SPOILER ALERT! ~ Verbal skills involve the ability to express our emotions accurately ~ Non-verbal skills involve the ability to control the expression of our emotions (for example not fidgeting), to understand the emotions of the other person and knowledge of social norms in interactions (called social sensitivity) ~ Emotional control is the most crucial skill as it increases social desirability. ~ Social anxiety is characterized by low emotional control, low emotional expressivity and low social sensitivity.
According to social skills research, the core of basic social skills involves the ability to send and receive information, which is categorized as expressivity and sensitivity, respectively. Cognitive abilities such as interpersonal problem-solving skills and role-playing abilities are also essential components of communication skills. The core dimensions of social skills can be further broken down into verbal skills and non-verbal skills, each with their own elements.
Verbal vs non-verbal social skills
Particularly, verbal skills consist in emotional expressivity defined as the ability to communicate felt emotions spontaneously and accurately, social expressivity referring to verbal speaking skills and the ability to engage others in social interaction, and finally social control which is the ability to regulate verbal behavior and role-playing. Non-verbal skills, on the other hand, include emotional sensitivity indicating a skill in receiving and decoding the non-verbal communication of others, emotional control which has to do with regulating emotional displays, and lastly social sensitivity that encompasses general knowledge of the norms governing appropriate social behavior.
A better understanding of these dimensions helps define what combination of elements makes for effective communication skills. For example, an individual high in social expressivity can be seen as outgoing and gregarious, but they often speak spontaneously without apparent control or monitoring of content. Conversely, someone high in social sensitivity is attentive to others, could be good listeners, but they may also be overconcerned with the appropriateness of their own behavior and be overly self-conscious, which can eventually create social anxiety.
Importance of emotional control in communication
Past research indicates that emotional control may be one of the most critical skills that when combined with others help self-regulation and self-monitoring. A person high in emotional control is someone who laughs appropriately, puts on a cheerful face to cover sadness, and overall is able to moderate the display of felt emotions and control spontaneous and extreme emotional states (e.g., breaking down in tears in public, throwing temper tantrum, etc.…). It is important to distinguish it from social manipulation, which is essentially the ability to manipulate others in certain social encounters to bring about a specific outcome.
Delving further into these core dimensions, the authors of the current paper found that social desirability, which refers to likability and success in social interactions, increases with greater social expressivity and social control, while decreasing with high social sensitivity and social manipulation. Interestingly, physical attractiveness was not related to any of the core dimensions of social skills, suggesting that physical attraction has nothing to do with how a person communicates.
Social skills deficits in social anxiety
Particularly interesting is the relationship between those core dimensions and social anxiety. Indeed, defining social anxiety as anxiety triggered by a lack of social skills, particularly expressivity and control, the authors found that, as expected, social anxiety increases with low emotional expressivity, emotional sensitivity, emotional control and social expressivity and control. By contrast, social anxiety decreases with high social sensitivity.
Overall those findings indicate that effective communication requires a certain degree of each one of those dimensions. In addition, because they represent learned communication abilities, individuals can with practice and training develop and enhance them for a more effective social performance.
Riggio, R. E. (1986). Assessment of basic social skills. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(3), 649–660. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1999