When the World Expects You to Have Social Skills

Social skillz, I do not has them. I can muddle through, and if I've known people for a bit I usually feel comfortable with them, but in general when confronted with a novel social situation I will do one of three things:
  1. Say not one thing, and leave as soon as I can
  2. Talk far too much and too nervously, derailing the conversation
  3. Say exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time
But I'm always trying to learn how to do better, and share the learning. Here are three resources for building up your social skills, with enough tips to help even those who think they've got it covered:

My son's special needs give me neither automatic diplomatic skills nor diplomatic immunity when it comes to others' disabilities. I therefore appreciate the Disability Etiquette Guide published by The United Spinal Association. Though they focus on supporting people with spinal injuries and disabilities, their Guide provides general tips for seeing and interacting with people, not their disabilities. With humor! (Always appreciated.) I intend to send this link to everyone I know who will ever interact with my son:
http://www.unitedspinal.org/disability-publications-resources/disability-publications/ (Disability Etiquette is the first .PDF on the list.)
Helpful excerpts:
Always speak directly to the person with a disability, not to his companion, aide or sign language interpreter. Making small talk with a person who has a disability is great; just talk to him as you would with anyone else. Respect his privacy. If you ask about his disability, he may feel like you are treating him as a disability, not as a human being. (However, many people with disabilities are comfortable with children’s natural curiosity and do not mind if a child asks them questions.)

People with disabilities are the best judge of what they can or cannot do. Don’t make decisions for them about participating in any activity. Depending on the situation, it could be a violation of the ADA to exclude people because of a presumption about their limitations.

When people who have a disability ask for an accommodation at your business, it is not a complaint. It shows they feel comfortable enough in your establishment to ask for what they need. And if they get a positive response, they will probably come back again and tell their friends about the good service they received.

Say “person with a disability” rather than “disabled person.” Say “people with disabilities” rather than “the disabled.” For specific disabilities, saying “person with Tourette syndrome” or “person who has cerebral palsy” is usually a safe bet. Still, individuals do have their own preferences. If you are not sure what words to use, ask.

SOCIAL TIPS FOR ASPIES - FROM AN ASPIE (i.e., Person With Asperger's, via Liz Ditz's friend Emily)
For those of us who don't always get social cues, I found the long list of social interaction tips from LastCrazyHorn invaluable. The excerpted items below will be especially helpful for my older daughter, who is currently being warned that she's run into topical overtime by being asked to define 'perseveration' for me. Warning to IRL people: Iz may not remember these tips if you engage her in a "conversation" about musical instruments, or gemstones and crystals.
  • In conversations, only return to a topic one time, and twice if you absolutely can’t stand it, but no more than that.
  • Watch out for signs of boredom in a conversation. Easy ones to pick up include: constant checking of the watch, looking over their shoulder away from you, and answering everything you say in monosyllabic grunts that sound more or less like “Uh huh.”
  • Never talk on a subject as long as you want. Pick some major features and discuss those.
  • Pause in conversations and ask the other person their opinion.
  • Listen to their opinion. If they say something like, “please go on.” Then you can continue on. If they say something like, “That’s very interesting,” and then do something like look away from you, you should do one of two things: Ask them to talk about themselves or give them an escape — “I don’t want to keep you from what you need to be doing . . . “

SJ from I, Asshole, who like the much-mourned ex-blogger Josh Norton is basically a self-taught adult, frequently cites Tomato Nation's rules for those over 25 as helpful. While I don't agree with everything on the list -- I don't think I'm capable of learning how to walk in heels -- it is a good set of guideposts for those who were never shown the way.

Here is the one that cuts me to the quick, as it used to be an iron-clad personal rule but is now lying in rusty shards somewhere in a corner of my office:
Remember to write thank-you notes. If you do not know when a thank-you note is appropriate, consult an etiquette book — the older and more hidebound the book, the better. When in doubt, write one anyway; better to err on the side of formality. An email is not sufficient thanks for a physical gift. Purchase stationery and stamps, set aside five minutes, and express your gratitude in writing. Failure to do so implies that you don't care. This implication is a memorable one. Enough said.
Happy weekend, all.

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