ccaley
ccaley
3 years 25 days ago
All great advice that I have learned and applied. I definitely agree that recording yourself can help you see things that you don’t even realize you do. I learned this when I was a dancer (ballet/ballroom/jazz/modern, not the other kind of dancer). When I started looking for my first job I spent hours in front of a mirror practicing my handshake and “nice to meet you”. To this day I’m very confident when I meet someone, be it an interviewer or new acquaintance, that I’m presenting myself in a professional yet welcoming and personable manner. Being able to give a… Read more »
Joan
Joan
3 years 25 days ago
For women it’s important to not just slow down but also to lower your voice a bit when you’re speaking. Nothing weird. Just something to pay attention to so you don’t come across as shrill. I don’t any more – but I used to have to sit in on a lot of interviews and I noticed that male colleagues would just tune out women with a nervous high pitched voice. It makes you seem less serious and capable. My personal challenge is being succinct and not rambling when asked a question. That and not interrupting. Just finished listening to the… Read more »
Nikki
3 years 25 days ago
Love this, Ramit. I’ve been really aware of smiling over the last few years and when I do it I notice I have WAY more interactions and better connections. However I also freeze when I’m in larger social or networking situations. I instantly become worried that people will start asking me questions and I’ll sound like an idiot. I like your recommendation to ask more questions. I’m going to give that a shot – it may help my anxiety knowing I can shift focus a little bit when I get in group situations. Any tips on pumping yourself up a… Read more »
Evianne
Evianne
3 years 24 days ago
You know, this video really drove home the tactics vs. psychology thing to me. The three things you mentioned at the end – smiling, slowing down, asking questions – those are all tactics. I’ve got those down, and I can eke out a relatively pleasant conversation with just about anybody. But I still lack the comfort, confidence, and charm (and competence triggers!) that I would like to have, and that’s where psychology is more important. Conversations you can almost subscribe to a flow chart: you ask a few starter questions, then latch onto things they mention and expand. Sort of… Read more »
Pat
Pat
3 years 24 days ago

Ramit,

Like Kevin Rogers, I am also pretty jealous of your posture when speaking and listening. You seem relaxed and comfortable, yet professional. How have you worked on this? Most posture videos I have watched ask me to sit like a weird zen cat-person.

Sara
Sara
3 years 24 days ago

Ooh man, thanx alot. This vedio is eye opening. I needed this. Thanxxxx

Tara
Tara
3 years 24 days ago

Smile, talk slowly, ask more questions – great advice. I’m gonna take your challenge!

Liezel
Liezel
3 years 24 days ago
Hay Ramit! Thanx for all your awesome tips and for changing my life, one video at a time.. I always thought I’m pretty good at making small talk, I smile and ask questions..but never knew why I still sometimes have people loose interest in my conversations. I tried communicating with myself in the mirror and afterwards still thought I do a pretty great job. It was only after I recorded myself that I realized I do this really annoying thing where I say ‘uhm’ the whole time!! It was uhm so uhm annoying that uhm I couldn’t uhm whatch for… Read more »
Michelle Law
Michelle Law
3 years 24 days ago

Such good suggestions. I have been working on speaking slower (I am from the East Coast) and asking more questions for about 2 yrs now. I am a charismatic speaker and people often listen to me, but I realize I SUCK at asking people questions. This is a totally different mindset and I realize I have to concentrate and ultimately listen to the other person to be able to do this well.

Theo
Theo
3 years 24 days ago
To me, the problem is that I am an introvert who just can’t make small talk and banter all day, like most people in our office does. I can fake it for a little while, and I’ve become better at it after doing the exercises you suggested on your previous posts on social skills, but I just get exhausted after a while. If you’re interested in politics, science and like to have deep conversations, it’s hard to stay engaged when everybody else in the office spends the whole day talking about Netflix, kids and travel. I just shut down and… Read more »
Olga
Olga
3 years 24 days ago

My main social skill challenge is how to small talk with people you Have been presented to …..in general what to say to strangers when at a coference, at any kind of event……I just don’t know what to say while others talk like they’ve known forever……I just don,t know how they do it! I guess personality is a plus or a minus……any ideas on this Ramit?……..it would help a lot! It,s my eternal ‘mistery’……..thanks a lot and thanks for your vídeos and all the great information!
Olga

Jane
Jane
3 years 24 days ago
Hey Ramit, My biggest networking challenge is sorority rush. I go to a southern school where the competition is keen and we rush in the spring, which gives me some time to prepare. It’s a bit different than a job interview, since you have to talk to anywhere from 2-4 girls, for 5-10 minutes each, and do this several times a day in a loud voice, while maintaining your enthusiasm the entire time. I’m good at small talk, but how do I maintain a conversation with a new person every few minutes, each with her own personality, criteria, and quirks,… Read more »
Luna
Luna
3 years 24 days ago
Ramit, I would love some advice for people that have the opposite problem of the situation mentioned in your 3rd suggestion. I’ve always been a good listener and ask people a bunch of questions about themselves that I’m genuinely interested in. I’ve even literally had someone say, “Jeez, I just realized I’ve been talking about myself this whole time!” during a long conversation. But when it comes to talking about myself I feel a bit awkward. It’s not that I’m a dull person or anything, but I feel as if people aren’t really interested in me and that they just… Read more »
Carolyn
3 years 24 days ago
Ramit, I have a number of challenges, but I’ll pick one that REALLY bugs me. Let’s say I’m at seminar of small lecture setting, and after class folks have questions for the instructor. I just have a quick question. But someone has already engaged the guru. Their question has been answered, but they still continue to talk, socialize, and generally ignore the fact that I’m standing right there waiting to ask my own question. I always wait politely and get ignored. Maybe they think I just want to listen in? But actually I’m bursting to ask my question, and it… Read more »
Michelle
Michelle
3 years 23 days ago

Ramit: I heard a while back that most women smile too much at work, and it causes people to take them less seriously. But in your video you suggest smiling more. Can you please speak to this? I’ve been trying to smile less but maybe I shouldn’t?

Kenneth White
Kenneth White
3 years 23 days ago

Where can I get the sort of feedback you give your students in the hotseat? I would love for that sort of candid advice.

Peter Harry
3 years 23 days ago

Now every body can get a instant and quick finance through the super loans services 2013. You can enjoy the many finance topic like 12 & 3 month long and short term loans services.

ZAK
ZAK
3 years 23 days ago
Throughout my life, I have been very outgoing when I initially meet people and when I am around my friends. As I did the Dream Job course, I focused a lot on improving my social skills, especially being more consistent socially. I work with elementary age kids at a summer camp and practiced my social skills with them. Most kids have limited social skills, so I knew that if I could get good at maintaining a conversation with a kid I could carry a conversation with anyone (This also produced a side effect of realizing how big an impact it… Read more »
Miles Sanders
Miles Sanders
3 years 23 days ago
Ramit, Thanks for posting this. Your comment about recording yourself reminded me of an experience I had recently, where a friend asked me to make a recorded sort of presentation about new features he designed on a forum for a team we were both on, that many people had requested. When I went back to edit out bloopers and such, I realized I sounded incredibly boring! I planned to do something about that but got caught up in other things and ended up forgetting about it until now. As for the presentation I ended up just typing out the information… Read more »
Carol
3 years 23 days ago

Hey Ramit, I found this and thought you might find it interesting:

http://voices.yahoo.com/the-three-point-mba-12291297.html?cat=3

Michael A
Michael A
3 years 23 days ago

Great video – I totally agree (and struggle) with the point about slowing down.

My biggest problem is coming across as apologetic. I don’t feel as though I have confidence issues, but the way I tell stories and anecdotes sounds as though I don’t believe I’m interesting. How can I move towards just putting something out there, without feeling the need to hide behind qualifying statements?

Thanks.

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