You hear the labels all the time. The “in crowd”, soccer moms, NASCAR dads, Liberals and Conservatives, the list goes on for almost infinity. Every label represents an “Us” to which everyone outside of it is a “Them”.
We all hold “them” in contempt. However, when you get down to it as humans we’re not that different.
We’re all flesh and blood. We all care about our families and friends. We all like to have fun. None of us like to feel pain. Still, despite our similarities we can’t escape viewing our world through the prism of “Us and Them”.
The Role of Social Behavior In Our Survival
Ultimately what makes someone an “Us” is their ability to follow a set of rules that define our social behavior. This is a survival strategy that has been with us since our ancestors first started organizing into groups. In order for the group to be able to survive it had to be cohesive in its thinking and behavior.
Dividing people into “Us” and “Them” is also how we determine who we can trust and who we cannot. Fairly or not your clothes, your car, your house, your mannerisms and everything else about you symbolize the “Us” you belong to. As neuroscientist Terence Deacon puts it, humans are the “symbolic species”. We all do something to fit in and be part of the crowd. We may all do it with different things, but we all do it.
That is why our social skills are so important. Our ability to adapt and fit in is a key to our very survival. If someone lacks the ability to fit in they cannot become an “Us”. Without becoming an “Us” they cannot survive. Where will one get the money needed for survival if they are unable to show that they are one of Us?
It’s no secret that employers look not only at your skill but how you will fit into their culture when you are being interviewed. They know that your social ability is at least as important if not more important than your actual technical skill. It’s much easier to teach a technical skill than it is to change a behavior.
Social Ability More Important Than Academic Ability
While both are important, it is believed that our ability to adapt to our social environment is more important to our future success than anything we learn in academics. The more connected we become as a species the more important our ability to socially adapt will become.
It’s a mistake to think that social skills are solely about making friends. Social skills affect our ability to function in our daily life. In order to be independent we must be able to navigate through social situations.
Our social skills define our ability to navigate every situation that involves more than one person. We have to consider the outcomes and consequences of our decisions. Since few if any decisions impact only one person our social skills play an important role in almost everything we do.
Why Every Communication Is A Social Event
Even my writing this must be considered in a social context. I must be able to consider your perspective. Will you enjoy what I write? Will you get the point I’m trying to make, or will you infer something else all together. Will you find this offensive? I have to consider all of this when I write.
This is referred to as perspective taking. It’s the ability to empathize with others and to see their point of view.
While I cannot do it here, if you and I were speaking I would be able to judge your reaction by your tone of voice, posture and any manner of other social cues. I could then modify what I was saying based on your response. It might involve taking the subject further or dropping it all together if I see that is something that upsets you.
In other words by taking your perspective I am able to see if I am violating your social rules or not. In turn you are deciding whether or not I have. Consciously or subconsciously we are constantly making these judgments. We cannot escape this.
We all are deciding who belongs with “Us” and who belongs with “Them”. Therein is the importance of having effective social skills. Without them how can someone become part of “Us”?