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Above 200 "Friends" And Below Average Vital Social Skills

"This is a generation with an average of 241 social media 'friends,' but they have trouble communicating in person," said the president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology began responding to this problem almost 20 years ago when this premier university first offered their book-smart students instruction in how to make a first impression, master the art of small talk, dress appropriately, network, and handle conflict with grace.  At MIT, the instruction is called "Charm School," to keep from threatening the brilliant-but-awkward students who need it most.

"This generation talks better with their thumbs than face to face," reports the executive director of York College's Center for Professional Excellence.  "A good resume and a degree only gets you to the table.  Professional behaviors are what get you a job.  And what colleges are trying to do is help these students develop the behaviors that employers want."

The fact that highly intelligent and capable people often need to learn these skills reinforces the common belief that there's a big difference between "book smarts" and "people smarts."  The most well-known label for the latter is "emotional intelligence."  In the 1990's, some extreme claims were made about the value of this kind of intelligence.  But today, it's defined by scientific researchers as " the capacity to perceive emotions, assimilate emotion-related feelings, understand the information of those emotions, and manage them."  These same researchers have validated some important correlates of emotional intelligence:

  • People higher in emotional intelligence are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
  • People higher in emotional intelligence are more satisfied with their social networks and appear to receive more social support.
  • People higher in emotional intelligence seem to more successfully avoid interpersonal arguments and fights.  [

It's easy to see why, as MIT's program director puts it, "in a tough job market, this is one additional tool that will give you an edge.  The key to being a step ahead is having those interpersonal skills . . . ." (A. Hamlett, quoted in Marcus, J. (2013). College 'charm schools' offer workplace lessons.  The Hechinger Report.

You can improve your vital social skills by paying attention to your verbal and nonverbal communication, your talking and listening.  You can learn how to move the quality of the contact you have with others from impersonal toward interpersonal.  All it takes is a desire, an accurate understanding of human communication, and an awareness of the four qualities that make us human:  uniqueness, ESP (emotions-spirit-psyche), choices, and mindful reflectiveness. 

When you give out and take in elements of these four qualities, and when the person(s) you're communicating with do the same, the contact between you will be interpersonal.  When you don't, the contact will be impersonal.  Impersonal contacts are fine in some contexts.  And in many crucial human situations at work, in your family, and online, interpersonal contacts are more complete, civil, appreciated, satisfying, and productive.

I've been teaching this approach to interpersonal communication for over 40 years.  My new book distills what I've learned.  It's called U&ME:  CREATING MOMENTS THAT MATTER IN SEVEN LIFE ARENAS.


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