Connecting Social Skillfully

There is no question that those with better social skills have an advantage. How are your social skills? What are social skills exactly? And are they a skill that can be improved? Looking at the literature and books, one would believe so. You can practice, role play and learn how to better communicate, express yourself, deal with feelings, deal with anger, care for others, listen, solve problems, be assertive, follow directions, improve your self-image… The list goes on.

I have run many social skills groups, first in a school setting and now clinically. I have worked with adults who have asbergers, and children who have difficulties with impulse control. People who are shy and people who are angry. As a therapist, it is important to have goals and to help develop strategies to meet these goals. While some issues are more difficult and more challenging than others, I have never failed at helping a client develop better social skills.

In a group, the experience is nothing short of powerful. Helping children and adolescents learn how to interact effectively and positively, assertively and respectfully in a group gives them a whole new confidence individually. Individually, having clients take risks, as small or insignificant as they may seem such as following up via phone on a resume sent, attending a work happy hour, or joining a “meetup” and practicing and using the skills we have worked on is again, powerful.

So what about the article I recently posted on my facebook page (Lynn R. Zakeri, LCSW) “Personality Set for Life by 1st Grade” to be published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science? They examined four personality attributes (social skills): Talkativeness, adaptability, impulsiveness and self minimizing behavior and found that those with certain traits in first grade behaved similarly as adults. Are social skills part of our personality, difficult to change? Perhaps. But one of the funniest most outgoing adults I know today was the shyest person I knew as a child. And as a therapist, I am often celebrating positive growth and change I observe in my clients. I am not convinced that we are set for life by 1st grade, and while there may be similarities observed in our adult personality, I still believe that social skills can be taught, practiced, and finally adapted, as a new part of our personality.