3 essential social skills for adults

We never stop learning. Here are some social skills you can put to the test.

Kate Cross04th March 2021

Know any adults who struggle socially? While we start to learn the art of interaction from birth, learning continues well into adulthood and for some, the subtleties or even fundamentals of social skills are never perfected.

According to Psychology and High Performance Consultant Dr Joann Lukins*, isolation, stress, poor physical or mental health, inadequate caregiver role models and some diagnoses, such as autism spectrum disorder, can hinder social skill development.

But she adds humans are “mentally pliable”, which means “we can continue to grow and learn about [social skills] through the lifespan”.

The social path

“Social skills provide the basic building blocks for how successfully we interact with the world and the people in it,” says Dr Lukins, who explains that “our caregivers in early childhood can play a primary role in teaching us social skills, particularly around language, self-regulation and communication”.

School and then the workforce provide additional opportunities to learn, as do romantic relationships and parenthood, says Dr Lukins, adding “there is some argument that social skills may in part have a hereditary component”.

What Dr Lukins wants us to know is that “many of the skills we need aren't inherently known and so somewhere along the way in our lives we need to learn them”.

Here, she outlines her top three essential social skills all adults should ideally possess, and ways to put them into practice. According to Dr Lukins, the following are “within the broad area of emotional intelligence”:

  1. You can read others’ emotions

    Understanding others’ emotions – or empathy – is a handy skill that can help inform our interactions.

    “Pay attention to the people you spend time with,” advises Dr Lukins, who adds, if appropriate, “ask questions about how someone is feeling”.

    Writing for Lifehack, psychotherapist and psychology instructor Amy Morin said: “Most people really enjoy talking about themselves.” She recommended asking questions about the person’s family, hobbies or career, as well as using open-ended questions to “keep the conversation going”.

    Adds Dr Lukins: “Learning to empathize with someone means you are trying to accept and understand how they are feeling, even if this is a feeling or situation that is unfamiliar to you.”

  2. You understand how emotions develop

    This requires more paying attention, according to Dr Lukins. “Notice how someone’s emotions develop through the course of a day,” she says.

    “What might start as mild irritation in the morning may become anger or frustration by the afternoon.”

  3. You can regulate your own emotions

    Perfect this skill and you won’t be a slave to your emotions.

    “Pay attention to what you are feeling,” says Dr Lukins, who explains that it might help to label your emotions.

    Notice any physical signs and self-talk, practice some deep breathing and “regain your feeling of control in the situation by knowing that a feeling is the signal that tells us to pay attention to something”, she says.

    “Remind yourself that there are no good or bad feelings ... What there are, however, are helpful and unhelpful reactions to those feelings.”

* Interview with Dr Joann Lukins, Psychology and High Performance Consultant, 24 February 2020


This article was provided by LiveWell by Zurich.

LiveWell was first established by Zurich in 2021 and aims to inspire its users to take control of their own health. Its innovative digital engagement platform is built around a holistic approach, factoring in the four key pillars of physical, mental, social and financial health. Since its inception, LiveWell has launched its services in numerous markets. For more information, please visit LiveWell by Zurich.

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