A social skill is any competence facilitating interaction and communication with others where social rules and relations are created, communicated, and changed in verbal and nonverbal ways. The process of learning these skills is called socialization. For socialization, interpersonal skills are essential to relate to one another. Interpersonal skills are the interpersonal acts a person uses to interact with others, which are related to dominance vs. submission, love vs. hate, affiliation vs. aggression, and control vs. autonomy categories (Leary, 1957). Positive interpersonal skills include persuasion, active listening, delegation, and stewardship, among others. Social psychology is the academic discipline that does research related to social skills and studies how skills are learned by an individual through changes in attitude, thinking, and behavior.
Social skills are the tools that enable people to communicate, learn, ask for help, get needs met in appropriate ways, get along with others, make friends, develop healthy relationships, protect themselves, and in general, be able to interact with the society harmoniously. Social skills build essential character traits like trustworthiness, respectfulness, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. These traits help build an internal moral compass, allowing individuals to make good choices in thinking and behavior, resulting in social competence.
The important social skills identified by the Employment and Training Administration are:
Social skills are goal oriented with both main goals and sub-goals. For example, a workplace interaction initiated by a new employee with a senior employee will first contain a main goal. This will gather information, and then the sub-goal will be to establish a rapport in order to obtain the main goal. Takeo Doi in his study of consciousness distinguished this as tutemae, meaning conventions and verbal expressions and honne, meaning true motive behind the conventions.
Deficits in social skills were categorized by Gresham in 1998, as failure to recognize and reflect social skills, a failure to model appropriate models, and failure to perform acceptable behavior in particular situations in relation to developmental and transitional stages. Social skill deficits are also a discouragement for children with behavioral challenges when it comes to adult adjustment.
Social skills are significantly impaired in people suffering from alcoholism. This is due to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol on the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex area of the brain. The social skills that are impaired by alcohol abuse, include impairments in perceiving facial emotions, prosody perception problems, and theory of mind deficits. The ability to understand humor is also impaired in alcohol abusers. Impairments in social skills can also occur in individuals who suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. These deficits persist throughout the affected people's lives, and may worsen over time due to the effects of aging on the brain.
People with ADHD and hyperkinetic disorder often have difficulties with social skills, such as social interaction. Approximately half of ADHD children and adolescents will experience peer rejection, compared to 10-15 percent of non-ADHD youth. Adolescents with ADHD are less likely to develop close friendships and romantic relationships; they are usually regarded by their peers as immature or as social outcasts. As they begin to mature, however, it becomes easier to make such relationships. Training in social skills, behavioral modification, and medication have some beneficial effects. It is important for ADHD youth to form friendships with people who are not involved in deviant/delinquent activities in order to reducing emergence of later psychopathology. Poor peer relationships can contribute to major depression, criminality, school failure, and substance use disorders. Romantic relationships are usually difficult in the adolescent and college age because of the lack of attention of non verbal cues such as flirting gestures, tone of voice, which may include misinterpretation if whether the person is romantically attracted to that person, along with the impulsiveness of "jumping into" relationships.
People with autistic spectrum disorders, such as Asperger's syndrome, have a deficit within social skills. This is most likely the result of the lack of theory of mind, which enables the person to understand other people's emotions. Many people on the spectrum have many social idiosyncrasies such as obsessive interests and routines, lack of eye contact, one sided conversations, abnormal body language and non-verbal communication. The concept of social skills has been questioned in terms of autistic spectrum. In response for the needs of children with autism, Romanczyk has suggested for adapting comprehensive model of social acquisitions with behavioral modification rather than specific responses tailored for social contexts.
Individuals with few opportunities to socialize with others often struggle with social skills. This can often create a downward spiral effect for people with mental illnesses like anxiety or depression. Due to anxiety experienced from concerns with interpersonal evaluation and fear of negative reaction by others, surfeit expectations of failure or social rejection in socialization leads to avoiding or shutting down from social interactions. Individuals who experience significant levels of social anxiety often struggle when communicating with others, and may have impaired abilities to demonstrate social cues and behaviors appropriately.
Depression can also cause people avoid opportunities to socialize, which impairs their social skills, and makes socialization unattractive.
The authors of the book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work explore psychopathy in workplace. The FBI consultants describe a five phase model of how a typical psychopath climbs to and maintains power. Many traits exhibited by these individuals include: superficial charm, insincerity, egocentricity, manipulativeness, grandiosity, lack of empathy, low on agreeableness, exploitativeness, independence, rigidity, stubbornness and dictatorial tendencies. Babiak and Hare say for corporate psychopaths, success is defined as the best revenge and their problem behaviors are repeated "ad infinitum" due to little insight and their proto-emotions such as "anger, frustration, and rage" is refracted as irresistible charm. The authors note that lack of emotional literacy and moral conscience is often confused with toughness, the ability to make hard decisions, and effective crisis management. Babiak and Hare also emphasizes a reality they identified with psychopaths from studies that psychopaths are not able to be influenced by any sort of therapy.
At the University at Buffalo in New York, Emily Grijalva has investigated narcissism in business; she found there are two forms of narcissism: "vulnerable" and "grandiose". It is her finding that "moderate" level of grandiose narcissism is linked to becoming an effective manager. Grandiose narcissists are characterized as confident; they possess unshakable belief that they are superior, even when it's unwarranted. They can be charming, pompous show-offs, and can also be selfish, exploitative and entitled. Jens Lange and Jan Crusius at the University of Cologne, Germany associates "malicious-benign" envy within narcissistic social climbers in workplace. It is their finding that grandiose narcissists are less prone to low self-esteem and neuroticism and are less susceptible to the anxiety and depression that can affect vulnerable narcissists when coupled with envy. They characterize vulnerable narcissists as those who "believe they are special, and want to be seen that way-but are just not that competent, or charming." As a result, their self-esteem fluctuates a lot. They tend to be self-conscious and passive, but also prone to outbursts of potentially violent aggression if their inflated self-image is threatened."Richard Boyatzis says this is an unproductive form of expression of emotions that the person can't share constructively, which reflects lack of appropriate skills. Eddie Brummelman, a social and behavioral scientist at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and Brad Bushman at Ohio State University in Columbus says studies show that in western culture narcissism is on the rise from shifting focus on the self rather than on relationships and concludes all narcissism to be socially undesirable ("unhealthy feelings of superiority"). David Kealy at the University of British Columbia in Canada states that narcissism might aid temporarily but in the long run it is better to be true to oneself, have personal integrity, and be kind to others.
To behaviorists, social skills are learned behaviors that allow people to achieve social reinforcement. According to Schneider & Byrne (1985), who conducted a meta-analysis of social skills training procedures (51 studies), operant conditioning procedures for training social skills had the largest effect size, followed by modeling, coaching, and social cognitive techniques. Behavior analysts prefer to use the term behavioral skills to social skills. Behavioral skills training to build social and other skills is used with a variety of populations including in packages to treat addictions as in the community reinforcement approach and family training (CRAFT).
Training of behavioral skills is also used for people who suffer from borderline personality disorder, depression, and developmental disabilities. Typically behaviorists try to develop what are considered cusp skills, which are critical skills to open access to a variety of environments. The rationale for this type of approach to treatment is that people meet a variety of social problems and can reduce the stress and punishment from the encounter in a safe environment. It also addresses how they can increase reinforcement by having the correct skills.