Social Skills Intervention
May 14, 2005 5:24 PM   Subscribe

I have a friend would like to perform a "social intervention" for an acquaintance whose lack of social skills has managed to nearly alienate him from everyone in his social circle.

The acquaintence a nice guy so my friend doesn't want to just cut him loose, but things can't continue as they are -- he needs professional help. Does anyone have advice on how to break this to him?

I've faced this same problem without much success, so I thought I'd ask MeFi. Would your answer be different if the person were an old friend and not just an acquaintance?
posted by debgpi to Human Relations (13 answers total)
What is the problem with this guy exactly? Sullen and withdrawn? Terminally shy? Argumentative? Chronically inappropriate to members of the opposite sex? Only declaims on his pet subjects, boring the hell out of everyone?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 5:29 PM on May 14, 2005

An intervention would freak this guy out. If he has no social skills, he would not feel at all comfortable suddenly faced with a group of people pressuring him to change. If he needs professional help, then a private referral to a psychologist would work much better.

I say this as someone who lacks social skills, enough that a psychiatrist thought I might have Asperger's Syndrome (since decided that I do not). Professional help has worked more for me than "friendly" intervention.
posted by veronitron at 5:32 PM on May 14, 2005

How are you envisioning the intevention? What do you plan to say to your friend? How do you think he will react? I know I'm answering a question with more questions, but I'm wondering specifically why "things can't continue as they are".
posted by telstar at 5:37 PM on May 14, 2005

I don't think that an "intervention" (especially the confrontive kind that is typically suggested by that word) will do anybody any good at all.

No one chooses to be socially unskilled: it is either a deficit in social learning, or a way of avoiding situations even more threatening to that person than the withdrawal of social support it engenders. (If there is a cognitive problem like ADD or Asperger's Syndrome, that could be a factor, as well).

I think the best you can do for this person, is to let them know--privately, discretely, kindly, and when there is no trauma in the air--that if they ever want plain, non-judgemental feedback, you may be able to provide some. And then drop it, and never bring it up again.

Even if the other person doesn't acknowledge your offer, they heard it. And if they're ever in a psychological space in which they are ready to hear, they will come to you.
posted by curtm at 5:43 PM on May 14, 2005

I think it depends upon the details and what you mean by intervention. In my circle the first step would be to confront the person individually and say something to the effect of "I consider you a friend but you are really being an asshole" followed by some examples of the assholiness and making it clear that the situation is repairable. I don't think my first step would ever be a formal intervention with confrontation from more that myself and possibly one other who was similarly close to the target. I don't know what the dynamics are in your situation but I would expect a mass confrontation would most likely make things worse or at least cause the party to detach from the relationship.
posted by Carbolic at 5:47 PM on May 14, 2005

And, what curtm said while I was typing.
posted by Carbolic at 5:49 PM on May 14, 2005

No one chooses to be socially unskilled

That isn't exactly true. I was once on the other end of a "social intervention" orchestrated by an aquaintance with good intentions, and frankly, the best thing about it was that it taught me that the rewards of playing by that group's social rules weren't worth the effort required.

Because there aren't nearly enough details in the question I can't comment on your case directly. In mine, the group was conflict averse and conformity-minded in a way I've noticed seems a hallmark of highly socially oriented people. I'm not and I don't want to be. So the intervention, which I know was well intended and was, in fact, an expression of a fair amount of affection, failed miserably. I've since become friends with people who enjoy my misanthropy and spazziness--people for whom a certain amount of social stupidity is okay. It makes me much happier than a successful intervention ever would have.

So go ahead and try. But it may not work. Some groups just have higher social skill requirements and some people may not meet them on purpose.
posted by dame at 6:58 PM on May 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

It's difficult without more details about the acquaintance's behaviour. Is it intentional or not? If it's just asshattery then I wonder if an 'intervention' is more about helping the social group conscience rather than actually 'helping' the acquaintance.
I'd be more inclined anyway, in most situations, to let the acquaintance know privately that they are risking losing friends and that if they can't modify their behaviour then perhaps they should think about counselling or the like. These socially confronting scenes known as interventions may be an American pastime of sorts but they just make me cringe and I doubt I would respond in any positive manner if they were conducted on my behalf. Confrontational pressure shouldn't be the first port of call in any friendship problem.
posted by peacay at 7:52 PM on May 14, 2005

I was once on the other end of a "social intervention" orchestrated by an aquaintance with good intentions, and frankly, the best thing about it was that it taught me that the rewards of playing by that group's social rules weren't worth the effort required.

Damn, dame, get outta my head! I've spent the past year figuring that out.

As for debgpi's friend's situation: Have your friend ask him/herself whether they are really undertaking this intervention for the antisocial friend's sake, or their own social comfort. It's quite easy to do the latter while believing that one is doing the former. And I guarantee that unless their intentions are true, it will backfire, and it'll be ugly when it does.
posted by Vervain at 8:17 PM on May 14, 2005

Is your friend in a position to listen to whatever you (collectively) have to say? I lost a lot of friends some years ago, and think that really there was not much else that could happen--I was too angry, sullen, self-righteous, and smug to give much of a damn what anyone had to say. Now I'm ashamed of it, but the damage is done.
posted by Tuwa at 8:25 PM on May 14, 2005

This might not necessarily be a bad idea. I've been that socially inept person, and looking back I wish one of my friends had pulled me aside and said "OK, this thing you're doing, you need to stop it." I have a terrible time figuring out when people were angry and when they were joking around, and I've pissed off not a few people in the past when I've pushed something too far because I didn't realize they were really, truly furious with me.

So I think it would depend on how you define this friend's "socially inept" behavior. If he's just singing loudly in public or chases pigeons, lighten the fuck up. If he has a tendency to take things way, way, way too far because he doesn't understand what other people are feeling, a private, calm conversation between him and his closest pal might be enlightening. Don't bring the whole group on him. That's just a recipe for bullying and humiliation.
posted by schroedinger at 8:52 PM on May 14, 2005

I agree, more details are necessary, but when I read the question I immediately thought of what Carbolic's talking about -- I experienced that when I was 12: being taken aside by a wiser, friendly 14-year-old, and it made an enormous, life-changing and -improving difference to me. Might be way less effective in the case of a post-adolescent, however... and it depends on the individual, of course.
posted by Rash at 10:24 AM on May 15, 2005

sincere help -> refer to help
legal problem -> civil suit
personal problem -> personal confrontation
posted by foraneagle2 at 10:33 PM on May 15, 2005

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