How an a grown-up learn social skills?
February 6, 2009 6:05 PM   Subscribe

Are there any decent guides to improving your social skills? Most of what I've found on the topic deals with children, formal etiquette, or the standard self-help cant. Is there anything for people interested in the nuts and bolts of building relationships, giving off a good impression, and making people think you are a good guy. I get the idea that most people with bad social skills tend not to care or notice and this hurts the market for such material. I have a pretty good eye for books and I have found precious little on this topic. I assume we are supposed to learn these things in childhood or be screwed for life.

There is a quack movement called NLP that obsesses on rapport-building, but provides little of use. The standard therapeutic gurus seem more interested in pumping up emotional states than anything else. And the people who deal in practical advice focus on gatherings like mixers and dinner parties that I rarely attend.

Is there anything else? Surely there are all sorts of socially awkward people looking for tips.
posted by Yakuman to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
This may sound snarky, but it's not meant to be.

...making people think you are a good guy...

In life, I have learned that convincing people you are something you are not requires a great deal of talent, skill and practice, and convincing people you are something you are simply requires you to say hello, learn their name, and then go about your business.
posted by davejay at 6:20 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have to agree with kmennie on this. How to Win Friends and Influence People is pretty much the gold standard for this. And I say that not just because I'm from the same small town as Carnegie. It was written before all the hokey self-help cliches even existed.
posted by piedmont at 6:31 PM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

You might want to search some of the newer books written for people with Asperger's, a condition that is essentially defined by poor social skills. I haven't read them myself but I know that there are some recommended by people with the condition and if it can help in Asperger's, it's bound to help people who have less severe versions of social cluelessness.

Also, I think it's rude to assume that the OP is not a "good guy" because he says he has trouble convincing people that he is. Lots of people with poor social skills are not creepy but appear that way because they don't know how to follow social rules. This does not mean they have no moral worth or may not be doing many good deeds.
posted by Maias at 6:42 PM on February 6, 2009

A little off the beaten path, but I've found that my studies in Sociolinguistics have taught me a lot about social interaction in general. Specifically, anything to do with Pragmatics, Speech Act Theory, Grice's Maxims, Audience Design, Brown and Levinson's Politeness Theory, and Discourse or Conversation Analysis.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:42 PM on February 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

Hah, failing to preview, grumblebee found one!
posted by Maias at 6:42 PM on February 6, 2009

Although it's a little less focused on your individual social skills, Never Eat Alone is a good book about the nuts and bolts of maintaining a network.

The author focuses on how to leverage personal friendships for business gain. But one point he makes is that building a network is building relationships, and the strongest relationships work when you actually care about the other people.
posted by redarmycomrade at 7:10 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The socially awkward people I know (including myself) tend to be that way from having less social interaction than other people, either during childhood or in the present. Just going out and talking to random people really will help. Just start by asking the time, the weather, etc...
posted by jellywerker at 7:38 PM on February 6, 2009

You may find this useful: How to do Better Socially.
posted by Naberius at 8:24 PM on February 6, 2009

Attracting Terrific People by Lillian Glass was helpful for me because she was very specific in what to say when meeting someone new and what to to do with your body and how to make eye contact. It seems to come so natural for most people but for some of us, it's not!
posted by i_love_squirrels at 9:58 PM on February 6, 2009

It's also very important I think to distinguish between the style of much self-help and the substance. It's not all cant. Even NLP has a handful of good insights on which has been built an absurd structure of nonsense jargon. More broadly, there is gold on the self-help shelves if you're willing to grab a stack of books, preferably buy a coffee in Barnes and Noble so you don't actually have to pay for them all, take a notepad and pen, and fillet out the wisdom amid the crap.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:53 AM on February 7, 2009

From a completely different angle: How to Be a Gentleman. Obviously not for everyone, but filled with the kinds of things a grown man should know about getting by in social situations.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:14 AM on February 7, 2009

Be equally, or just slightly more, interested in your conversational partners as you are in proving yourself a good guy. If you do nothing but try to convince people you are awesome, they will rightly see you as an ass. If you do nothing but focus on the other person, they will tire of you. They might like you, but they won't respect you. That's why I say equal.
posted by gjc at 6:53 AM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Be friendly, and push yourself more towards extroversion to get more experience in dealing with people.

Temper that with one rule; you have to listen at least as much as you speak.

If friends - or anyone - gives you feedback, keep track of it, good advice or bad. If enough folks give you the same advice, fix the problem.

And as someone already said, How to Win Friends and Influence People is probably the book you want. It was published before self help books sucked, and whereas some of it's dated, it's a quick, fun read.
posted by talldean at 4:52 PM on February 10, 2009

There's a work book for people with Borderline Personality Disorder that is very useful for everyday stuff. It's split up into four modules. This is called "Dialectical Behavior Therapy," and Marsha Linehan wrote the book we use in my group.

Interpersonal Skills
Emotion Regulation
Distress Tolerance

I don't have BPD, but it really helps me ask for things I need/want, say no to unreasonable requests, or things I don't really have time/energy for. It helps me think about how much of an interaction is me reading things in, and how much is the real concrete actions of my conversation partner.

I recommend the book, with the caveat that a lot of the text in the front is geared toward working with people who are, well, BPD. But the worksheets are great for every day folks. They give us a copy of each sheet at our weekly meetings, but I picked up my own copy of the book at Barnes and Noble.
posted by bilabial at 11:07 AM on February 11, 2009

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