You may have heard of Michelle Garcia Winner…she is a speech-language pathologist, who created the concept of social thinking. We teach social thinking to help clients develop their social competencies to better connect with others.
Social thinking is the process by which we interpret multiple pieces of information (i.e. the thoughts, beliefs, intentions, emotions, knowledge and actions) of another person along with the context of the situation to better understand a social environment. Anytime we are sharing space with another person (whether or not we are engaging with them), we use this information to determine how to respond to positively affect the thoughts that person has about us to achieve our social goals (such as being friendly to maintain a friendship, make an impression on the first day of school, or seeming unfriendly to deflect attention when walking alone late at night, etc.).
Social thinking helps gives us meaning to social encounters - it allows us to consider why people may say or do something and, when necessary, prompts us with how to respond. A person’s social thinking ability has a significant impact on relationships as well as success at school and in the workplace. One’s ability to use social thinking impacts the following: a person’s social skills, perspective taking, self-awareness, self-regulation, critical thinking, social problem solving, play skills, reading comprehension, written expression, ability to learn and work in a group, and even organizational skills.
We practice social thinking all day long, in predictable social interactions (like conversations) and in a wide variety of other contexts. Teaching social thinking language and strategies can help individuals (both with and without diagnoses) make sense of our social world. Essentially, we use social thinking whenever we think about the perspective of another person. For example,
- In a waiting room– adjusting our voice volume when we become aware that our loud phone conversation may be bothering others.
- At the grocery store - when we move our cart away from the middle of the aisle so other shoppers can pass by.
- Watching TV – when we follow the story by understanding how the characters interpret and then influence each other.
- While driving - when we slow down upon sensing that another car will cut in front of us.
- When we’re on social media – to understand the intention of a message and its sender; for example, whether it is to be friendly, sarcastic, flirty, compassionate, etc.
- In conversation – when we attempt to read the thoughts, beliefs, intentions, emotions, knowledge and actions of our conversation partner(s) and adapt our behavior to affect the thoughts they have about us.