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 reaction 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 doesn't have to be the case.
When talking about the concept of change, I think it's important to distinguish between 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 (e.g., intimate discussions vs. networking events)
- Being able to mange interactions with various types of people (e.g., chatting to someone who's reserved vs. someone who wants to talk over your constantly)
- Being able to make a good overall impression
- Being able to manage your anxiety and insecurities in social situations
- Using non-verbal communication effectively
- Having attitudes about various social settings that are conducive to you navigating 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's a gray area where the two categories can blur together, or where people may disagree on whether something is actually a personality trait/preference or a social skill. However, the larger idea still stands.
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 charismatic 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 clumsy artist 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 don't see it as a priority.