Social cues are a form of communication without words. They include facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and other forms of expression that help people interact with others. Understanding these cues is an important part of interacting with others and being socially competent.
Most people start to process social cues when they are very young and continue to learn more about them over time, even during adulthood. However, not everyone develops this skill, and socializing can be more difficult without it. But you don’t have to just give up if you find it difficult to pick up on social skills. You can learn to develop this ability with practice.
Types of Social Cues
There are several types of social cues, the most common being body language, facial expressions, and voice. Social cues express a person’s natural feelings and are not planned. They can also vary from person to person, so it is best to be careful when making assumptions based on these cues. However, some of them are common to most people, and knowing these can help you to interpret basic social language.
Body language is a way of communicating with others without saying a word. In fact, it is one of the most important parts of our communication with others. Many people believe you can learn more from a person’s body language than from their words. The ways people move or stand can tell you a lot about how they are feeling. Here are some examples of body language to look for when speaking to others.
- Crossed Arms: If a person crosses their arms, it could mean they are uncomfortable or upset. However, this isn’t always the case. Some people find crossing their arms to be comfortable. So, don’t assume that someone doesn’t want to talk to you based on their crossed arms alone.
- Nodding: If a person is nodding while you are speaking, whether in agreement or disagreement, they are engaged in the conversation.
- Posture: When someone’s shoulders are slumped or their head is hanging down, they may not be interested in speaking with you.
A person’s facial expressions are a good way to help judge whether they are enjoying speaking with you or not. Watch for whether someone appears bored or frustrated; if they do, it is probably time to end the conversation. You can also see if someone is smiling or frowning. A frown would indicate that a person is upset or unhappy. But a smile may not always mean that someone is happy. There are many different types of smiles. So, consider more than just the smile.
A person’s voice can also give social cues through its tone or volume. The tone of someone’s voice can let you know if they feel happy, angry, or some other way. The volume of someone’s voice can help you determine if they are engaged in the conversation. A higher volume will generally mean a person is more engaged than a lower volume. However, some people are naturally quiet.
Identifying Social Cues
It is important to be able to identify social cues, and people will generally develop this ability over time. However, people who have difficulty with this can learn to pick up on social cues. Here are a few to look out for.
- If a person keeps looking away from you during a conversation, such as around the room or at their phone, they are probably not interested in speaking with you.
- When a person says, “it has been nice talking to you,” or “I have to be somewhere soon,” or similar phrases, they are trying to end the conversation.
- If a person gives short answers to your questions and doesn’t seem to participate much in the conversation, along with offering other potential topics of conversation, they would probably like to change the subject.
- When someone gives some reasons why they can’t do something, such as having a prior engagement or not having transportation to an event, they may be trying to politely decline your invitation.
How to Become Better at Identifying Social Cues
In order to identify social cues, you need to truly listen to the other person and try to understand them. This could take some time and patience because everyone has different social cues. But as you get to know someone, you should start to notice what their social cues are, such as their body language and facial expressions when they are happy or sad.
You can even practice picking up on social cues by watching other people’s conversations and seeing if you can identify their cues. One way you can learn more about identifying social cues and practice your skills with people who understand your situation is to enroll in social skills training. You will have an instructor who will teach you more about identifying social cues and get to practice with other people who are also trying to learn these skills.