Knowing the social skills that you lack and working on them can be the turning point in having conversations and developing bonds of friendship.
Paul Sanders is an author, coach, and founder of GetTheFriendsYouWant.com. He has been writing and coaching on loneliness, shyness, social skills, conversation, friendship, and social life since 2011. He helped thousands of people improve their social lives
We recorded this episode on May 9, 2021.
[When you engage in small talk], subject to subject to subject, you’re covering a lot of ground to discover the common ground. – Paul SandersTweet
Timeline of the Chat
0:52 – The Importance of Social Skills
4:27 – Multiplying Social Skills
5:40 – Making New Friends
9:03 – Getting Outside Your Comfort Circle – Introverts and Extroverts
14:51 – Small Tweaks for Starting Friendships
19:16 – The Importance of Smalltalk
21:43 – Communication Barriers to Building Friendships
26:53 – Invitation/Challenge
30:21 – Definition of Friendship
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[Friendship is] one of the highest levels of expressions of freedom, because there is nothing forcing you to meet and yet you still do it. – Paul SandersTweet
There are so many amazing people to meet and probably one of them is you who is listening and we don’t want to miss out on you. – Paul SandersTweet
Transcript of the Episode
[00:51] The Importance of Social Skills
[00:51] Damianne President: I want to start with social skills. Why are social skills are so important for making friendships and what are the important social skills in friendship?
[01:00] Paul Sanders: I think I want to tell you, the people who are listening right now, the most important social skills for them are the social skills they lack the most. The reason I’m saying this is that the way social skills work is that they are multipliers for each. So if you have a few social skills and you add a new one, it’s not plus the new social skill. It’s multiple of the new social skill. So for example, if someone is a really good listener and they have great empathy, if they add to it, the new social skill, which is, let’s, say being being able to express themselves very clear. Now this new situation, they don’t have the first one. Plus the new one. They have the first one multiplied by the new one.
[01:48] Damianne President: Let’s take a step back. So if somebody is listening right now and we’ve set the stage that, okay, social skills are important in friendship, what social skills are we talking about? Which are the important ones in friendship?
[02:03] Paul Sanders: Okay. So the list is really, really long, but if you want to focus, we can focus this question maybe on starting friendships. Do you want to start from scratch or you move to a new city or have gone through divorce or a relationship breakup and you want to start from scratch and start a new social life from scratch.
[02:23] Damianne President: I actually would like to reframe that if possible, to being if you have some acquaintances, there are some people that you know, but you want to create a deeper friendships as opposed to those more casual friendships.
[02:37] Paul Sanders: That’s a very different process. If you want to deepen the friendships, the social skills that you are going to need are very different. I would say empathy, understanding others, conflict management, and interest management or at least goal – plan detection in others, which means you’ve got to understand what they’re trying to do.
I don’t know if you heard of this, but many people will tell you I don’t know why people behave the way they behave socially. I don’t understand what’s going on. So the social skill that is lacking there is goal – plan detection, which means you have to understand the goals of others and what’s the plan they have in achieving those goals. Let me give you a very concrete example.
Let’s say you’re in a friendship, a friend group of let’s say six people, and you got a person that’s behaving a little bit weirdly and you don’t know why. Maybe the reason they are behaving that way is that maybe, just maybe, they’re trying to transition a friendship with someone in the group from friendship to a romantic relationship. If you can’t detect that, then they’re not going to make sense to you. And you’re going to break rapport with them because you’re not going to understand them. You’re going to think you don’t connect anymore, but it’s not true. You’re just not detecting what’s going on. So I would say that’s a social skill. There are many others.
The list can be huge, especially for going through the lifetime of friendship. Because as soon as you spend, let’s say, months or years with someone meeting them regularly or periodically, you would be in so many different situations that you’re going to use every social skill under the sun. And there are many.
[04:26] Multiplying Social Skills
[04:26] Damianne President: If somebody is listening and they think, oh, I’m really good at understanding, but I’m not so good at empathy, then your suggestion is that by building this additional social skill, this is a force multiplier for them in terms of having stronger relationships,
[04:43] Paul Sanders: Absolutely. And I can give you an example. I know people who are so great at social skills, extroverts and great at social skills. And they were really amazing storytellers, but they don’t know when to stop. They don’t connect with others as much as they could because they don’t listen enough.
They don’t have that empathy where, okay, I have so many great things to say and I can make the whole experience very fun. And I have so many stories, but hey, do you detect when others want to talk. Even if they’re quiet and they don’t ask for attention, can you detect when they want to talk? Because for them that’s a big deal, right? Especially introverts. If you see an introvert who is not talking a lot, maybe because they don’t want to talk a lot, but when they do, that’s very important and you want to listen to that.
[05:32] Damianne President: In your work with people, are there particular social skills that you see is most often lacking?
[05:40] Making New Friends
[05:40] Paul Sanders: People come to me with all kinds of challenges, but something that is common that I find is the social skills that are relevant to this friendship starting process, like starting new friendships and finding new friends.
[05:54] Damianne President: And what’s one of those, for example.
[05:56] Paul Sanders: What is a great friendship skill to have in terms of starting friendships is knowing where to go to find new people. Sounds simple, but makes a big difference. It’s the difference between wasting months of your life to try and look for friends in the wrong places or doing the opposite which is finding the right places.
Finding the right places I would say is go to places where people expect to meet new people. You don’t go to a place that is too public, like a restaurant or a bar or a coffee shop. Friendship can happen there, but it’s an exception, not the rule.
The places where people expect to meet new people are semi public. It’s a public place probably, but it’s about something. Like, let’s say, alright, you can go to a museum and you can meet people there, but if the museum has an event about some type of arts work or artists specifically, and it’s a discussion and there is a cocktail hour and we’re all going to talk specifically about something in particular, that something becomes an alibi, a reason why you are here.
Even though we expect to meet new people, we have an alibi. It’s not like romance. You don’t just ask someone for a date. This is friendship. It needs to have something that’s brought you together, an environment. As soon as you step there, you have something in common with everybody else, which is your interest in that thing. So that’s where you want to be. And that’s why I recommend meetup events. You can find all kinds of events that are about something you’re interested in. It doesn’t have to be your number one passion in the world. It just needs to have some relevance to your life.
You’re even thinking about doing it. Like I’m thinking maybe I’ll do yoga sometime. I don’t know. Not sure. You can go to a yoga event and actually meet new people. So there is a subject, a theme, an interest. It’s can also be a person. A person can be a great theme. Like if you’re moving somewhere else, somewhere new, you can reach out to someone and say, hey, I’m just looking to meet new people if you want to do coffee, whatever, and they’re going to naturally invite other people, or you can actually tell them. And the fact that you have a friend in common, It says a lot about both of you.
[08:15] Damianne President: So here man reaching out to people that you already know and let them know that you want to grow your friend circle?
[08:23] Paul Sanders: Yes, but I wouldn’t say that’s like a number one advice because that’s not an option for everybody. Many people want to start from scratch completely. I said that for people who are moving to a new place, which is different. So when I say the thing that brings you together, it can be a person, think birthdays, think a dinner party, think a barbecue party, whatever, you know, something that brings you together and they’re going to invite you and their other friends. The person can be a friend, can be a cousin, they can be a colleague, whatever. So something needs to bring you together. Those are the places where you meet new friends and they are the easiest places at the same time.
[09:03] Getting Outside Your Comfort Circle – Introverts and Extroverts
[09:03] Damianne President: So another element of that, I think smaller events, they tend to be a little bit more accessible to introverts. I will give an example. I have joined this group Internations in many different countries. It’s a bit like meetups, but there are many groups within the Internations community in a country.
And it’s a group for both locals and ex-pats or visitors within an area. And they tend to do monthly events that are big events, where everybody’s invited as well as having smaller events, like dinners or hikes and that kind of thing. And I have friends that I’ve met on Internations, casual friends that go to every large event, whereas I have been to two large events and have no intention of going to another one.
So when we think about what appeals or when we think about where to meet people, then thinking about what works for you, your own nature, your own interests is a very important part of that equation. And so, as we appeal, or as we think about extroverts versus introverts, what have you noticed in terms of the types of situations or the types of environments that could help each of them be more successful?
[10:26] Paul Sanders: Can I first comments on your experience with Internations and your introversion, cetera.
First of all, I like Internations. I know the website. I’ve been to so many events I’ve been a consul.
[10:40] Damianne President: This is not sponsored by International.
[10:42] Paul Sanders: Not sponsored at all, but I like them. I like they bring so many different people and you can learn a lot. And it’s really great. Sometimes it can work, sometimes not, but you got to try.
So big events, small events. Introverts in a big event might think, okay, maybe this is not for me. And I would say that you’re just missing out. Not necessarily you, but I’m just saying maybe because social skills don’t really depend on your introversion or extroversion.
If you go back to what I said at the starts it’s goal plan detection, but there is also goal plan effectiveness, how effective you are in reaching your social goals. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re an introvert or extrovert.
Okay. Starting conversations, you can do it no matter who you are and no matter what your personality is. Then, if you really want to learn how to be social in big events, you can do it. I’m not saying you have to, but I’m saying your introversion has nothing to do with your ability to be with Torah??
[11:43] Damianne President: I would say that it’s less about ability and more about interest or desire, or even how appealing a different environment is.
[11:54] Paul Sanders: Yes, but the reason I insist on this is that I want to give listeners or anybody who interacts with me as much freedom as possible. And sometimes those big events attract more people and sometimes the people who are going to show up there, they’re not going to come to the smaller events.
[12:09] Damianne President: So you’re saying that by limiting the environment, then you could be missing out on opportunities for friendship.
[12:18] Paul Sanders: Exactly. If you’re able to do it, then we’re all good; I have nothing to say. But if you’re not just because you think you’re an introvert and things are not working, I think you’re missing out
[12:28] Damianne President: Do something different.
[12:29] Paul Sanders: Yeah, managing your introvert in a big event can be done. One of the things I tell people all the time is being introverted is akin to being highly sensitive. So if you’re facing the crowd, too many stimulants, too many things to pay attention to, and your mind gets overwhelmed very quickly and you shut off, one of the ways to combat this is don’t face the crowd. Don’t face a a highly active environment. You can face the bar, even if you’re close to it so you can only see a few people, say five people. That looks like a small event. Even if you are with a hundred people behind you, you don’t care; you’re only concentrating on things you can pay attention to. So you can do that.
You can also just pay attention to others because every big event, that’s so many people who are nervous. And they would love for someone to come and talk to them, even quietly. You don’t have to be at the center of the room where the music is loudest. You can be on the sides and go have that amazing conversation. If you can do it, then I have no comments. But if you just can’t do it because you think that’s not you, then we can improve on that.
[13:44] Damianne President: Yeah, I like that. So for example, I was just at a wedding where there were hundreds of people and I found my people for the evening, you know, that small group of people that were happy to sit and chat together, but also get up and dance together and have a fun time.
So I’m happy. that you challenged me here, because I don’t know that that means that I will go to any or every Internations big event. But I think that it’s a very important point that if what you’re doing is not working for you because you took constraint in your environments, then look at how broadening the opportunities where you show up could be helpful. That could mean maybe consider how you could experience a bigger event as if it’s a small event and start making those smaller steps, little by little, to being able to be in different environments.
[14:38] Paul Sanders: Exactly and social skills are about freedom, really, maximizing the place you can be and the goals you can achieve socially, just because you have the tools. And then do whatever you want, because that’s my goal.
[14:51] Small Tweaks for Starting Friendships
[14:51] Damianne President: In terms of other small tips or tweaks that you find t o be helpful to people in whatever environment they find themselves, do you have any other suggestions like the ones you’ve just given?
[15:04] Paul Sanders: So let’s go back to starting friendships, the process of starting friendships. Let’s say you listen to my advice and you went to the right places. What you’re going to discover is you got to start conversations. This social skill, a lot of people talk about it and they make a big deal out of starting conversations, many times because they’re concentrating on starting conversations with strangers who do not necessarily want to talk to you.
Once you go to the right place, you’re going to discover that it’s the easiest thing to do in the world. I mean, you could have some leftover anxiety and shyness, which is completely okay. But one of the ways you can ask yourself is this a right event for me is that you imagine yourself there and you would ask, is it appropriate to just walk up to someone and introduce myself. Hi, my name is so-and-so. If it’s appropriate in that place, then that’s a great place to meet people.
Starting conversations goes like that. Hi, my name is so-and-so, blah, blah, blah. Nice to meet you. And then what do you talk about once you say hi. I’m not going to give you a technique, but a principle that’s works pretty much every time in pretty much every situation, which is talking about what’s brought you together; the thing you have in common as soon as you walk in the room is what’s brought you together so you talk about that.
It’s Damianne’s birthday. Great. How do you know Damianne? If it’s your birthday, then that’s, what’s brought us together. We talk about you. How long have you known her? What is your relationship with her? Oh, I know she worked in that company five years ago. Oh, I remember. You talk about what’s brought you together.
So it could be in a museum and they haven’t had any events about a crazy artist. So how did you discover this great artist and how long have you known about them? And did you see the latest news about him? It’s so general, but it’s about something we already know that we have together as a common interest and it starts to break the ice. And as we talk about both our relationship to what’s brought us together, we automatically start to reveal things about ourselves, like, oh, I I’ve known her when used to work in that place. Oh, I can remember… are you still working there?
And now we’re automatically revealing things about each ourselves and we’re getting to know each other in a very superficial level, but it’s very important. And we start to do small talk. Oh yeah, that company is actually great or oh, they’re not very good; I think the new company that’s a competitor is better now. Now, we’re talking about something completely different. And it’s just smalltalk going from subject to subject to subject without getting into the weeds and getting too deep in any of those subjects. That’s another social skill now. Now, we’re not starting a conversation. It’s about keeping it going, making it interesting, holding other people’s attention, making it engaging. So do you see the transition?
[18:09] Damianne President: And so I’m thinking that you need to get from smalltalk to meaningful, like often small talk is not meaningful. So would this happened in that first initial conversation?
[18:20] Paul Sanders: That’s a great question, but you know what, having a meaningful conversation the first time you meet someone is only a preview on what you can have later. It’s like a preview into how meaningful things can be later down the road. And that’s what catches people’s attention. And they’re like, oh, there is absolutely a potential for friendship. We’re not just talking. It’s an emotional transition.
[18:45] Damianne President: Let’s stick with small talk is very important. I often hear a lot of people, and I’ve been guilty of this myself, say I don’t enjoy small talk. I don’t like small talk, small talk is a waste of time. So how do you respond to those comments?
[19:00] Paul Sanders: I’ve seen this on the internet? I’ve seen it as a trend because I pay attention to some trends. The reason I insist on this is often I tell people if something pisses you off in social life or something you don’t have as a skill, ask yourself why?
[19:15] The Importance of Smalltalk
[19:15] Paul Sanders: Why is smalltalk so important? Okay. Let’s say you meet someone new. Friendship gets built around having things in common. It can be interests, can be shared experiences, opinions, beliefs, values, principals, shared goals, shared just outlooks on life, shared philosophies; those are things friendship gets built upon.
If you don’t do small talk, you will never discover those things with people. You will never do it. And that’s just for starting a friendship. And that’s why I say small talk is very important because you’re covering a lot of ground with the person. Subject to subject to subject, you’re covering a lot of ground to discover the common ground. If you don’t do it, you’re not going to know that both of you are huge fans of this particular TV series that is so underrated. You will never discover that just because you think, oh, smalltalk is superficial. It’s not.
Another very, very, very important function of it in terms of starting friendships is that it reveals the things you have in common. If you skip it, you might be a huge yoga fan and you could be talking to another very huge yoga fan and not just a fan of yoga but a specific type of yoga that is underrated. You were talking to each other and just because you skipped small talk, you just never get to know. Because smalltalk reveals things about people. And then, when you find those things in common, then you can go and talk even 30, 40 minutes in one subject.
[20:59] Damianne President: Certain types of people may be resistant to small talk, this is probably the people that it may be best for. So for example, shy people or introverts, if you say, go up to somebody and say, hi, I’m Damianne, what’s your name, or hi, I’m Damianne nice to meet you, or whatever, as the case may be, that doesn’t seem like an insurmountable thing to do, because if I’m trying to think of too many steps ahead, that’s when it becomes a bit of a paralysis. But if I think, okay, I’m going to go up and I’m going to say hello and have that one point of connection with them and see what comes out of it to progress the conversation, then it’s a lot more accessible I think.
[21:42] Communication Barriers to Building Friendships
[21:42] Damianne President: Are there things that people do, like they may be adept at small talk, but are there things that people do when they find themselves in social situations that makes it more difficult for them to connect and build friendships?
[21:55] Paul Sanders: I’m going to share with you something that I see and it’s very common. It has to do with building trust even in the first interactions with a new person. So I see a lot of people who have this idea of trust that is an on or off thing, either they trust you or they don’t trust you. So it’s either or, when in reality and how our personalities work is that it’s a continuum. It goes from zero to 100%. So people who have trust issues or have trouble opening up to others. So, if you want others to connect with you and relate to you, you have to open up a little bit at least. You got to give them something they can hold on to. In order for you to be able to do that, you gotta be able to trust them a little bit with some information that is not a secret, but it’s not something you would say to a complete stranger in the bus or in the subway.
So, how do you build that? Well, you gotta start with baby steps. Just do 5% more than usual. And 5% is not a big step. If you reveal information about yourself, just 5% more, you see it like layers like an onion. You’re not going to give them the last layer, the internal layer. We’re going to give them something kind of superficial; it’s kind of public but not really public. It’s not really private neither, but you’re going to open up a little bit more and you are going to see great results in how people interact with you and open up to you. And this difficulty of being closed, even when talking to people is something I see that is common and it can block others. It can signal to others as if you’re not really interested.
[23:45] Damianne President: So, what does this look like? So for example, I’m thinking that sometimes I see people in conversation where one person asks a question and the other person deflects rather than answering it directly. Is that the kind of thing that you’re thinking of? Or do you have some examples?
[23:59] Paul Sanders: Yeah, something like that. It can be someone who only answers things logically,
[24:05] Damianne President: Without emotion.
[24:06] Paul Sanders: Yeah, exactly.
Emotionless, or depersonalizes everything you talk about, like let’s say you talk about breakups can be hard and you share a breakup story from your life like, oh, it took me three months just to get over someone I’ve been dating for six months. It’s pretty hard and it took time and you know, you gotta be patient. And you start to talk about these things that are emotional, they’re personal and the other person just stays laid back. Let me analyze this like a scientists and give you some statistics and, you know, depersonalizes it and I’m never going to say anything about myself, but just going to talk about it as a subject.
And that’s like a tell, especially with those very emotional subjects, like I gave you an opportunity to be vulnerable. It’s so clear and you didn’t do it. Maybe you don’t want to be engaged in this conversation, really. Maybe you want to keep a distance, when in reality, the person is just not used to it. Maybe they’re fearful of revealing things about themselves, which is such a big missed opportunity for everyone. Everybody loses just because that person doesn’t have the social skill of revealing things about themselves, but not too much too soon, because they haven’t learned that trust is a continuum, like I can trust you a little bit more than usual and not to reveal everything.
[25:26] Damianne President: I know you’re talking about how being too rational can be a barrier, but it’s interesting because I’m reading a book right now and it’s not related to relationships but one of the things it talks about is how human beings are not just rational beings, that a lot of how human beings access the world and process the world is through emotions. And that is often one of the things that’s missing in our interactions with people, that we’re sometimes not even aware. We’re like, well, we gave them all of the information needed, we gave them all of the rationale. How are we not connecting. And it’s often because you have not actually addressed the emotions of the situation of the person.
[26:05] Paul Sanders: Absolutely. And sometimes people just want to know if you’re, I don’t want to be really crass, but they just want to know if you’re a human being. And human beings are not perfect. The only human beings that are perfect are just pretentious people. If you have some experience in life, you know, that nobody is perfect. That we know. But are you going to reveal any vulnerabilities? Because if you do that, oh my God, you’re a daring person. You’re a courageous person and that’s the kind of person you want to be around. Everybody wants to be around that person who dares to show everybody, hey, remember not everything I do is rational, not a robot. And I have this vulnerability and this and that, and I’m okay with it because that’s the truth. And if you can tell that truth to even new people, wow, they get it.
[26:52] Damianne President: I think there’s a lot that you’ve already given me and listeners to think about. I would like to invite you, if someone wants more friends in their life, what’s one action they can take today, week, something small enough that they don’t need to put it off, that they can start taking action straightaway.
[27:10] Paul Sanders: I have something for you. They can do it in two ways, either with a post-it note or with their electronic calendar. Write something in it that will remind you to be social. Either a post-it note on your screen or on a calendar and make it recurrence. If you’re going to use an electronic calendar, make it a recurrent event like every Tuesday or Wednesday or Monday or Tuesday way before the weekend. And it’s a reminder every week, like, Hey, social hour. Or, put it’s on a post-it note.
So what does that mean? What are you going to do in that social hour? You got to find events that are happening in your city that are interesting to you. If you have friends already or acquaintances you wanna turn into friends or potential friends or old friends or whatever you want to use that time and reach out. Reach out to a few. Hey, how are you doing? It’s been a while. I hope you’re well. How is XYZ? It’s going to be the job, the kids, the wife, the husband, whatever. Whatever memory you have of them, how is that going? Just reach out, connect. You can do that. And then, the people you’ve connected with recently, you can look for things you can do that weekend and suggest that.
So first, for meeting entirely new people, that’s finding things that are happening around you where you can meet new people around your interests. The second one is reaching out to people who are in your network, close or not as close to you, acquaintances, friends, old colleagues, whatever. And make plans with the people you reached out to last week, right?
So let’s say you reached out to Sally this week and you hadn’t spoken for five months. You can reach out to her this week and maybe two weeks from now. And then one week later you can actually make a plan. You can’t just not talk to them for five months and then the first thing you want to do is like, let’s meet up. So these kinds of things.
The reason I say put it on post-it notes or make it a recurrent event in your calendar is that’s awesome because every week you can do something about your social life. And you can not put it off. That’s the point.
Every time it’s going to be, Hey, do you have time? Do you have time this week to do something. It’s just, don’t judge yourself too much if you skip a few weeks. But this can make a big difference. And the reason why is that if you want to have a social life, you gotta make time for it. And the way your life as a cycle is going, there is no time for it. So it’s like, you want to go to the gym, either you make time for it or you don’t. That’s like this; it doesn’t have a place yet. So making something recurring every week, it reminds you we’re building momentum.
[29:59] Damianne President: I like this. I like that there are different levels for making new friends, and then also connecting with acquaintances or existing friends. So wherever you are listening, there should be one of those things that can help you ignite more friendships into your life.
[30:19] Definition of Friendship
[30:19] Damianne President: As we end Paul, how do you define friendship?
[30:23] Paul Sanders: Friendship is a really interesting type of relationship. It’s dynamic dynamic in the sense that you can never judge a friendship as written in stone. With time, the type of friendship you can have with a person can change. It’s can be deep. It’s can be revealing. You can confide in the other person or sometimes just be a casual friend and stay this way.
And if things change in both of your lives, friendship can adapt. It’s dynamic. It changes with time. So don’t judge it. If it changes all of a sudden, it doesn’t mean it’s dead; it just changes. It’s not static. It’s also one of the more optional things in your life. It’s completely by choice, right? It’s a relationship that doesn’t depend on a contract. It’s not a work contract. It’s not DNA. You’re not born in the same family. You haven’t committed like a romance. You commit to being together for a while. You don’t do all of these things, but there you are no strings attached yet you choose to meet.
So me, I see it as one of the relationships where you are the most free. It’s one of the highest levels of expressions of freedom, because there is nothing forcing you to meet and yet you still do it. And that’s an amazing feature of this really amazing type of relationship. I think there’s a philosopher C. S. Louis. He wrote a book called the four laws. The first love was about the universe or God. Second is family love, the third is romantic love, and the fourth is philia??, which is love for other friends.
[32:05] Damianne President: That is a beautiful definition of friendship. I like this a lot. So thank you for sharing that with us.
Paul is an author, coach. You can learn more about him, reach out to him by going to getthefriendsyouwant.com Paul, what else would you like people to know about you and your work?
[32:26] Paul Sanders: I just want them to have a great social life. I don’t care if they’re introverted, extroverted, I’ve worked with people who haven’t made friends for 10 years and still change their social lives. There is so much fun to have. There are so many amazing people to meet and probably one of them is you who is listening and we don’t want to miss out on you. So bring yourself, and I know some of you are introverts and don’t want to go out all the time. Fine. Whenever you find time for us people, show up. We need you.
[32:57] Damianne President: Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Paul, and for sharing so many great suggestions and ideas with listeners.