Finally, there is the issue of why: Why do these behaviors predict social skill? In examining the list of behaviors in Table 6.1, there appear to be four skill areas represented. Composure is the ability to appear calm, confident, and avoid signs of anxiety (e.g., latency, lack of eye contact, adaptors). Altercentrism (alter = other, centrism = to be centered on) is the ability to show interest in, concern for, and attention to the other person in the conversation (e.g., gaze, head movements, questions, compliments, etc.). Expressiveness is the ability to display animation in one's conversational behavior (e.g., smiles, gestures, volume, etc.). Coordination is the ability to manage turn taking, timing, entry, and exit in the conversation (e.g., latency, talk time, minimal encourages, etc.). There are other behaviors that fit into these categories, but extensive research shows these four clusters are significantly predictive of competence ratings, and may be fairly exhaustive as a taxonomy of social skills (see Spitzberg, 1995). When collapsed one level more (Spitzberg et at, 1994), it makes sense that there would need for a self dimension (i.e., an effectiveness, or expressiveness and composure), and an other-oriented dimension (i.e., appropriateness, or coordination and ahercentrism).
Competence, therefore, is more likely to the extent that communicators pursue both self-interests and the interests of the other person(s) involved. Persons who want to initiate a romantic relationship with another need to appear composed and expressive if the other person is to perceive them as competent. Composure displays the suitor as confident and focused, and the expressiveness leaves vivid impressions and helps the other person know them. These skills help people pursue their own goals. However, unless the other person is made to feel important through coordination and altercentrism, attraction is unlikely to follow. Coordination shows a concern for making the interaction more comfortable, and the altercentrism gets the other person's interests involved in the conversation, and perhaps, the relationship. Thus, to be competent, interactants need to use their communication skills to promote both their own interests and the interests of the coparticipants.
This chapter is based on a study originally published with James E Dillard as lead author (see Dillard & Spitzberg, 1984).