How to Pick Up On Social Cues

Understanding social cues and being able to read them is a skill every socially adept person has. If you want to be socially adept, you’ll need to learn how to do this too. Once you learn how to pick up on social cues, you’ll be able to understand other people better, you’ll react better, and ultimately, you’ll be able to socialize better.

While a lot of people are natural at this, it’s a skill others can learn as well. That’s what this article is for. If you’re one of those individuals who find it difficult to pick up on social cues, the following tips are for you.

The body can speak more about their thoughts than their words

One thing you need to keep in mind when trying to pick up on social cues is the fact that a person’s actions can speak louder than their words. That said, pay attention to a person’s body language whenever you’re interacting with them.

The following are a few examples of negative body language you should pay attention to:

  • Not making eye contact with you
  • Leaning away
  • Tapping their foot
  • Looking around the room
  • Blank facial expression

On the other hand, these are a few examples of positive body language:

  • Smiling
  • Look at you
  • Mirroring your movements
  • Leaning closer to you
  • Relaxed body posture

These are just a few examples, but they should give you a clear glimpse as to what kinds of movements and signals you should watch out for. Be familiar with them and look out for them the next time you’re out socializing with others.

Don’t drown in your own thoughts

One of the worst things you can do if your goal is to pick up on social cues is to drown in your own thoughts. If you’re stuck in your own head while interacting with others, you’ll never be able to pay full attention to them.

Start focusing outwardly instead of inwardly. It sounds easier said than done, yes, but with enough practice, this will slowly become a natural thing for you.

When facing someone else when you’re interacting with them, try freeing your mind of any thought and focus your attention on them. Receive their every word and perceive their every action. Then, react accordingly. Make your thoughts flow freely from the information you’ve received from the person you’re interacting with. If you keep your focus on them, you’ll be able to pick up on social cues much easier.

Know the art of true listening

Two women talking

If you were to be asked if you knew how to listen, you’d say “of course, I do.” Listening is a part of our daily lives, after all. However, what a lot of people don’t consider is that there is a difference between listening and “true” listening.

An average listener, when interacting with someone, will hear the other person’s words. A true listener will immediately understand the meaning behind those words.

For example, if a person will say “It’s been a while since I’ve spoken to my family,” a listener will take that for what it is. The other person hasn’t spoken to their family for a while. A true listener, however, will be able to deduce that the fact the other person said this, it must mean they’re starting to miss their family.

This is just a surface-level example, but this is the kind of listening you’ll need to do moving forward if you want to pick up on social cues. Understand the meaning behind another person’s words.

Learn how to be more empathetic

Aside from being a true listener, it will also help you pick up on social cues better if you become more empathetic. What this means is that you should have the ability to feel what the other person is feeling, or at least, what emotion is being conveyed with the things they’re saying.

A very simple yet effective trick to do this is to simply put yourself in their shoes. If they describe a memory or an experience to you, try picturing yourself being in that memory or experience. Imagine those things happening to you. How would you feel? If you can figure it out, that’s how they must be feeling.

Understand their personalities and quirks

One thing you’ll need to keep in mind is that not everybody has the same social cues. A lot of undertones and psychological aspects remain similar, but each person has different behaviors, personalities, and quirks. One person’s social cues may not be the same as another’s.

The only way for you to ever understand a person’s uniqueness is to pay attention to them long enough. Pay attention to how their bodies and faces move when they’re telling a story. See which quirks pop up whenever they’re happy. See which ones appear when they’re sad. The moment you spot these unique quirks, picking up their cues moving forward will become easier.

It sounds like a daunting task to do this with every person you encounter, but as I said, everyone has different quirks, but similar aspects remain the same. The more you do this, the simpler it will be. With that in mind, you’ll only get better the more you go out there and do this.

If you need clarification, ask

It never hurts to ask. If you’ve been truly listening, if you’ve been empathetic, and still you’re not able to pick up on anything, maybe they’re being purposefully vague. Maybe they’re doing so because they’re afraid or ashamed of letting their true emotions known. This can happen a lot of times. When it does, clarify.

Ask the other person what it truly is they’re trying to say. Make them understand that you’re willing to listen to them, maybe even help them if you can. Don’t be pushy, but don’t just brush them off either.

In some instances, especially when you’re still beginning in practicing this, picking up on social cues isn’t going to be easy. You’re still starting out, after all. During this moment, don’t be afraid of asking. Let the other person know you’re still working on becoming a better social person. If you can ask and figure out what it is the other person is trying to emotionally convey, look back on how they were acting. You can then associate their actions with the emotions they were feeling.

Assess your words before you speak them

A Man Thinking

Be mindful of your words if you want to be better at picking up on social cues. What’s the point of picking up what the other person is trying to say or which emotion they’re feeling if you’re unable to respond to them appropriately?

Make sure the words you say are things they’ll need to hear. Don’t say needless things. If they need advice, give it. If they need to laugh, make that happen. Make sure your responses are always appropriate. The way you can do this is to assess your words first before you speak them.

At first, the time it will take you to assess your words before you actually say them will be noticeable. That’s okay. That’s much better than simply blurting out words that have no meaning or have no impact. In time, though, you’ll become much faster at coming up with the right things to say.

Know disinterest when you see one

One of the best purposes in learning how to pick up on social cues is to understand when a person becomes disinterested. That said, use everything you’ve read here so far to know if a person is interested in interacting with you or they’d rather be elsewhere. If it’s the latter, don’t take up more of their time. Move on to the next person.

Sure, some people are simply harder to please than others, but there are those who will close their minds and attention from you from the get-go. You’ll eventually learn how to spot these people with ease the better you are at picking up on social cues. These are the kinds of people you shouldn’t spend more time on. If they’ve already decided they’re disinterested in you, their attention is already elsewhere.

Doing this is very beneficial for you. At least you’ll be able to spend more time with people who are actually interested in interacting with you more.

Practice with your close friends first

If you have people in your circle that are close to you and you’re able to trust them, practice with them first. If you really weren’t able to pick up on social cues before, starting with your friends will make this process much easier for you. With your friends, you’re already comfortable with them so any form of anxiety is virtually non-existent.

Let them know what you’re doing and what you’re trying to achieve. Your friends will be more than willing to help you. They’ll be happy for you, even. Don’t be embarrassed to ask your friends. They’re there for you. All you need to do is ask them.

Have a warm approach

One minor yet effective thing you can do throughout all this is to always maintain a warm approach. Be as friendly, as approachable, and as warm as you can be. The people you interact with will be much more comfortable in revealing their true emotions to you if you’re someone they find warm.

That said, when interacting with someone, be sure to always wear a smile. Nod. Greet people. Be a great listener. Have empathy. Be friendly. Be approachable. Keep doing this until it becomes who you truly are.

Not only will this help you pick up on social cues better, it will also make you an overall better person. It’s a win-win situation.

Be understanding

Friends Hugging

You’ll need to be extremely understanding if you want to pick up on social cues better. Being empathetic is one thing and being understanding is another. Being both will truly make you a socially adept person capable of picking up any social cues.

What I mean when I say “be understanding” is to not only truly listen to another person’s words, feel what they feel, but also understand where they’re coming from. Understand their reasoning and their motivations. Understand why and how they arrived at where they are. See the other person for who they are and understand who they are inside.

Then, understand them as a person completely. Accept them for all of their curves and edges. Be a true friend to them. Have them be comfortable with you. When you’re able to do this, picking up on social cues will become a reflex.

Encourage them to speak up more

Sometimes it’s hard to pick up on what the other person is trying to say because they don’t speak up enough. That said, a simple way to mediate this is to simply encourage them to speak up more.

There are a handful of reasons as to why a person doesn’t speak up more than they should. It could be anxiety, it could be from experience, or they’re simply not comfortable enough with you. Whatever the case is with them, help them find a way out of it. If they’re anxious or fearful, reassure them. If they’re just not comfortable enough with you, give them time. Be there for them. Slowly but surely, make them be comfortable with you.

In other cases, you might also find meaning in their silence. That alone can be a social cue. Keep that in mind. If the other person is being silent when they should be speaking up, know that there’s a reason for that.

Learn other social skills

A socially adept person is good at picking up on social cues. If you want to have that effect, be a socially adept person. Everything else will follow. Take note of everything you’ll need to do and learn to be socially skilled. For that, you have a lot of research materials for your perusal on this website.

Be sure to take the time to read up the other articles here too. You’ll find a lot of tips on how to improve your social skills here. The better you are at socializing, the better you will be at picking up on social cues.

Being socially adept takes time, but it will be highly worth your while.

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