The Concept of Skill and Its Application to Social Performance

  • A. T. Welford
Part of the NATO Conference Series book series (NATOCS, volume 11)


The modern concept of social skill arose in the early 1960s from the application of the concepts of skill then current in studies of man-machine interactions, to those between persons. The analogy is close, involving all the main functional mechanisms — perceptual, decisional, motor, etc. — concerned with information processing, and their operation in a feedback system. Skill itself of any kind, whether social or other, is conceived as the use of efficient strategies to relate the demands of tasks or situations to the performer’s capacities.

Two separate aspects of capacity attach to each of the main physical and mental mechanisms underlying performance: instantaneous, such as maximum strength; and time-related, such as the amount that can be done in a given time. Demands of tasks and situations need to be expressed in the same terms as capacities if the two are to be related together. The strategies that couple demands to capacities appear to have a generic character in the sense that they are flexible and subject to modification to suit precise details of the situation. Social skills are not concerned with any separate social capacity: instead different social skills parallel other types of skill concerned with the main functional mechanisms of performance. Efficiency of strategy needs to be assessed in a time perspective — what is efficient in the short run may not be in the long. The attainment of skill involves learning, for which observation of the results of action is necessary. The fact that new tasks are inevitably tackled in terms brought from previous experience means that initial experience exerts important steering effects on subsequent performance.

The principles outlined are illustrated by an example of the industrial manager who needs to develop and exercise a range of social skills to convey information to those managed, to assess their capacities, and to counter the pressures of those seeking short-term gains at the expense of long-term. He should also recognise the inevitability of error by both himself and others if performance is to be efficient, and should try to see that the lessons of it are learnt. These social skills, if they are to be fully effective, must be backed by skill in handling the non-social aspects of the task and situation.


Social Performance Social Skill Efficient Strategy Time Perspective Industrial Manager 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. T. Welford
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AdelaideAustralia

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