Conceptualization, assessment, and development of social skills

Social skills (i.e., the entire range of skills that promote effective functioning in interpersonal situations; interpersonal skills, social competencies) are of key importance in work and educational settings, as they predict relevant outcome criteria such as job performance and academic success. Thus, many organizations aim to identify and select individuals who excel in desired social skills (e.g., persuading others, showing compassion, staying calm). The prime methods for this are high-fidelity simulations such as assessment centers (ACs) as they can be used to evoke, observe, and evaluate individuals’ actual social behavior. This is based on the general idea that by observing behavioral expressions in several relevant situations (i.e., situations that call for specific behavioral responses), one can draw conclusions about individuals’ social skills. Such social skills should not be equated with other personality traits such as extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, as social skills include what behaviors individuals are capable of (i.e., when it matters; "maximum performance"), while these other personality traits include more general behavioral tendencies ("typical performance").
As there are uncountable labels used for different social skills our research foremost focuses on identifying overarching dimensions of social skills that can be differentiated and distinctively assessed. For this, we combine top-down approaches (“What are desirable social skills?”) with bottom-up analyses (“Which social skill manifest at the behavioral level?”). Our behavioral research shows that there are three core dimensions of social skills that can be differentiated. These include:

•    Social skills related to Agency:

Individuals with a high level of Agency skill know in which situations assertive, self-confident, decisive, and energetic behavior is appropriate and  can also act accordingly.

•    Social skills related to Communion:

Individuals with a high level of Communion skill know in which situations warm-hearted, loving, friendly, and compassionate behavior is appropriate and can also act accordingly.

•    Social skills related to Interpersonal Resilience:

Individuals with a high level of Interpersonal Resilience skill know in which situations it is important to keep their emotions under control and can also act accordingly.

Within our studies we focus on (a) different methods of assessing these social skills (e.g., via classic behavioral observation, via situational judgment tests), (b) identifying situations that are suited to evoke individual differences in these social skills, and (c) ways to train and develop these social skills. For our project that focuses on assessing future medical students’ social skills see here.