Social skills

We use social skills to communicate with each other every day. Here are the 3 most useful ones I know:


If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.

-Henry Ford


Active listening

Active listening means fully concentrating and understanding someone.


Here is what I do:


The greatest compliment was paid to me today. Someone asked me what I thought and actually attended to my answer.

-Henry David Thoreau


Sharing feelings and asking for help

Early in my career, I had an incredible interpersonal coach named Linda Lehtonen. She taught me to share feelings and ask for help.


For example, “I’m feeling annoyed because the sink is full of dirty dishes. Would you please wash them?”


Notice I don’t make assumptions or accusations. Instead, I share my feelings. My feelings are real—you can’t deny them. Then I make a polite request. You can agree or not. If you don’t agree, I’ll use active listening to understand why.


Researchers found that most people underestimated responses to requests for help. In a study at Columbia University, students were instructed to borrow a stranger’s cell phone. They thought they would have to ask 10 people—the actual number was 6.


Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

-Don Miguel Ruiz


Deeply understanding others

It’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s hard to suspend your own thoughts and beliefs.


For me, the most effective technique is method acting. This involves fully immersing yourself in a character’s life. You vividly imagine every detail—place, objects, relationships, past experiences, current thoughts, feelings.


For example, actor Robert De Niro worked 12-hour shifts for the movie Taxi Driver. During breaks on set, he picked up passengers in New York City.


For more examples and exercises, read Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen.


One’s view of truth is always partial…I’m male, I’m white, I’m middle class, I’m rural. That shapes my view of the world. That’s going to be different from someone who is black, female, lives in Cuba, and is a Communist.

-H. Richard Niebuhr


Flynn FJ, Lake VKB. (2008). If you need help, just ask: underestimating compliance with direct requests for help. J Pers Soc Psychol. 95(1): 128–143.


Cameron CD et al. (2019). Empathy is hard work: People choose to avoid empathy because of its cognitive costs. J Exp Psychol Gen. 148(6): 962–976.


Maio A. (2020, June 14). How the best method actors prepare for their roles. StudioBinder.

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