Social skills are most often thought of as a set of skills that allow people to communicate, relate and socialize with others. They include both verbal and nonverbal forms of communication, and may be defined differently from one culture to another. These skills often are the way others determine a person's status, consider people as potential friends or mates, and consider them for employment or promotions in the workplace. The opposite is social ineptitude, which is an inability to use those elements that would make one a good communicator.
In most English speaking countries, social skills are both verbal and nonverbal. Verbal ones include being able to determine the appropriate thing to say at the appropriate time, being able to communicate in ways that are engaging, have a range of vocal tone and quality, and being able to speak in an educated but reasonably understandable manner. In a sense, such skills are judged by what a person says, when he says it, and how he says it.
People with good verbal skills in the US are thought to speak with a clear voice, have inflection, speak appropriately to a situation, and have confidence in their voice. Poor skills might be read as having a monotonal voice, saying the wrong thing, speaking too softly to be heard or too loudly to be tolerated, or simply speaking on boring topics. The person who can only address one topic is also thought to have poor social skills.
Since there are regional dialects in the US, verbal skills may also be judged by accent or lack thereof. A person who lives in the South but comes from California might be considered as having a grating voice because he or she does not have a Southern accent. Conversely, a speaker from California might think of the Southerner who speaks slowly with a heavy accent as less educated. People with accents from other countries, except British accents, tend to be considered by some as less intelligent than those who speak in clear English. The way a speaker’s voice is perceived can cause a person to make snap judgments about him, though these are often incorrect.
The other aspect of social skills is nonverbal. Body language, standing up straight, making eye contact, making appropriate gestures, leaning toward the person one is speaking to, smiling appropriately, and keeping the body open can all define good nonverbal skills. It should be noted that these things can be overdone. Gestures can be too dramatic, people who smile too much may not be trusted, and leaning too far forward into someone else’s personal space may be considered rude.
In addition, the person with good nonverbal skills listens well. Nodding of the head, the occasional quick comment, and clearly taking in someone else’s communications is valuable. People don’t simply want to be talked to; they want to be talked with. A sense that both communicators are taking equal part in a conversation demonstrates advanced social skills.
Though these skills can be learned, some people seem to have an innate sense of good ones. Others may struggle because of communication disabilities. For example, those with autism, nonverbal learning disorders, and Asperger’s all have an extremely hard time interpreting voice inflection, sarcasm, and body language. They also may have difficulty using voice inflection or sarcasm, and their body language may poorly communicate with others.
Those with social anxiety disorder may be challenged by feelings of panic when in certain social situations that make putting these skills to work very problematic. Though many people can conquer social anxiety, those with verifiable language disorders often face an uphill battle in having relationships and learning to be judged by their inner qualities rather than by their lack of what the culture defines as social skills.