Social skills: the upside, the downside, and the death of a hamster.

social skills
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.

The upside:

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.

Benefit 1: the perception of effective communication

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.

Benefit 2: magnet for opportunities

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.

Benefit 3: Stress protection

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.

The downside:

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.

The adult we don’t like

Even when we are adults, we may resist supporting a person who we believe to be a braggart, 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, but nobody is perfect. Having poor social skills can hinder work and personal relationships in adulthood.

For kids, social skills are essential

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 (for example, choosing to be friends with someone who bullies you), and isolates influential 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.

And the death of a hamster

Even after intensive training social skills refinement for those who “don’t get it”, can be a continual journey. I was recently reminded of this. Our lovely autistic teen sometimes doesn’t get it, and how!. Recently, despite her best intentions, our teen demonstrated she misses what is the socially acceptable way to respond to painful situations.

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. Our teen, by comparison,  silently smiled. Yes, it was a weird response and had me wondering if I should start looking for other signs of psychopathology, but I later found out that the smile was due to her happiness that on this ‘occasion’ she thought she knew a good response to show she cared.

The teen spent a good part of her free time that day creating the perfect cartoon  “condolence” card for her sister. In the afternoon, she proudly presented the card to her  shocked little sister saying, “I’m so sorry Pablo is gone, I am here for you”. And then she reached out and embraced the younger girl in her arms. It was very touching. She continued to hug her sister to her, tightly, until the little one was suffocating and freed herself, forcefully, from the crushing-sympathy-octopus that the teen had become. “Enough cuddling, you need to stop!” she shouted in frustration.

And so it is with social skills – sometimes situations which start and end with demonstrations of poor(er) social skills, include a moment of magic in the middle.

Special note: for parents of children 6-14 years of age,  RED DOOR will be starting a SOCIAL SATURDAYS program from August 2017. Details will be communicated soon. Please see the information in our section on up-coming courses.