With the publication of his book Emotional Intelligence in 1990, Daniel Goleman launched a new era of appreciation for just how important social skills are to long-term success and happiness in life. A Harvard study from August 2015 found that “wage growth has been strongest in jobs that require high levels of both cognitive skill and social skills.” Social skills influence not just peer relationships, but academic performance and family dynamics as well.
While most children pick up positive social skills over time through everyday interactions with adults and peers, not all do. For many children, particularly those with nonverbal learning disability, Asperger’s Syndrome, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, social skills must be overtly taught. Effective therapy includes not only a trusting relationship between client and therapist, but attention to the physical and cognitive demands of appropriate social behavior. Learning a general script for the classic “small talk” conversation can be invaluable, as can enhancing the ability to think laterally. In addition, analyzing the fear-inducing beliefs that underlie Social Anxiety Disorder can be enormously helpful to teens and adults who suffer from it. But, social skills encompass more than just acting friendly and conversing easily. They also involve assertive speech. Speaking assertively, yet sensitively, allows one to vent negative emotions safely, and protect the growth of personality traits such as resiliency and authenticity.
John Mohrbacher, LICSW
A licensed clinical social worker, tutor, and organizational coach who specializes in helping children and adults with attention and executive-function difficulties.