How To Get Feedback On Your Social Skills And How You Come Across

Some people's social lives aren't where they want them to be. They might not be outright rejected, but they have a nagging sense they're not as warmly received as everyone else. They wonder if they're doing something off-putting they're not aware of.

If you're in this situation, you might want some objective feedback on your social skills and the impression you make on others. The thought of learning what people really think of you would make anyone nervous. But you may be at a point where you feel it's more important to find out what your blind spots are.

Below I'll go over the pros and cons of different ways of doing that. I'll stick to avenues for learning about your everyday interpersonal skills, not work-related stuff like how good you are at interviewing or running meetings. But first, let me point out:

It's tricky to get a thorough, impartial assessment of your social skills

As useful as it would be to know exactly how you come across to everyone, it's not that easy to get that information. There are several barriers to getting good feedback:

Even if you get quality feedback on your social skills, you may not be open to hearing it

Methods of getting social feedback

So it's not super-easy to get feedback, let alone accept it. Also, as I'll get into below, there's no one foolproof way to get an appraisal of your people skills. Still, even if there isn't a perfect method, if you use a few of the approaches below, you should still be able to learn some useful things about your blind spots.

Ask people you know like your friends, family, partner, classmates, or co-workers

This is what most people think to do first. You could approach them and say something like, "Lately I've been working on my communication skills. One way I'm doing that is trying to find out if there are any areas I could improve on that I may not know about. I'd appreciate it if you could share any feedback you have for me regarding that. It's no big deal if you don't want to do it, or can't think of anything, but I wanted to ask."

Try to use a casual, matter-of-fact tone when asking. In other words, do your best to seem as if you'll accept whatever response they give. If you come across like you're bracing yourself to go on the counterattack, or you're preemptively wincing at what they might say, you're less likely to get a straightforward answer.

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The next three points are about mental health services. As I always say, they're not just for "weak" or "crazy" people. They're simply one type of resource that's available to help out if you need it.

Ask a one-on-one therapist

You could make an appointment with a counselor specifically to get feedback on your social skills, or you could ask one you're already seeing about other areas. There's plenty of things they can pick up about your people skills even as you tell them what brought you to counseling at the start of the first appointment. They can also do a few conversation role plays to get a better sense of what you're like in certain contexts. Some therapists will go outside the office with their clients so they can observe them in real life (e.g., as they ask a clerk for help at a store).

It should only take a session or two if you want their quick feedback on the initial impression you give off. However, if you see a therapist over a longer period, they'll also be able to spot behaviors and tendencies that you don't show until further into your relationships. (Hiring a therapist isn't the same as having a friend, of course, but often patterns from a client's real-life relationships also show up in the one they have with their counselor.)

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A similar option is to hire a life coach or trainer who focuses on communication skills. There are some knowledgeable ones out there. Overall though, anyone can sell their services as a life coach or communication skills instructor. You have to be more careful. If you want to work with one, do some research on their background and qualifications. (Do the same for "real" therapists as well. Even if they have a degree and license, they may not be that experienced in working with clients with social issues).

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Attend group therapy focused on social anxiety or social skills

There are different types of group therapy. Some are closer to taking a class. They have fixed members, run for about 8-12 weeks, and are focused around a counselor or two teaching a specific set of skills. Others are open-ended peer support groups. I'll talk about the more-structured type of group in this point, and cover the looser peer support ones in the next.

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Attend a peer support group

The group could be specifically for social anxiety, but a more-general one focused on mood disorders or coping with stress could work too.

Peer support groups are more open-ended and focused on the members talking to each other. They usually run every week or two all year. Anyone can drop by a meeting when they feel like it. Many are facilitated by mental health professionals, but their role is to keep the conversation productive and on track, not teach a twelve-week curriculum. Others are run by members of the public who have taken on that role.

These groups aren't specifically about giving feedback, but if you go to a few meetings, then explain that's what you're looking for, you may be able to get some opinions.

Give peer support groups a few chances. Sometimes you'll go to your first meeting and not feel like it's the right fit for you. You may click with everyone in another group. Or if you go to the same group two weeks later and find there's a mix of members you feel a better connection to.

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Take a class for a performance-based social skill like public speaking or improv comedy

The purpose of these groups isn't to give you a breakdown of your day-to-day social skills, but you'll be given feedback on your performances, and may still learn a useful thing or two. For example, after giving your first speech at Toastmasters you may be told that you tend to speak too quickly and not make as much eye contact as you think you do.

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A few iffier options

These are ways of getting social feedback, but are less-reliable or have other downsides. I'm including them for the sake of completeness though.

Ask one friend what other people say about you

This lets your friend give you feedback, but they're not on the hook for it being their own. This option is free, and you might learn something. Though your friend may be reluctant to say anything, or only want to share the good things they've heard. They may not want to hurt your feelings, or seem gossipy.

Ask random strangers how you come across

For example, you could go to a nightclub or public square, approach people, and explain you're looking for some opinions on how you come across. You might get some superficial feedback from this method, but it's not a typical thing to do. Many people will be taken aback and not want to answer, or give you a quick, generic response.

Ask for anonymous feedback online

You could film a short video of you talking about nothing in particular, then post it on a group or forum asking what everyone's impression of you is. You'll only be able to get feedback on how you seem at a glance, but that may be useful enough for you.

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