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Rediscovering the dating scene and meeting new people should be an exciting prospect. It can often feel a bit intimidating too, especially if you’re concerned your social skills are on the rusty side of things. To help you polish up your demeanour and restore a bit of confidence in your outlook, we caught up with social skills coach Pete Zbrojkiewicz to get the basics on how to do exactly that.
The social skills expert
If you’ve been following EliteSingles Magazine recently, you’ll have spotted a couple of articles featuring Nick Notas, a US-based confidence coach with over 10 years experience in the business. On top of sharing some invigorating insights into building up self-confidence and how to tackle awkward silences, Nick also put us in touch with fellow social skills expert Pete Zbrojkiewicz.
Whilst Pete was setting up his popular Beardstrokings service two years ago, he reached out to Nick and they struck up a friendship. They now co-host an annual confidence retreat, this year’s instalment destined for Lisbon.
In many respects the former civil engineer has a similar story to Nick concerning his motives for setting up Beardstrokings. “The whole thing started because I used to be terrible at communicating with people myself,” Pete admits, “I began by writing an article in Reddit’s social skills subcategory and people liked it, so I made my own website, wrote more pieces and people started subscribing. It just went from there.”
As well as his deftly written advice articles, Pete also offers a one-on-one coaching service to clients looking to hone their social skills. “I used to be a very analytical person and I didn’t really have any emotional intelligence, I didn’t know how to communicate with people so I used facts instead, and ended up having shallow conversations,” he says, “because of my own journey of going through that, and connecting with my emotions, I now teach other people how to overcome their confidence issues.”
1. Dropping the mask
Having had to battle his own demons, Pete’s got some pretty handy tips when it comes to strengthening social skills. So what are they? As it happens, they’re pretty commonsensical, though it’s often the most obvious practices that are the hardest to instil. We’ve broken down Pete’s advice into four digestible categories so you can see how they fit with your own situation.
According to the Australian, the first thing to do is stop pretending to be something you’re not and get back in touch with your inner emotions. Pete reasons that a lot of people who struggle socially have a “fear that stems from a deep-seated belief that they’re not good enough, or that they’re not funny or cool enough”. “They then feel like they have to pretend to be better than they are, so they’re essentially acting when they communicate with people,” he adds.
This then turns into one big, unsustainable performance: “They find that when they act they can’t connect in a conversation,” he says, “you end up thinking ‘I’ve got to do better next time and try harder,’ which just makes it worse, and you end up feeling worse about yourself.” This cycle also ends up reinforcing any lingering tendencies towards social anxiety.
Pete says that the best way to counter this situation is by starting to see vulnerability as something constructive, a concept we recently looked at when discussing how to trust again after a breakup. You achieve this by “sharing your internal experience and the things you’re scared to share because you think people will judge you for it”.
Terrifying right? There’s method to the madness: “You develop self-esteem when you start doing this because you discover that you can share things with people and they don’t judge you,” Pete says, “you learn that you can be open with people and that you don’t have to hide anything about yourself anymore.”
2. Be honest
If you need to be more open about who you really are, it follows that you need to be honest. Concerning how to improve social skills, this means being sincere about your feelings, both to yourself and to whomever you’re engaged in conversation with. Pete explains that getting “stuck in your head worrying about what to say is usually the moment you decide to act or fake something”.
It’s important to confront this head-on. “When you experience an interaction that goes badly, go back and look at it and find the moment where it started going south,” he says, “think about what you said and what was going through your head and you’ll find disconnect.” According to Pete, this split is the root of the problem. “It almost always comes down to saying something different to what you’re genuinely feeling,” he says. Pete fleshes out his claim by way of an example.
“Say you’ve said something odd in conversation, and in your head you’re thinking ‘why did I say that?’ A lot of people will pretend nothing happened, they’ll act as if everything is fine and maybe even try saying something funnier to cover it up. A better way to handle the situation is to call it out and say ‘that was a weird thing to say’. Because you’ve vocalised what the other person is thinking, they’ll feel you’re still on the same page, and this creates a connection,” he says.
3. Practice makes perfect
What next? It goes without saying that sharpening up your social skills involves a bit of effort on your behalf. In fact it’s something that will only improve if you keep working away at it by putting yourself in social situations with other people. That said it’s very much a gradual process that involves a fair amount of trial and error.
This is something Pete agrees with, especially when it comes to starting a conversation with someone new. “One thing I recommend is to just walk over and say hello. It does kind of come down to just doing it,” he says, “if you think too much about what you’re going to say beforehand you’re training yourself to get stuck. Instead, train yourself to be in the moment. That’s why just doing it, and stuffing it up, is useful because you learn what not to do the next time!”
What’s more, by going over and saying ‘hi’ helps you swerve the falseness Pete suggests you avoid. “Instead of focusing on a the first thing, or trying to come up with a really cool opener, focus on how you’re going to react,” he says, “read the other person’s response, you can base a conversation on how they respond to you saying hello.”
Another tip Pete advocates here is by establishing attainable goals when it comes to communication. If you feel that you’re not comfortable conversing with someone you find attractive, he recommends “working backwards from where you’re stuck”. “If you’re having trouble talking to a someone you like, try something easier,” he says, “you could start by smiling at strangers in the street, making eye contact, or making an observation about someone’s dog or their shirt.”
“When you break it down like this you get reactions. And these reactions build your confidence and make you more comfortable to go and take the next step which might be to talk to service staff at a cafe, or talk to a coworker. You create this ladder of difficulty and work your way up it,” he adds.
4. Embrace the challenge and don’t dwell
It would be foolish to think that drilling your social skills would be anything but a challenge. But like most things that take effort, the rewards are worthwhile. Improving your confidence by approaching people you’re romantically interested in pays dividends in other areas of your life too. Pete revisits his ladder analogy to stress this point.
“If you work your way up this ladder you’ll gradually build the confidence to take bigger risks,” he says, “and taking risks trains you to take bigger risks, which gets you better results in life.” Whether this is seizing the opportunity to forge a new business deal or plunging in to a new hobby, taking the time to cultivate your social skills will only yield positive outcomes. In many ways, it’s a cyclical process too – success breeds success.
This is the polar opposite to the negative cycle Pete says is inherent in pretending to be something you’re not. Rather than reinforcing social anxiety by putting up a facade, it’s time to be truthful. Yes this may be easier said than done, but celebrating your strengths and accepting your limitations is all part of becoming a more secure person, not to mention someone with solid social skills.
Finally, it doesn’t always have to be perfect. Pete is adamant that things will go pear-shaped, but it’s more important how you react. “If this is a skill you don’t have and you’re not naturally social then things are going to go wrong. Just like any skill you want to improve, you will make mistakes. Understanding this and learning from your mistakes helps you to not feel bad when they happen, having that kind of mindset goes a long way to not caring about things you shouldn’t worry about,” Pete concludes.
So there you have it. By working on your openness, being true to yourself, setting manageable targets and not sweating the small stuff you’ll make valuable headway. For further advice, why not drop us an email at [email protected]? If you’re ready to meet new people, why not sign up with EliteSingles today and put your social skills to the test!