Humans have a fundamental need to belong. And while interpersonal bonds form easily—studies show that people become friends simply because they live near one other—relationship maintenance is trickier. Making friendships, partnerships, and marriages last takes a special set of skills. At Wonder, we call them “people skills.”
“People skills” are typically referred to in psychology as “prosocial behaviors.” They include interaction, positivity, supportiveness, and self-disclosure.
Interaction is engaging in conversation and doing things together;
Positivity is keeping things positive and enjoyable;
Supportiveness has to do with caring and providing emotional support; and
Self-disclosure is meaningful communication and involves sharing private thoughts, dreams, and hopes for the future.
When friends, lovers, and coworkers practice the behaviors above, relationships are stable and mutually satisfying. But depending on our life circumstances, we may not always be able to practice these behaviors. Work commitments, geographical distance, trust issues, and our own psychological makeup can cause us to engage in them less frequently than is ideal for developing and maintaining our relationships. And that’s okay.
But if you’d like to strengthen your people skills, you can start by tackling the strategies below:
Observe. In a study on popularity mentioned in Coursera’s Psychology of Popularity, kids who didn’t know each other were put in the same room. The ones who eventually turned out to be least popular were the ones who initiated the most contact in the beginning. The ones who turned out to be the most popular were the ones who were initially quiet. These quiet observers, the study showed, were busy “reading the room” and analyzing social dynamics, which made them better equipped to interact with the others later on.
Be curious. Talk less, listen more. Ask open-ended questions that get them talking about what matters to them. You’re bound to learn something new. For really good tips on how to have better conversations, watch this TED Talk.
Learn to read body language. People’s eyes, posture, and position can tell you a lot about them, including whether or not they’re interested in what you have to say. Learning to pick up on these cues helps you better understand them, improves your communication, and makes you more conscious of what signals you’re sending out. Sign up for this Highbrow course to learn more about body language.
Show who you really are. In her book Carry On, Warrior, author Glennon Doyle describes the point when she realized that life gets “real, good, and interesting when we remove all of the layers of protection we’ve built around our hearts.” Self-disclosure—the sharing of your hopes, fears, and insecurities—tends to increase closeness and trust. When you reveal yourself to other people, you make it safe for others to reveal themselves, too. But self-disclosure isn’t the same as oversharing, since it implies reciprocity.
We’ve covered the five skills that make up emotional intelligence. In our next episode, we’ll talk about the importance of cultivating a growth mindset. See you then!
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