Social Skills Deficits

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Post by Guest on Tue Feb 10, 2015 10:34 am

One of the biggest problems I have is that social incompetence and having no friends seems like a Catch-22 situation. You need friends in order to develop social skills and be someone who people want to be around, but you need social skills and be someone people want to be around in order to make friends. As far as I can tell, if given the choice between spending time with someone who is already socially skilled who makes you feel good, and someone socially incompetent who makes you feel uncomfortable, you'll naturally pick the former every single time. It's like being the kid who always gets picked last for PE, except at least in PE the person who gets picked last still gets picked, because the rules say that everyone has to get picked eventually. In the social world, there's no such rule.

I guess the reason I'm making this thread is that I'm looking for clarification. Does anyone think I'm wrong about any of the above? If so, in your experience, how bad can someone's social skills be and still have you want to be their friend, or at least friendly acquaintance? How big does the gap in someone's social skills have to be compared to the rest of a group before you'll choose someone else to socialize with by default?

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Post by Mel on Tue Feb 10, 2015 11:05 am

It's definitely a difficult situation, but I think where you're wrong--and where there is then hope--is in this: "You need friends in order to develop social skills."

There are lots of ways you can improve your social skills without having friends. It depends somewhat on where you feel your particular deficits are, but those ways can include:

-Making brief small talk with strangers in appropriate scenarios (e.g., cashier while they're ringing you up, waiter/waitress at a restaurant).
-Making longer not-too-personal talk with someone it's expected you'll talk with due to a business/professional type relationship (coworkers you need to coordinate with, fellow students you're working on a project with, hairdresser/barber, taxi driver).
-Volunteering in settings where you'll be working with other people to create more opportunities for the not-too-personal talk described above.
-Relating socially to family members (having conversations, making plans to see each other, navigating relationship problems between you).
-Talking to people online in a setting like this forum and seeing how they respond to different ways you talk and different things you talk about.
-Seeking therapy and practicing socializing with a therapist and/or other clients in a group therapy setting.

Just off the top of my head.

So you can learn in small steps, from things like basic small talk, to longer not-too-personal talk with people you have to be talking with anyway, and so on, before you get to the point of trying to create an ongoing friendly relationship.

I'd also say that there are lots of people who are socially awkward too, and they struggle with finding and maintaining friendships too, and because they understand social awkwardness they're a lot more likely to be tolerant of it in others. You can try to find people who might fit that profile by doing things like looking for support groups for socially anxious folks or checking out local meet-ups and clubs for ones around "nerdy," "geeky," or other activities that tend to appeal to a higher percentage of socially awkward folks.
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Post by Enail on Tue Feb 10, 2015 1:24 pm

I second what Mel says. In regards to the question of how big a gap in social skills will cause people to not want to socialize with them, I don't think there's a simple answer because it's not really a quantitative trait.

Different people will have different tolerance, and different ways of having trouble with social skills will affect peoples' responses differently.

For example, for me, if someone is prone to a lot of physical proximity and touch but doesn't know when it's appropriate/welcomed and when not, that's something that would cause me to not want to be around them - but I know other people who mind that much less than I do (though I think that's one that a lot of people respond negatively to). Someone who is awkward with their words and stumbles over sentences or takes a long time to form a sentence, that probably wouldn't stop me from wanting to be around them at all. Someone who is very shy and doesn't say much if we're talking, I'd be fine with that, but only if I'm feeling sufficiently confident to be able to talk to them, because I'm not that great socially either and sometimes I need the other person to be helping out more to be able to manage social interaction. Does that make sense?
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Post by Hirundo Bos on Tue Feb 10, 2015 6:29 pm

First, two more low-level entry ways to improve social skills:
– in addition to Mel's suggestion that you observe and learn from your own online interactions, you can also observe and learn from the online interactions of others. That's what I have been doing a lot of over the past year.
– post threads and ask questions on these forums, they are a good setting for explicit discussion of social and interpersonal skills.

How bad someone's skills can be and still have me want to be around them... for me, too, that would depend on what kind of skill. I think I'm fairly open to different kinds of people, but the ones I usually don't want to be around are the people that keep me on my toes. People whose reactions to me are hard for me to understand or predict, people who need me beyond my capacity to give, people I have to prove myself to... people who don't sense or care about my boundaries, people with too subtle ways of communicating their own.

Some of this has to do with general standards of behavior, things I would recommend that anyone should seek to learn... some of it has more to do with my own social weak spots, like the thing about how others communicate about their boundaries. (I would probably have a strained friendship with an exact copy of myself.)

It also has something to say how people view their own shortcomings in these areas. I have learned about that from other people on these forums: How a mutual will to find compromises and pool one's efforts to make things work will count for a lot.

And finally, keeping in touch with someone is itself a social skill, one that I'm not so good at... so the other people I know who aren't so good at that either, they're people I rarely get together with even though I'd want to.
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Post by Jayce on Tue Feb 10, 2015 8:19 pm

I'm going to ask, how many times are we going to make that choice? It's not like there's always two people standing in front of me all the time for me to choose. And don't forget, its possible to choose both. As for not wanting to choose them I'll usually reject someone for friendship if they act creepy, if they are pushy about things (e.g religion), if they hold toxic beliefs, if they are annoying. That's all I can think of at the moment. However these situations are actually quite rare.

The most common thing for me not to be friends with someone, is if they offend me. For example one time, someone asked me for my name, so I told them, since my name is not of Anglo-Saxon origin, I repeated it again, just in case they couldn't catch it. Then the person said: "you don't have to be so insecure about your name you know". Well that offended me, it wasn't what was going on at all. Or another person who said: "I hate people who are not down to earth" which was just a synonym for I hate people who are not similar to me. Welp, guess like I'm not talking to you anymore, since everybody in the world has to be similar to you. And these weren't just jokes, they actually meant it.

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Post by kleenestar on Tue Feb 10, 2015 8:46 pm

Other people have said wise things about ways to develop social skills that don't require already having friends. I'd like to challenge a different part of your thinking here.

Pagliacci wrote:As far as I can tell, if given the choice between spending time with someone who is already socially skilled who makes you feel good, and someone socially incompetent who makes you feel uncomfortable, you'll naturally pick the former every single time.

You're making a huge assumption, which is that socially skilled = makes you feel good and socially incompetent = makes you feel uncomfortable. These two things are what we in the science biz call positively correlated - meaning, the more socially skilled you are, the better your odds of making someone feel good - but not perfectly correlated - meaning, the person with worse social skills might actually make you feel better about yourself, depending on circumstances. For example, there are styles of being socially skilled that I absolutely can't abide - chit-chatters, smooth talkers, party people. I'd much rather have an awkward experience with someone who shares my social style.

I also think enail is right - you can get a very long way by avoiding deal-breakers rather than spending your energy trying to be awesome. Avoiding deal-breakers is often just a matter of following a simple rule, like "Ask before you touch someone," as opposed to doing something complicated that requires skill. We could help you figure out, say, three rules to follow that would have the maximum impact.

I am pretty socially skilled and I certainly socialize with people at very different levels of social skill than mine - some way better, some way worse. What they have in common is a) they are very interesting people, b) they avoid dealbreakers, and c) they share my general social style, which playful, creative, intimate, and pragmatic.
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Post by readertorider on Sat Feb 14, 2015 5:27 pm

Agreeing with everyone else that developing social skills is not necessarily a Catch-22 and that not breaking big social contracts -touching without asking, insulting people, asking/volunteering too personal information etc.- is probably a good place to start. I think that there's a lot of different types/styles of social skills (like kleenestar said) and different styles may not actually be that applicable across different places/regions/situations/people once you go beyond the basics, so it might be worth it to 1) learn deal breakers then 2) learn the remaining skills by interacting with the people you want to interact with (erring towards polite when you're unsure).

I think it also is very possible to develop friends or at least friendly acquaintances without very strong social skills just be being there. Not in a 'stalk your romantic interest' sense, but people do bond over hobbies/games/volunteering especially if it's a regularly occurring thing. People also sometimes issue invitations based on who's in the room. Not saying this makes sense or is fair, but convenience ('propinquity' to quote the psyc research) is certainly a component in friendships.

I'm a little fuzzy about the concept of 'social skill' though. To me it's a little like sense of humor where when people talk about someone else having it there is a component of "like mine". I mean I thinks there's a few demonstrable signs--tells a good story, can talk to a variety of people, can make other people comfortable--but I guess I don't really look for those things in a close friendship?
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Post by Guest on Tue Feb 17, 2015 6:43 am

Ok, so, the thing about 'improving' social skills is that one needs to make those social mistakes numerous times in order to learn from them, no? Also, there will undoubtedly be moments where you've made any no. of social faux pas without realizing it. Why would people who have no investment in you as a person give you a heads up as to what you're doing wrong?

While I don't have any explicit negative social experiences to support my beliefs, I've always assumed that my general awkwardness, ineptitude and emptiness would be poorly tolerated out in the real world. Assuming that I'll get a bad/mediocre social reputation is one of the reasons why I don't have a giant gumption to socialize...

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Post by Enail on Tue Feb 17, 2015 1:19 pm

I think people generally want to have comfortable, pleasant interactions with other people, so while they won't teach social skills to someone they have no investment in (and, most people are not themselves so confident about social skills that they'd feel comfortable teaching unasked, and plus it'd be rude), they will often give you information about what they'd like you to do differently.

A lot of the time, they'll give that information indirectly, which means that picking up on it is a social skill of its own, unfortunately. Watch for people stepping back or trying to turn away - that's likely to be telling you that you're standing uncomfortably close, getting uncomfortably personal or that they'd like to end the conversation. It doesn't even necessarily mean you've made a faux pas - conversations don't go on forever, even if everyone involved is charming and witty. But learning to recognize those kinds of non-verbal cues is a very good skill to learn.

Sometimes, people will actually tell you when they don't like something you're doing, but often when they do that, it'll be couched in softening language so as not to be rude. The kind of person who will just say "hey, could you step back a bit, you're in my personal bubble" is very useful to learn from, but you can also practice recognizing softer verbal cues. Like, if you ask about work, and they say "oh, you know... But I've taken up turnip-hunting lately, and..." they're probably telling you they're not comfortable talking about their work situation.
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