Aunt Agony & Uncle Upset: A Guide to Sharpening your Social Skills  

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Jolene Yee Xin Yi (23S03A) and Aaron Goh Wei Ming (23S06H, Peer Helper) 

Cover Image by Johnathan Lim (23S03M)

Your resident Aunties and Uncles are back with our Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset column, this time as a collaboration between Raffles Press and Peer Helpers’ Programme (PHP)! Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Submit your confessions to and we’ll give them our best shot. This column will be published at the end of every month. 

I am a generally really quiet person and my social skills went into the negative 1000s while I was studying for O levels last year (I JAE-ed into Raffles Institution), however I’m much more sociable online. My main question is how can I improve my IRL social skills when I’m super shy?

Troubled Tabby 

Dear Troubled Tabby,  

We would first like to offer some reassurance─most of us have been there at some point in time, and it is perfectly understandable that your social skills have deteriorated after studying for a stressful national exam and missing out on social interactions.

We certainly empathise with your struggles of opening up to strangers─after all, approaching and striking up a conversation with an unfamiliar face for the very first time can be absolutely nerve-wracking. 

Given how daunting the prospect of face-to-face interaction with strangers can be, socialising online is often a favourable alternative instead─online communication can be a mental crutch for many as it functions as an easy substitute for IRL conversations. 

However, the skills required to effectively communicate IRL are vastly different from those needed to text or voice call. For one, eye contact and non-verbal cues are absent in online chats. Physical interactions are also void in the online space. As such, if you wish to improve your social skills, we would really recommend that you start trying to move away from online communication and focus on face-to-face interactions with your CCA mates, friends or family.

Back to your main concern on tips to improve your IRL social skills, here is a (non-exhaustive) list of strategies that could potentially help you transition into IRL conversation seamlessly and confidently: 

1. Identifying your trouble spots (Don’t be overly critical, though!) 

2. Give sincere compliments 

3. Ask open-ended questions 

3. Practice, practice, practice 

Identifying your Trouble Spots

Source: Shutterstock 

A good first step to take would be to recognise what parts of communication you struggle with. This could be the non-verbal aspects i.e. body language and gestures, or verbal communication. If it concerns the former, you could start by asking yourself questions such as “Do I have trouble maintaining eye contact when talking to others?” and “Do I appear unfriendly because I do not smile?” A friendly nod to your friends or simply walking up to them shows that you are approachable and affable.

Similarly, if your trouble spots are related to the latter, you might want to ask yourself questions like, “Do I speak too softly?”, “Do I have trouble starting conversations?, “Do I tend to be reluctant to talk about myself?” and so on. Sometimes this might not be your fault because you might be more comfortable talking with the classmates you are closer to. Furthermore, if you surround yourself with naturally chatty people, the conversations will naturally come to you.

If you struggle with finding conversation starters, here are prompts that might be helpful! 

  • What is your CCA? What activities do you participate in on a typical CCA day? 
  • Are you attending any WEPs (Wednesday Enrichment Programmes)? What are they, and what do you do during the sessions? 
  • What is your timetable like? Do you usually have afternoon lessons? 
  • What is your current PE module? 

With a clearer idea of what your trouble spots are, you can then start focusing on and channelling your energy into practice (Tip 4) to boost your confidence in social interaction. 

That being said, don’t be overly critical of your own interaction skills. After not engaging with others for an extended period of time, it is inevitable that you would notice imperfections in the ways you talk to others. And that’s fine! Although you should identify areas of improvement for yourself, try not to let tiny mistakes derail your conversation (no one expects you to be a scintillating conversationalist). 

Be authentic and natural; don’t doubt yourself or overly fixate on any slips you might make. After all, your friends and family are not intensely scrutinising your every spoken word so never feel pressured during your daily interactions with others.  

Give Sincere Compliments

Source: Inc. Magazine 

Myth debunked: a good compliment does not necessarily need to be extremely witty! Rather, a heartfelt and sincere one is always preferred. Say your friend has worked very hard on a big project–don’t hesitate to applaud them for their tremendous effort and commitment! Keep this principle of genuineness in mind and try to actively incorporate it into your daily conversations─it’ll work wonders! 

Ask Open-ended Questions

Source: TechTello

As opposed to a close-ended question which is often a yes or no one (e.g “Do you like your CCA?”), an open-ended question is one that elicits much more detail, an example of which is, “What do you enjoy about your CCA?” Being genuinely curious and interested in what the other person is saying is also a good way to form thoughtful questions. 

Moreover, it is important to pay attention to the tone and manner in which you ask your questions as well! Be specific and concise, and avoid sounding accusatory or infusing your own judgement into the wording of your questions—for instance, instead of asking “This canteen food tastes terrible, don’t you agree?”, a more judgement-free question like “How would you rate what I’m eating?” would certainly encourage the other party to share his viewpoints openly. 

In short, asking open-ended questions could open up much more room for dialogue and exchange of views—not to mention how conversation-friendly they are! Be sure to give it a try!

Practice, practice, practice

Source: Loopward

Yes, we can’t understate the importance of practice! (After all, practice makes perfect, right?)

You can start with the immediate strangers around you in school, such as by greeting the non-teaching staff and striking a conversation with the stall owners of your favourite canteen stalls when you purchase your lunch!

Another way to build up courage and confidence in social interactions is to really just put yourself out there and sign up for different activities that enable you to interact with other schoolmates. For example, partaking in House initiatives or attending a CCA outing could kill two birds with one stone—you make new friends and hone your social skills at the same time!  What more, this can be an excellent way for you to work on your non-verbal cues like maintaining eye contact with strangers (and get lots of practice on verbal communication too).  

All in all, remember: no matter how slow or small, every little progress is still progress, and you deserve a pat on the back for being courageous enough to step out of your comfort zone and take the first step forward. 

All the best! 


Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset

If you need anyone to talk to about any issues you might be facing, do drop by My Rest Space, near Marymount gate and talk to one of our peer helpers! We’re open on Tuesday from 2.30 – 4.30 p.m, Wednesday 11.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m., Thursday 2.30 – 4.30 p.m. and Friday 1.30 – 4.30 p.m.  If you would like to meet a peer helper on a regular basis, do email us a request at or fill in our request form at our website

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