Social Thinking ® in the Workplace


Social Thinking ® in the Workplace

As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I have often had people express their difficulties with getting or maintaining employment. After spending time with them, it was clear they were struggling with their social skills. Social Skills are the tools that enable people to communicate, learn, ask for help, get needs met in appropriate ways, get along with others, make friends, develop healthy relationships, and in general, be able to interact with the society.
These people often have difficulties with these skills and are further unable to think socially about their situations/interactions. If you are able to think socially then you are considered to have good Social Thinking ® skills. Social Thinking ® is what we do when we interact with people.  The Social Thinking ® approach (based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner) focusses on helping individuals, think strategically in social situations - to observe and consider their own and others’ thoughts and feelings.  It bridges the connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviours paving the way for transferrable social skills.

Social Learning challenges

Social learning challenges can be especially noticeable in the workplace, where it’s assumed employees understand not only how to do their job but how to effectively work in a group, understand the hidden rules of office etiquette, office politics, and build and maintain solid professional relationships with others. Individuals with social learning challenges often need information about social emotional relationships broken down and explained in a way that can help them build skills and understanding, one step at a time. Social learning is typically a process that evolves naturally, starting from birth and continuing throughout their entire life. It includes our innate ability to think through and apply information to succeed in situations that require social knowledge.
Limited abilities for learning and/or applying socially relevant information can be considered a social learning challenge. While these issues are commonly experienced by individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (high-functioning), Social Communication Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, ADHD, Nonverbal Learning Disability and similar diagnoses, children and adults experiencing social learning difficulties have often received no diagnosis. While we know that there are adults with social learning issues who function well in their respective workplace without the following problems, there are many that struggle to maintain jobs and have successful work relationships with their employers and colleagues.
Below are a couple tools that can help to have good Social Thinking ® skills in the workplace.

Thinking of others in the workplace

As in other social situations, it important that we understand the ‘big picture’ and how what we do affects how others interact with us. The aim of Social Thinking ® is to help verbal leaners develop the necessary skills so that they can become flexible social thinkers and social problem solvers. This is critical in the workplace as our behaviours in those situations are on display and will be less tolerated compared to the behaviours we have with our friends and family. Therefore, we need to make sure we are using great Social Thinking ® in the workplace to ensure we keep our job! Think about it this way, we need to care about what others think and feel.  For example, I smile and say good morning to my boss and all the customers while I’m working. This makes the customer feel welcome and appreciated. My boss notices I am good with customers and tells me I am doing a good job and the outcome is that I’m proud of myself and feel valued at work! Attempting to interpret others’ thoughts and emotions is as much a part of the workday as is doing our actual jobs. By learning to think socially we can change our behavior to directly affect how we are perceived and treated. It’s a chain reaction!

Behaviours and Problems in the workplace

We all experience problems in our daily life and the workplace is no different. The problems we come across are often different sizes. They are either small (problems that are no “big deal”), medium (problems that we didn’t expect to happen and can’t be fixed easily), and large problems (ones that are very serious). It’s the hidden rule that when we are around others, the reaction (the behaviour we show on the outside) we have to these problems needs to match up. If we have a small problem then we need to have a small reaction, if we have a medium problem then we need to have a medium reaction and if we have a large problem then we need to have a large reaction. Often the feelings we have about the problem are bigger than the problem itself! It is important to be flexible with problems so that you can solve them with ease and confidence. Most of are problems are small and they are often paired with either a medium or large reaction. This leads to behaviours that are unexpected instead of expected. When we have unexpected behaviours, these create uncomfortable thoughts in another person’s mind and in this case, it could be your employers or the customers which can lead to unintended consequences. If we do things that are expected this has the opposite affect and creates good thoughts in their mind.
Hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about how Social Thinking ® skills are important in the workplace! For more information on Social Thinking ® or if you are interested in programming using Social Thinking ® contact us today!


Amy Grossi is a pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist, practicing for over 10 years. Amy enjoys the area of early language, literacy development, apraxia and fluency. She has a passion for working with children with multiple developmental needs and implementing creative and interactive treatment sessions.