With the publication of his book Emotional Intelligence in 1990, psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman inaugurated a new appreciation for just how important social skills are to long-term success and happiness. A Harvard study from 2015 found that “wage growth has been strongest in jobs that require high levels of both cognitive skill and social skill.” 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 disabilities or autism spectrum disorder, social skills must be overtly taught. Effective coaching 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 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. Learning to do the latter allows one to vent negative emotions safely and develop resiliency and authenticity.