Improve Your Social Skills With Highlights From 5 Great TED Talks


TED talks have covered so many important topics, but arguably the most important? Social skills. (See also: 18 Things People With Good Social Skills Never Do)

We are social animals… as long as we're not too busy watching brilliant TED talks to act on what we've learned. So we've put together crib notes containing the main takeaways from 6 exceptional TED talks about social skills.

Speak So People Will Want to Listen

Ever feel as though no one is listening when you speak? Julian Treasure knows why. Treasure warns against the "7 deadly sins of speaking" — gossip, judging, negativity, complaining, excuses, exaggeration, and dogmatism. People who use language conveying those traits are less likely to be taken seriously.

The cornerstones of language that commands understanding and respect are Treasure's useful acronym HAIL: Honesty, Authenticity, Integrity, and Love. When you are clear and show care for others, they will listen.

We also tend to think about how we say what we say. Our mouths are instruments that attract attention when used well. Remember to warm up your voice and perfect the following:

  1. Register (high voice, low voice)
  2. Timbre (smooth and warm voices are more pleasant)
  3. Prosody (avoiding monotone)
  4. Volume (not too quiet or loud)

Shape Your Identity With Body Language

Scientist Amy Cuddy suggests you do an audit of your body. Are you hunching, wrapping your ankles, or holding your arms? Or are you spread out, with your legs open, or head tilted up? The former are "low power" and the latter are "high power" non-verbal poses and are universal across almost all mammals. Those who are blind use the same poses even though they have never seen anyone else do them.

Not surprisingly, human power dynamics are very much influenced by body language. It usually isn't fair. For example, women are much more likely than men to use smaller body movements such as meek shoulders, folded arms, crossed legs. People who do not feel empowered create a self-fulfilling prophecy of social disenfranchisement by using this body language.

The key is chemistry. Testosterone and cortisol are big components in how we react with confidence or fold up in fear. Those who were told to hold a high power pose for two minutes experienced a 20% increase in testosterone, and those who held low power poses saw a 10% decrease in testosterone. Similarly with cortisol where high power poses created a 25% decrease in cortisol, while low power poses created a 15% increase in cortisol.

Cuddy's tip? Find two minutes a day to do high power poses by yourself before going to work or doing anything high stress, because those who do this are much more likely to do well.

Transform Introversion Into Social Capital

Lawyer and writer Susan Cain points out a fundamental truth: The world celebrates boisterous extroverts. However, quiet introverts make helpful contributions to the world that are subtler, but just as important. Most social systems are built for extroversion, especially schools and the workplace — even though introverts are more knowledgeable and get better grades in class, and take less outsized risks and are welcome to new opinions in the office.

Solitude matters and can help us transcend our surroundings to arrive at important epiphanies and revelations. Conversely, people in groups tend to mimic each other's opinions and ideas. Cain recommends contemplating your own ideas alone, then coming to the group with your ideas for more meaning collaboration.

Cain suggests these three rules for making the world better for introverts:

  1. Stop the madness for constant group work. Some people need more privacy and autonomy at work and school for deep thought.
  2. Go to the wilderness. Be like the Buddha by taking time to unplug and be alone.
  3. Take a look at what's inside your suitcase. Open up to the world and show people the content of your character and your personality when you can.

Focus on Friendship First, Then Ideas

Have you ever argued with someone and found it pointless? Television pundit Sally Kohn has heard a lot of remarks about her and her politics, and it led her to a critical realization: We don't spend enough time finding common ground before debating ideas with others.

Instead of obsessing over what is "politically correct," Kohn urges us to find our own emotional core in others, what she calls being "emotionally correct." Basic human compassion is crucial. Kohn uses Sean Hannity as an example. She's a liberal, and he's a staunch conservative, yet Hannity doesn't let what he feels about her beliefs stop him from treating her as a friend. Try emotional correctness by helping someone who doesn't share your beliefs.

Leave Social Media Behind

It's hard to discuss social skills without mentioning social media. People of all ages now use their computers and phones as proxies for face-to-face communication. Psychologist Sherry Turkle talks about the "goldilocks effect" — our desire to keep people at just the right distance for comfort and avoid the messiness that is in-person human communication.

The problem with this is that we need face-to-face socializing in order to be able to function in the real world, especially children. Even parents can't resist the desire to edit, delete, control, and customize their existence, and it's teaching our children bad social habits.

Technology appeals to us most where we are the most vulnerable: we are lonely but afraid of intimacy. As a result, we expect more from our devices and less from each other. We should reflect on what online life might be taking away from our experienced life so we can make a more self-aware relationship between ourselves and technology.

Sherry Turkle has five suggestions to get back in touch with ourselves and our loved ones:

  1. Make daily attempts to reinforce solitude.
  2. Demonstrate the value of unplugged communication to your kids.
  3. Create designated "sacred" places in your home free of devices.
  4. At work, walk away from computer and talk to coworkers in person.
  5. Really listen to people when having a conversation, even the boring bits.

Do you have any favorite TED talks on social skills and group behavior? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture

As an introvert, small talk and social gatherings are not exactly my cup of tea. These TED Talks give me just enough inspiration and direction to help me be even just a little more comfortable with socializing (and not the kind done over the internet either!) :)

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