On Being More Socially Skilled

March 14, 2021

We can use our social skills to build connections, influence decisions, and inspire change. However, during a recent class, social anxiety held me back. When the speaker asked for volunteers to ask questions or share their opinions, the room fell silent. No one raised their hand; no one dared to speak. Social skills are crucial for both my professional and personal growth, and their absence would be detrimental. Since I'm an expatriate who doesn't know many people here, I drove two hours to attend the event and expand my network. I did engage with locals seated next to me, learned from their life stories, and made new connections. But often, I found myself sitting in a corner, unseen and silent. Though hiding may feel comfortable and spare me any potential embarrassment, it also holds me back from engaging with others. To avoid awkward situations, I even left the class without making eye contact.

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To better handle such situations, I need to overcome my social anxiety. Even celebrities experience nervousness; I'm not alone. I need to stop doubting myself and envisioning worst-case scenarios. The truth is, I have the skills and capabilities to handle these social settings successfully. Preparing opening lines in advance and practicing social engagement can boost my confidence. My networking shouldn't be limited to MBA events and formal dinners. I need to let go of the quest for perfection and recognize that mistakes are a part of the learning process. I don't have to compare myself to seasoned public speakers who have spent years honing their craft. Arriving early to familiarize myself with the venue and engaging with the audience can also ease my anxiety. If I don't manage to establish a meaningful connection immediately, it's not the end of the world.

In essence, the best way to improve my social skills is through practice. Whether the feedback is positive or negative, interactions with strangers provide valuable learning experiences. Frequent social engagements can help me overcome shyness and eventually alleviate my anxiety about speaking to strangers. It's important to remember that I'm not the focal point in these settings; I'm merely a participant. My fear of social interactions won't subside if I let my ego dominate my thoughts. Taking a deep breath, relaxing, and conversing naturally can go a long way. I have valuable contributions to make, courtesy of my wide reading habits, which provide me with current information, news, and even jokes. Finally, I should aim for a balance of friendliness and enthusiasm, enough to initiate a conversation but not so much that it scares people away. Developing social skills is a journey that takes time and effort, but it's a crucial investment for my future.

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Victor Leung, who blog about business, technology and personal development. Happy to connect on LinkedIn