Social skills: the upside, the downside, and the death of a hamster.
Social skills help individuals interact effectively with one another. We communicate our needs, wants and perspectives through verbal speech as well as non-verbal cues (gestures, facial expressions, and body positioning).
There are many benefits that are associated with having strong social skills. Unfortunately, there are also potential costs of having skills that are underdeveloped or impaired.
For those lucky enough to have developed strong social skills you will find that your mental health is protected, or even boosted, because of at least three potential benefits.
Effective communication benefits
Being in possession of good social skills often translates to being seen as having good communication capabilities. This is more in reference to being aware of certain nuances in situations rather than possessing expansive linguistic skills. Being a clear, recipient focused communicator helps you manage situations more efficiently. For example, a person with good social skills may telephone a colleague over a misunderstanding rather than writing a lengthy email clarifying your perspective which, many of us know from experience, can often make the situation worse rather than better. Not only do you avoid dodging communication faux pas, but you are seen by managers as a solution focused problem solver. Success breeds success.
Everyone benefits from being liked and having strong social skills makes this more likely (just as the opposite makes it harder to get people to like you). When people like you, doors are opened. People vouch for you when asked. This positive impact effects subjective assessments such as school and job interviews.
Stronger coping mechanisms
The major psychological benefit of having good social skills is that you are more likely to be able to access and utilise social support as a buffer against work and life stress. Not only will you be able to make more friends, the relationships are likely to be fairer and focused around reciprocal meeting of each other’s needs. When the chips are down, friends are more likely to offer support. Social support is an essential component of any stress management regime.
Just as having good social skills can have benefits in terms of mental health protection, creating opportunities, and building a positive perception of you, an impairment to social skills can have just the opposite.
Even when we are adults, we may resist supporting a person who we believe to be a braggard, or is overly critical, or doesn’t like to share praise. It’s hard to always have the perfect social skills, I have certainly fallen foul on this topic on the odd occasion. Nobody is perfect, but these skills certainly help rather than hinder in our work and personal relationships in adulthood.
As children, social skills are even more essential. Those with poor social skills are more likely to find making friends difficult, to have relationships which may be unfair to one party (i.e. being friends with someone who bullies you), and isolates some adults from wanting to support and open doors. Social skills are essential life skills.
For those with weaker social skills, such as those on the autism spectrum, intervention is essential. Those who live with autism often find reading and responding to social cues, as well as maintaining friendships very challenging.
As a parent of such a teen I was recently reminded that even with extensive training, even the keenest autistic teen sometimes doesn’t get it. Recently, despite her best intentions, our teen demonstrated she misses what is the socially acceptable way to respond to some situation. This week we experienced a pet death. Pablo our 3-year-old hamster has gone to that big hamster-wheel in the sky. Our 10-year-old wept inconsolably. My teen smiled. Yes, it was weird, but I later found out why. The teen spent a good part of her free time that day creating a “condolence” card for her sister. So, sweet of her. She effusively presented the card to her little shocked little sister saying, “I’m so sorry Pablo is gone”. And then she reached out and hugged her little sister, until the little one was suffocating and said “Enough cuddling, you need to stop!”. So there was a situation, which started and ended with poor social skills, but in the middle, there was a moment of magic.