Open Mouth, Insert Foot – The Personal and Professional Risks of Poor Social Skills

Poor social skills can leave a lasting impression. Struggle as one might, it’s a lot easier to recall that sore thumb of the group whose skills when interacting with others made people squirm. There are those who have an uncanny knack for building a rapport with others, who make people feel at ease in their presence…and then there are those for whom a sudden case of laryngitis (or a sudden appearance of a black hole) are the only things that can salvage an already cringe-worthy conversation. I’m not talking about alcohol-inspired verbal diarrhea, or the unsuspecting stranger who asks when the “baby is due.” I’m referring to that friend or family member who always manages to say the wrong thing at the wrong time…the one you want to pretend you don’t know.

Queendom conducted a research study with over 9,000 people through our online Social Skills Test. Our statistics reveal that people with underdeveloped social skills are more likely to:

  • Get lower performance ratings at work
  • Be less popular among their social group
  • Be less satisfied with their relationships in general
  • Experience more conflict in their personal life. In fact, our stats show that they have an argument with someone at least once a week. Ouch.

Older age groups were more skilled than younger age groups at reading body language and resolving conflict, and were generally more at ease in social situations. Gender comparisons indicate that women outscored men on every social competency, particularly in terms of ability to read body language (score of 74 vs. 69, on a scale from 0 to 100), social insight (69 vs. 63), and relationship skills (76 vs. 70).

There are a lot of little things we do that disrupt the flow of conversation; little habits that would fall under “bad conversation etiquette,” and we don’t realize it. We interrupt (I know I do this, but I have my reasons…I’m  afraid I’ll forget what I want to say if I don’t say it right away. Bad etiquette, I know). We finish people’s sentences; if we don’t agree with what a person is saying we immediately let it show, rather than letting the person speak his/her mind. We also fail to practice empathy, an essential skill in relationships. The problem is, how can we possibly understand someone else’s feelings or POV if we don’t try to see things from their perspective?

Here are some other things our research on social skills revealed:

  • 26% of people with under-developed social skills tend to take over and dominate conversations (vs. 10% for those with good social skills).
  • 85% of people with under-developed social skills are uneasy in situations where they are expected to share their emotions (vs. 2% for those with good social skills).
  • 79% of people with under-developed social skills get distracted when they’re supposed to be listening to someone (vs. 0% for those with good social skills).
  • 80% of people with under-developed social skills snap at others when they are feeling stressed (vs. 1% for those with good social skills).
  • 84% of people with under-developed social skills feel ill-at-ease when interacting with people they’ve just met (vs. 1% for those with good social skills).
  • 70% of people with under-developed social skills are uncomfortable in conflict situations (vs. 2% for those with good social skills).
  • 50% of people with under-developed social skills think it’s ok to interrupt someone during a conversation (vs. 9% for those with good social skills).
  • 29% of people with under-developed social skills will steer clear of conversation topics that could be viewed as offensive to a member of the group (vs.82% for those with good social skills).
  • 60% of people with under-developed social skills will mostly talk about themselves during a conversation (vs. 3% for those with good social skills).
  • When asked to keep a secret, 38% of people with under-developed social skills said that they would. 39% said that they would spill the beans, but only to “one or two other people.” 93% of those with good social skills would keep their friend’s secret; 7% would share it with one or two other people.
  • 67% of people with under-developed social skills have difficulty controlling their emotions during an argument (vs. 1% for those with good social skills).
  • 65% of people with under-developed social skills feel uncomfortable apologizing when they have committed a transgression (vs. 2% for those with good social skills).

If you found yourself saying, “Ah…I do that” while reading the list of social faux pas above, here are some tips to polish your social skills:

  • Don’t forget to listen! Listening is the first step to effective communication but is often under-appreciated. This is by far the most important rule of communication – listen, listen, listen!
  • Show interest in what someone is saying. If you look bored, preoccupied or annoyed, you will shut down the flow of communication. Granted, some people will totally bore you, but do your best to find something interesting in what they are saying. Make eye contact, turn your body toward the speaker, and ask questions when appropriate.
  • Mirror the other person’s style. Within reason, try to use similar facial expressions, posture, and choice of words. This will put the other person at ease and will minimize the differences between you. For instance, if you are speaking with someone who seems to have a more limited vocabulary, avoid using words that not even an English major would be able to follow.
  • Use “I” phrases, especially during conflict. Instead of saying “You frustrate me when you show up late,” for example, send the message from YOUR point of view: “I feel frustrated when you’re late because we miss out on some quality time together. What do you think?” Essentially, say how you feel, why, and ask the other person a question that leaves the ball in his/her court. Avoid accusatory questions, however. That will only put your conversation partner on the defensive.
  • Think before you speak. Seems obvious, but sometimes we say things that in retrospect, we realize we shouldn’t have. This is particularly true with sensitive or “touchy” conversations. So before blurting something out, ask yourself “Is what I am about to say worth communicating? Will it be productive? What is the best way to put it?”
  • Don’t fall victim to “The Fundamental Attribution Error.” We are forever trying to figure out the causes of other people’s actions. All too often, we attribute unfortunate behavior on the part of others to dispositional rather than situational factors. For instance, writing others off as jerks for snapping at you rather than looking for external causes such as being sick or having been fired that day. As a result, we are less forgiving than many situations call for. Try to understand that others are under just as much pressure and stress as you are and as a result, their behavior may not always represent who they are as people.

So how would you rate your social skills? What is the biggest social faux pas you committed? Share your comments below!

Join me for next week’s discussion on driving gender wars!

Insightfully yours,

Queen D

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