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Maybe It's Not You - Maybe It's Them

Aug 3, 2008
There are many people who want better relationships, more friends, and meaningful interactions with others. Often, they recognize that part of their problem is that their own communication and social skills aren't very good.

It's true that if you lack various social skills then you're most likely part of your problem. But let's look at this deficit from a different perspective: is it really all your fault?

Does everyone around you have stellar social skills?

Nope.

Now, I'm not trying to discourage you from taking responsibility for yourself, it's just that I've been in many situations where people who have poor social skills don't know it. They think that just because they're talking at length about something they find profoundly interesting that they're great conversationalists. They think that because they went out every night this week that they're super popular and that the party just wouldn't have been the same without them. OK, OK - granted, there are some people out there who have a genuine skill of making the most mundane topic interesting and they do have such charisma that they added to the success of a party. But, hey - those folks are few and far between.

What is unfortunate is that the people who want better skills blame themselves for the situation without taking a good look at what the people they're interacting with are doing. There are times when it's the people around you who are the ones without good social skills. They don't know (or sometimes don't care) how to react to you and probably aren't even aware that the poor social interaction is partly their doing.

You can tell if someone else is the culprit when you ask him questions and he doesn't say anything but "yes" or "no". Or when you're telling a story about something amusing that happened at the office and the other person looks at you with a "why do you think I care?" expression. Or when someone has asked you how your day is going but keeps walking by, not waiting for an answer. Or when you spent the last half hour listening attentively to someone who then doesn't bother listening to you or lets their eyes wander all over the room when you speak. Or...

I remember this one time when I went out for dinner with a friend of mine, his friend Doug and Doug's girlfriend Tina. Tina talked...and talked...and talked. During the course of the meal, my friend would jump in at various times and hijack the conversation - not because she paused but because he didn't care if he interrupted - Doug made one comment and I hadn't said a word (actually, I was too busy trying to eat as quickly as I could to escape Tina's verbal flood). Then, without breaking her oral stride, Tina turned to me and said, "You don't talk much, do you?" The only thing I could think of saying back was, "You talk too much, don't you?"

No, I didn't say that out loud, but in hindsight I wish I had. In any case, it wouldn't have mattered; Tina kept blathering on, but now about how other people are often so quiet. She didn't make the connection.

Now there's someone with poor social skills. But ask Tina about her skills and she'd tell you she's a social queen. uhmmmm ... no.

Much like Tina, I could go on and on with stories about others who have been underwhelming with their social skills but you probably get the point.

Next time you go out armed with your best social skills and the reception is far from dazzling, don't berate yourself. Take responsibility for your skills and keep improving them but keep in mind that the problem could be that others need to be working on their social skills also.
About the Author
Laurie Wilhelm manages the Express Yourself to Success website, a one-stop e-source with information and techniques on interpersonal and social skills, public speaking, networking and conflict resolution. Achieve your success by working effectively with others. Find out how you can boost your career and get a free white paper, What Everyone Needs to Know About Social Skills, by going to www.expressyourselftosuccess.com.
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