by Peter Murphy
While it’s not always easy to define what is meant by
social skills, it’s easy to identify individuals who lack
them and need social skills training: they tend to be
socially isolated, frustrated, depressed, even prone to
anger and acting out.
Social skills training for both children and adults focuses
on creating individuals who are able to make and maintain
friendships, understand and express emotion, work
cooperatively, and develop assertiveness and self-worth.
In the workplace, social skills help employees embody the
traits most valued by employers: compliance, civility, and
Mental health experts have identified four primary areas of
1. Survival skills, such as listening and following
directions, focusing on the task at hand, and using
positive self-talk to reward success.
2. Interpersonal skills, such as sharing, participating
appropriately in activities, and learning how to take turns.
3. Problem-solving skills, including knowing how and when
to ask for help, deciding upon the correct course of
action, and accepting consequences for behavior.
4. Conflict resolution skills, such as dealing with
misunderstanding or accusation.
The goal of social skills training is to facilitate
desirable behaviors while minimizing the incidence of
undesirable ones. Through positive modeling, coaching, and
role-playing, effective programs need to:
1. Teach listening skills, conversational skills, and
social participation skills. Central to all three is eye
contact, knowing when (and when not) to speak, and how to
show interest in what other people are saying.
2. Describe how to ask questions and favors appropriately
of others, and how to follow directions. Help people
determine the best time to speak, how to know who to ask
for help, and how to get another person’s attention in a
friendly and non-aggressive way.
3. Provide direction in how to interpret body language.
People communicate volumes through their facial expressions
and by many other non-verbal cues that can be nuanced and
challenging to understand. Teach participants to observe
other people closely through role-play and through modeling.
4. Teach the skill of working cooperatively. Working well
with others involves being able to listen, to identify what
needs to be done and how it should be accomplished, and to
be attuned to the needs and feelings of the people involved
in the task.
5. Train people how to communicate positively and
productively. Teach them when and how to say thank you,
how to give constructive compliments, and how to give and
receive positive feedback.
Accepting a compliment is not easy for some people, but
learning how to do it graciously and appropriately is a
valuable social skill.
6. Instruct on the proper techniques of conflict
resolution. Accepting the consequences of behavior means
knowing when and how to apologize, understanding how
actions influence other people, and demonstrating the
ability to empathize.
Social skills have been referred to by some psychologists
as “life skills”. Therefore, social skills training is
really about giving people the skills they need to succeed
Peter Murphy is a peak performance expert. He recently
produced a very popular free report: 10 Simple Steps to
Developing Communication Confidence. Apply now because
it is available for a limited time only at: