What are social skills? As humans we are hard wired to connect with other people, it helps us feel safe, seen, and adds meaning to our lives. Social skills are the broad set of behaviours that govern how we interact with others; they include use of eye contact, body language, assertiveness, and the ability to engage in small talk and flirting. Some social interactions are important, like asking for a promotion while others are more mundane like saying “Hello” to a neighbour. Whether its high stakes or low all these interactions all use social skills. Social skills are a learned behaviour; they are shaped by our personal history. If you have had lots of practice in new social settings you will feel comfortable and find it easy to meet new people. However, if you have had multiple negative social experiences or limited practice you may have a harder time in unfamiliar social settings. This uncertainty and anxiety can further lead to less than satisfactory social interactions. Mood, one’s current emotional state, can impact our social skills. If we feel happy and safe it becomes easier to connect with others. Our positive expressive skills, eye contact, tone of voice, having a friendly expression will be easier to access. The opposite is also true, if we are anxious or in fight or flight our natural social skills will be impaired. The oppositional nature of fight can unconsciously lead our body to increase the volume and speed of our speech, making it seem to others like we’re angry or in a rush. Flight, the physiological imperative to escape or hide, leads the body to avoid eye contact and decrease volume. This sends a message that implies disinterest or discomfort. It isn’t always our intention to appear angry or disinterested but how we feel can distort how we communicate. Can social skills training help me? Social skills training is a facet of psychotherapy that is used for individuals and groups who have, for various reasons, not fully developed all the social skills they would like to possess. Social skills training starts with a collaborative assessment of a person’s communication strengths and needs after which the person defines their goals and a learning plan is developed. By practicing social skills we can lessen the anxiety we feel in social situations which will naturally improve our communication. Why do we learn social skills in a group? Learning social skills in a group setting makes perfect sense. This safe supportive space allows for individuals to try out new behaviours and test their new skills. The group also allows for feedback so that individuals can gain useful insight on how they are presenting themselves to the world. One of the first steps in building our social skills is getting to know ourselves. Being able to connect with your own feelings and have awareness of yourself in the here and now is an important part of communicating What can I do today? Social Skills can also be improved on little by little in our day to day lives. If the idea of saying hello to your neighbour is not comfortable I challenge you to give it a try. In a recent study participants were asked ‘Do you think that stranger wants to talk?’ overwhelming people assumed the stranger would not want to have a conversation with them. However when the stranger was asked ‘Would you be willing to have a brief chat?’ more often than not they replied that they would be happy to. Like most new skills, learning starts with a small step, looking in someone’s eyes and offering a kind smile, or a neighbourly hello can be that step. Try it out, see how it feels.
Bill Wood is a Counseling Therapist with Inspired Living Medical. He offers group social skills training for adults and resiliency groups for children as well as individual counselling. Groups are scheduled for Saturday afternoons, run for 8 weeks and cost $200 (+HST). Groups are starting soon and filling up fast please call (902) 407-6600 to reserve your spot.