Changing Your Social Skills vs. Changing Your Entire Identity And Personality
Some people aren't keen on the idea of having to changing how they come across socially. It's not an unreasonable thing to think either. It does bring to mind thoughts like selling out and being forced to conform. When they read suggestions on how they could improve their interpersonal skills, they may interpret that as telling them they have to overhaul every last thing about who they are in order to be more successful. That's not true.
When talking about the concept of change, I think it's important to distinguish between the idea of changing your social skills compared to changing your identity, personality, and preferences.
By 'personality and preferences' I mean things such as:
- Your beliefs and values
- Your interests
- How much time you like to spend being with people vs. being alone
- The type of socializing you like to do (e.g., one-on-one conversations vs. going to a pub with seven friends).
- How much you have certain traits or not (e.g., careful vs. impulsive, contained vs. bubbly)
By social skills I'm referring to things like:
- Your ability to make conversation (listening, being able to think of things to say, making the interaction rewarding for both you and the other person)
- Being able to meet people and make friends
- Being able to handle different types of social situations or people (e.g., intimate conversations vs. networking events).
- Being able to make a good overall impression on other people
- Being able to manage your anxiety in social situations
- Your body language
- Feeling confident and secure enough about yourself in social situations
- Having an attitude about various social situations that are conducive to you handling them well (e.g., being able to get into 'fun mode')
Notice that I didn't say something like "Good social skills mean you're outgoing and you want to go to parties all the time"? That's a preference, not a skill.
I realize there is a gray area where the two areas blur together, or where people may disagree about whether something is actually a personality trait/preference or a social skill. However, the idea behind the following points still stand.
Changing your social skills
You can improve your social skills while leaving your core personality intact. The way I think of it is that your personality represents who you are. Your social skills represent how you express yourself. In general, if you have more polished social skills you're able to put your 'best self' forward. A thoughtful, quirky artist and a loud guy who's into beer and sports can both have good social skills, or not. A socially savvy artist and jock are both going to be engaging and likable, but in very different ways, and probably to different types of people. A socially awkward artist-type or jock are both going to be off-putting, but also through totally different means.
Your personality and preferences are fairly enduring. Your social skills are more something that, once you've acquired them, you can choose to pull out of your hat to use as needed. I don't see many downsides to learning better social skills, though it does take work, and I realize there are some people out there who still don't care about them.