Sunday, July 26, 2009

Social Skills Do Matter

The "look at me" approach to reading humans is painful, literally, for me -- and I know I am not alone. Considering many cultures dissuade direct eye contact, it must be assumed individuals in those cultures concentrate on intonation, gesture, and other non-verbal signals. Even personal space varies culture to culture, so the signals are not universal.

When I discuss this with other adults, including the non-verbal (which I am only under stress), it seems many of us focus on the mouth to compensate for "hearing too much" background noise and distractions. If I'm in a public space, I have to concentrate on the mouth to make sense of the spoken words even though I have excellent hearing. I simply end up confusing conversations around me with what is being said in front of me.

I end up finding myself reading journal articles and wondering why the conclusions of other researchers is often so far from my experiences and those of others I know. I often think at least interviewing adults with various deficiencies would alter the conclusions being reached.

My own research has centered on pedagogical concerns at secondary and post-secondary levels, where the social interactions are often as important as any course content. I have to resist the urge to remind other researchers and experts that getting me to "mimic" and "appear" more like everyone else is only a coping strategy. Its definitely a reminder that I am different and "deficient" that I must adapt to make others comfortable... but it also matters if I want to be successful.

I don't mean to sound like a radical on the matter. I simply want to remind others that simply because I can learn to outwardly do something doesn't really make me any more content or improve my self-image. In some cases, quite the opposite.

So, I do think decoding skills matter. They matter a lot in society that values "personality" and "charm" as much as knowledge or skills. I certainly appreciate the value of such skills. I simply wish some experts would not confuse successful mimicry / "faking it" for actual, internalized experience.

I'm quite good at reading faces 90% of the time, now. I've also memorized how to respond situationally. Example: Student looks confused during lecture (raised eyebrows, tilted head, tight lips). Reaction: Ask the student a question or prompt to confirm comprehension of lecture materials.

Good skill to have. No question about it... but it has always required analysis and conscious thought. I'm 40, so that's a lot of practice at it. Still, the delay in processing is and always will be noticeable to some people. That's okay, because that's who I am.

3 comments:

  1. Personally I think that "look me in the eye" can be taken into the extreme. It's possible to look too hard and invade someone's space.

    But like your title says, social skills do matter. Those skills sometimes take longer than others.

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  2. Very interesting I just stopped blogging but at least I can continue reading them. I've got the same problems having to look at the mouth Problems with background noise, sensory integration problems and severe social problems when I was young. I've come along way i am socially quite good now but being among people is often exhausting eventhough I enjoy it.
    I never had an assessment but I know for sure because I learned it through my kids that I have dyspraxia and dynomia. Always sort of survived It is nice to read about it because it keeps bugging you

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  3. I can't make eye contact at all, and I work with the public. It's hard because half of my customers are quick to anger and think they're being stared at.

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