The Problem with Social Skills

Relationships teach us about multiple perspectives and provide the experience to show us that there is more than one right way of thinking, feeling, solving a problem and behaving. Through relationship encounters, we see the world through another’s eyes and notice it is not identical to our own. Relationships teach us to think about the world in a relative and not absolute manner. In a relationship our actions cannot be interpreted as right or wrong. Rather, they are meaningful or not depending on how they impact the individuals involved in the relationship. Rather than pushing a button or following a script, relationships require us to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the state of our connection to one another and make ongoing adjustments.The essential skills of relationship differ from the typical social skills taught in classes or social skills groups. We are accustomed to thinking of social skills as teaching behaviors such as making eye contact, waiting your turn, smiling, asking good questions and similar behaviors. Scientists refer to these as Instrumental Skills and they are mainly about getting what you need and about fitting in. Both types of skills are important, but only Relationship skills lead to the ability to have friends and intimate relationships.Instrumental skills are applicable to situations in which people typically behave in predictable, scripted ways and when we employ them, we tend to use people like instruments to get our needs met. Relationship skills have a very different purpose. They are used when social contact is an end in itself; to create and deepen connections between people, share excitement and joy, and participate in joint creative efforts. Relationships, like friendships and children’s play encounters occur in a rather unpredictable, non-scripted improvised manner. Flexibility and creative thinking are valued, along with remaining co-ordinated.

We have found that the two types of skills require very different learning methods. This fundamental difference is the reason we developed Relationship Development Intervention.

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