Social Skills: Definition, Examples and Why They're Important

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 11 February 2021 | Published 26 August 2020

Updated 11 February 2021

Published 26 August 2020

Social skills are an important component in both a personal and a professional capacity. Having strong social skills can help you excel in your career, perform well when interviewing, help you achieve career goals and expand your professional network. There are many specific skills that fall in the social skills category. In this article, we explore what social skills are, why they're important and examples of some of the most important interpersonal skills you should possess as a professional.

What are social skills?

Social skills are skills that promote effective communication with others. There are various social skills as well as several different ways in which we communicate on a daily basis. Social skills include written, verbal, nonverbal and visual communication used to relay a message to others. Common ways in which you exercise your social skills are:

  • The language you use

  • The tone, pitch and volume of your voice

  • Physical gestures you make

  • Your facial expressions

  • Your body language

  • Eye contact with others when communicating

Working as a team with other employees, keeping your emotions in check in stressful situations and communicating with clients and team members are some of the situations where social skills need to be applied when working in a professional environment.

Why are social skills important for professionals?

Social skills, also referred to as soft skills or interpersonal skills, are important because they enable you to foster and maintain meaningful relationships with employers, colleagues and network contacts. No matter which industry you work in or the experience level you have, social skills are beneficial to and can elevate your professional career.

A few of the many ways that good social skills can benefit your career include that they:

  • Allow you to effectively work as a team on projects

  • Let you share your own perspective in an effective manner

  • Help you expand your professional network and stay updated on new opportunities

  • Make the workplace more enjoyable

  • Let you gain valuable feedback and referrals from those who can attest to your abilities

  • Enable you to successfully communicate with employers, coworkers and clients

A good example of why social skills are important can be seen in the interview process for a new job. During the hiring process, recruiters and human resource personnel concentrate on understanding you as a person based on how you conduct yourself in the interview. They read your cover letter and resume to understand your ambition and achievements. To understand your personality, they study your body language, listen to how you talk about yourself, the language you use and whether you maintain eye contact.

Examples of important social skills in the workplace

The following are a few of the many important social skills you should possess as a professional:

  • Observation

  • Active listening

  • Conflict resolution

  • Empathy

  • Written and verbal communication

  • Mirroring

  • Cooperation

  • Relationship management

Observation

The ability to observe serves you well in a professional setting. Though it comes naturally to some and is closely associated with people who are slightly introverted, anyone can develop this trait by trying to pay attention to what is going on in the lives of people around them, in both educational and professional environments.

Detaching yourself from your surroundings while observing how others behave in given situations can help you understand complex concepts such as group dynamics, group mentality, relationships between others, non-verbal communication and a general understanding of colleagues and their personalities.

Active listening

Active listening is the ability to pay attention to a person when they are communicating with you without interrupting or losing focus. Active listeners are able to pay close attention to others when they speak, as well as show respect for what the other person is saying. You can improve your active listening skills by avoiding distractions while communicating, focusing only on the speaker and demonstrating that you understand what the other person is saying through your body language and by expressing your concern or appreciation.

Conflict resolution

Conflict resolution is your ability to see a problem for what it is and devise a workable solution to solve it. For example, if there is a misunderstanding between two coworkers and they come to you for help, you should focus on the root cause of the issue and then work to solve this problem rather than get involved in the arguing. People with good conflict resolution skills often excel in positions in human resources or in customer service roles.

Empathy

Closely connected to observation skills is the ability to empathise with people and situations. Empathy is the ability to identify and understand how another person is feeling in any given situation. Phrases associated with expressing empathy include: ‘I understand what you are going through', ‘I am sorry to hear that you feel this way' or ‘I am sorry that this happened to you'. Expressing empathy requires a conscious effort and careful consideration of others' feelings. Good empathy skills can result in better relationships in the workplace.

Written and verbal communication

Verbal and written communication are two important components of effective social skills. When you write or verbally communicate, you are expressing yourself to another person. It's important to use clear language, as well as proper spelling and grammar, when communicating to ensure an effective portrayal of what you want to say.

Mirroring

Mirroring is a very useful skill for those whose jobs involve having to deal with people on a regular basis, such as in sales, healthcare and client relations. Mirroring is the act of copying the body language and emotions of the person you are talking to in order to make them feel comfortable and understood. It can also help build rapport and foster an agreement with the other person. Mirroring is especially useful in sales positions, as it can help both parties reach common ground and a mutual agreement.

Cooperation

Cooperation is another essential social skill in the workplace. It is the ability to work well with others towards a common goal. This social skill is especially important for those who work as part of a team on projects in the workplace.

Relationship management

Relationship management is your ability to foster, grow and maintain relationships. This social skill is especially important in customer service and other positions that require you to work directly with clients. Additionally, executives often need good relationship management skills to create bonds with investors, stakeholders and supervisors.

Tips for improving social skills in the workplace

There are several steps you can take to improve your social skills at work. These include:

  • Ask for feedback. As friends and colleagues what areas you need to improve upon in relation to social skills. Using this feedback, you can set goals to work towards improving these skills.

  • Pick up a personal development book. Read personal development books that focus on improving social skills. There are countless free resources online such as e-books and guides that can provide you with concrete steps to take to build your interpersonal skills.

  • Choose one social skill to focus on improving. Rather than try to improve several social skills at once, pick one to work on and only move on when you're confident in your ability to effectively use that social skill.

How to demonstrate social skills in interviews

Demonstrating your social skills in an interview can improve the impression you make on potential employers. Here are a few ways to highlight your interpersonal skills in an interview:

  • Listen attentively when the employer speaks and reply with well-thought-out answers.

  • Maintain good eye contact throughout the interview.

  • Be aware of your body language and gestures and ensure they are expressing a positive message.

  • Use the STAR technique (situation, task, action, result) when describing your work experience and how you have overcome obstacles in the workplace.

  • Consider your strengths when working with other people and highlight those in the interview.

How to highlight social skills on your CV

You can highlight social skills on several areas of your CV, including in the skills section and throughout your work history descriptions. When highlighting your social skills in the skills section of your CV, list specific interpersonal skills that are directly related to the job you are applying for. For example, if you're applying for a customer service position, mention your ability to maintain relationships with clients and solve client problems through effective conflict resolution.

You can also highlight your social skills throughout your work history descriptions. Use specific examples of times your social skills allowed you to excel in the workplace.