Social Skills Vs. Social Kills: 6 Potentially Fatal Conversation Mistakes

Consider these examples of conversation missteps: The guy who rambles on about 17th century architecture. The woman who wants to know every detail of your personal life including everything you have eaten for the day. The man who gives one word answers while looking at everything in the room except for you. We have all experienced these conversation disasters at one point or another. Being able to engage in conversation is essential to developing friendships, advancing in one’s career, and maintain a healthy social life, yet many people lack the basic skills needed to carry on a conversation, resulting in what we at Stanfield like to call “Social Kills”. Read the following conversation blunders for information on how to save your students from making these common mistakes.

1. Failure to Listen

Help your students recognize that not listening to the person they are talking to not only communicates that they are uninterested, it also deprives them of seeing other points of view and keeps them from learning more about the other person. How can they avoid this?  By showing interest in others and their concerns, encouraging others to express themselves by asking point-of-view questions, and listening attentively instead of concentrating on their replies.

2. Prying Too Much

Communicate to your students that when speaking to someone, especially an acquaintance or new friend, it is perfectly fine to want to learn more about him or her and to ask questions to that end.  However, prying into someone’s personal affairs could cause them to become uncomfortable and shy away from a friendship. Encourage your students to keep propriety in a conversation by mixing questions with statements. For example, if the person worked on a garden last weekend, one may say: “I think gardening is great therapy…what have you planted lately?” This will likely go over better than, “Are you gardening because you’re sad that your girlfriend broke up with you?”

3. Tightening Up

If your students find that they exhaust all the usual topics at the beginning of a conversation and are nervous to start a new one, prompt them to observe the world around them. Instead of freezing up, chances are they will find something of interest and be able to continue the flow of conversation. Encourage students to stay up-to-date with news, upcoming school events, and the interests of their friends and classmates. School or national newspapers, the radio, and TV can be great resources. Encourage students to think about their passions and interests ahead of time so they will have a backup of conversation ideas for that potentially awkward “lull”.

4. Poor Delivery

Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it that matters in a conversation.  Suggest to students that they slow down when speaking,  and speak clearly, fluently and loud enough for everyone to hear.  Students should also be aware of non-verbal cues such as posture, facial expressions and laughter. Remind your students to use these cues when they are appropriate. For instance, they shouldn’t laugh when someone is telling a sad story or cringe when someone is talking about the dinner he cooked last night…even if they don’t agree with his taste in food.

5. Hogging the Spotlight

Your students may have really interesting stories to tell and they may want to tell them to their company all at once but remind them to let others talk about their interests and accomplishments as well.

6. Bringing Up Negative/Inappropriate Topics

Remind your students to avoid certain topics in certain situations. It’s okay to talk about religion and politics among friends, but new acquaintances will not likely want to get into deep thoughts or negative issues at light-hearted social gatherings. Party-goers will also not likely want to hear about your students’ “dirty laundry” so encourage them to keep their personal and family issues between them and their close friends.

Conversation skills can be particularly difficult for individuals with developmental disabilities to develop, however we recognize, teach, and “preach” that social skills can be learned through modeling, repetition and practice. This extends to the domain of conversation skills. You may find that your students need to improve on one of these skills and you may find that they need to improve on all of them. Encourage students to take their time and not worry about perfecting every skill at once. Instead, tell them to pick one or two and start working on it everyday. You’ll be surprised how new habits form spontaneously in time!

©2012 James Stanfield Company. All Rights Reserved.

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Stanfield Special Education Curriculum

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