Social competence

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Social competence , social-communicative competence or social competence ( English social competences ) is a complex of skills that serve to take control of reality in communication and interaction situations according to the needs of those involved and to act effectively. Action can be described as effective if it allows positive (desired) consequences to be maximized and negative (undesired) consequences to be minimized. According to Müller (1994), the multitude of definitions can be differentiated according to whether they describe social competence as a uniform construct (molar) or as a combination of several socially relevant behavioral patterns (molecular).

As a uniform construct, social skills can be understood as a combination of assertiveness and adaptability.

  • Assertiveness: In the treatment of social fears, in the psychotherapeutic literature, social competence is primarily understood to be assertiveness, just like in organizational psychology .
  • Adaptability : From the point of view of developmental psychology, the adaptability necessary in the context of socialization is emphasized.

The concept of competence is generally defined as a synonym for “disposition for action that can be updated in action” and can take cognitive, emotional, motivational and social aspects into account. Action-related means that competencies are requirement-related (knowledge of the requirement profile is necessary), which is less true for characteristics of intelligence .


The concept of social competence is often viewed positively, but is actually value-neutral in the moral sense. Also leaders of mafia organizations, con artists or dictators such as B. Adolf Hitler de facto managed to align the efforts of many individuals towards a common goal by addressing the already existing factual values ​​of people in order to motivate them to take directed, sometimes coordinated actions.

Concepts and delimitations

A term related to social competence is social intelligence as the “ability to understand others and to behave intelligently and appropriately towards them”. Social intelligence in this broader meaning is no longer assigned to humans alone, but also z. B. together with humans or animals living together in groups such as primates , dogs, domestic cats or rats.

In working life, soft skills are understood as the ability to positively influence the behavior and attitudes of employees (keyword: teamwork and motivation ).

In the literature, soft skills are often referred to as “soft” abilities and skills which, in addition to social competence in the narrower sense, also include inclinations, interests and other personality traits such as resilience, frustration tolerance and the like. include. "Soft" also means is that these skills can not be detected with the same reliability as the "hard skills" ( expertise ), about the (cognitive) performance for the numerous objective performance tests are available.


In psychology , social competence describes a set of skills that are difficult to define and that can be useful or necessary for the design of social interaction.

Hinsch and Pentecost refer to social competence, in the sense of a working hypothesis, “the availability and application of cognitive, emotional and motor behavior that in certain social situations lead to a long-term favorable relationship between positive and negative consequences for the agent”.

Social competence ( adaptive behavior ) was as a psychological term until the middle of the 20th century a criterion for assessing whether there is a mental disability or not, on an equal footing with intelligence (in the sense of being recorded by intelligence tests). The IQ has become more prevalent in the western industrialized countries.

In psychological diagnostics , data is often recorded using social knowledge , for example with situational judgment tests , which is a prerequisite for socially competent action.

Cultural dependence

Today the demand for the consideration of social characteristics, for the recording and promotion of social intelligence, is again in the foreground. In adult education, for example, the acquisition of social skills is seen as an important learning goal, especially because, on the one hand, the demands of professional activity are more than ever characterized by communication skills and, on the other hand, this area is usually left out in vocational training. In the meantime, however, there are also part-time courses that address this problem (e.g. further training course in social skills).

According to Zimmer (1978a, 1978b), developing a usable definition of the term “social competence” is made more difficult by the fact that it has to be determined not only by the individual but also with consideration for social requirements and situational characteristics. In contrast to terms such as mental health or illness, the concept of social competence not only has a relationship to the functioning of an individual, but also a parallel relationship to the situational requirements.

In different cultures, but also in different milieus within a culture, different behaviors can therefore be expected from the individual in the case of comparable situational requirements and thus interpreted as competence. This means that behavior that portrays a person as socially competent within one milieu can sometimes be viewed as socially incompetent within another milieu with comparable situational requirements. According to Zimmer, a precise definition of behaviors that can be viewed as socially competent in social situations can therefore fundamentally not exist (cf. Stangl 2004). Similarly, Hinsch and Pentecost, who want to keep the ethical aspect out of the definition of social competence, because otherwise behaviors that are called “ moral courage ” might not be defined as socially competent.

Therefore, in many articles on this topic there are catalogs of skills (see below) that at least partially have a common overlap.

A first reasonably convincing approach to measuring sub-areas of the construct or to its operationalization is given by Rathus (1973) within his "Rathus Assertiveness Schedule". Like the approach of Saronson (1981), however, it is based on the trait model and therefore ultimately lags behind the older approaches of Rampus, Taijfel and others, which had a much more dynamic view of this construct. This is probably why it has not found widespread use within scientific psychology, since it can hardly be adequately operationalized. Any attempt to capture such a construct using questionnaires or similar procedures would fall far short of the level of knowledge for explaining human behavior that has been achieved in psychology for many years. The use of projective or situational methods is probably not expedient for a satisfactory quantification due to the measurement problems and the associated effort. The result of these reasons within scientific psychology as far as possible renouncing the construct of social competence therefore appears understandable and understandable (cf. Stangl 2004).

Aspects of social competence

There is no generally accepted theory of personality traits or facets counted as social competence. Kanning writes: "Every single ability or skill or every aspect of knowledge that increases the quality of social behavior can be defined as an independent social competence." He sees social competence as an umbrella term.

This whole can be broken down into the following elements:

Social competence

  • Social intelligence, consisting of
  1. social insight
  2. social memory
  3. social knowledge
  • Interpersonal Characteristics with the Two Continues
  1. confident / dominant to insecure / submissive
  2. cold-hearted to warm / tolerable
  • social skills with verbal and non-verbal elements
  1. Sending and receiving non-verbal signals
  2. Receiving and sending verbal signals
  • social self-regulation, e.g. B. (in some cases their aspects can also be assigned to social skills or interpersonal characteristics):
  1. Self-monitoring
  2. Impression management
  3. Emotion control


Social skills education must begin as early as possible if it is to be successful. Success can only be achieved through consistency and tolerance as well as learning based on authentic examples that you have experienced yourself (formative learning). How difficult it is to achieve sustainable success can be seen, for example, when combating prejudices .

The primary place for learning social skills is traditionally the family. The extent to which the family is overwhelmed by this, and which measures on the part of society could help, is controversial. In Germany, it is described in educational reform plans that social skills should be an essential educational goal.

School-based methods that are intended to facilitate the learning of social competence are autonomous learning, open learning , and communicative teaching . Social skills within the framework of an overall concept should be conveyed in action-oriented lessons .

In the context of the dialogue-oriented teaching discussion, social competence is defined as “ competence to act that enables socially communicative action on different content in specific situations”.

The andragogical area (adult education) of this learning concept takes place, among other things, via civic education , a further development of political education .

Economic life

“Social competence” is often used synonymously in companies with so-called soft skills . The concept of social competence is, however, more comprehensive and encompasses e.g. B. also critical ability and critical competence .

This type of competence is considered a key qualification in the labor market for middle management and describes in this context the ability to bring "team spirit" and motivation into cooperation with others (colleagues, customers, superiors, employees) and to use them for common goals. The successful influence of superiors on the work performance of employees is also considered “social competence”.

The term social competence is used in particular in human resource management , for example in connection with personnel selection, coaching , supervision , organizational consulting or peer leader training. There is no standardized group of personality traits that can be assigned to social competence. The constructs and test procedures used are chosen subjectively , sometimes also different in different industries .


The term "interpersonal skills" is used in a variety of meanings, which limits the usefulness of the term. The definitions of social competencies or "soft skills" in selected texts of various types that are influential in business life as well as the high value placed on complementary competencies are critically analyzed by Karsten Weihe .

An alternative definition of social competence can be found in Jens Asendorpf's textbook Psychology of Personality : According to this, social competence is made up of two components, the ability to deal with conflict and the willingness to cooperate. Socially competent people therefore had the rare gift of using these two seemingly contradicting behaviors in such a way that they are able to achieve their own goals within social relationships (by creating relationships) without endangering the relationship. Thus, social competence should be seen as the optimal compromise between self-realization and social compatibility.

See also


  • Markus Altenfels (Ed.): Social competence. Theoretical foundation and analysis of the status quo in the Upper Austrian educational and economic landscape. Education Highway Innovation Center for Schools and New Technology, Linz, ISBN 978-3-9500247-8-4 . (online at: )
  • Rolf Arnold Arnold: From further training to competence development: New thinking models and design approaches in a changing field of activity . In: Arbeitsgemeinschaft Qualifikation-Entwicklungs-Management (Ed.): Vocational training in the transformation. Facts and visions. Waxmann, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-89325-560-5 .
  • Jens Asendorpf: Psychology of Personality. 4th edition. Springer, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-540-71684-6 .
  • Uwe Peter Kanning: Social competence - definition, structures and processes. In: Journal of Psychology. 210 (4), 2002, pp. 154-163, doi : 10.1026 // 0044-3409.210.4.154 .
  • Wolfgang Roth: Promote social skills - in elementary and secondary schools on a humanistic-psychological basis . Klinkhardt, Bad Heilbrunn 2006, ISBN 3-7815-1448-X .
  • Barbara R. Sarason: The dimensions of social competence. Contributions from a variety of research areas. In: JD Wine, MD Smye (Ed.): Social competence . Guilford Press, New York 1981, pp. 100-122.
  • Werner Sarges: Competencies instead of requirements - just old wine in new bottles? In: Hans-Christian Riekhof (Ed.): Strategies of Personnel Development. 6th edition. Gabler, Wiesbaden 2006, Part B, pp. 133-148, ISBN 978-3-8349-0114-9 .
  • Hans-Martin Süß, Kristin Seidel, Susanne Weis: New ways of performance-based recording of social intelligence and first findings . In: Werner Sarges, David Scheffer (ed.): Innovations in suitability diagnostics . Hogrefe, Göttingen 2008, pp. 129-143, ISBN 978-3-8017-2182-4 (= Psychology for Personnel Management , Volume 26).
  • Anke A. Remmel: I know where to go! - A guide for primary schools to develop social and personal skills. 2nd Edition. Mildenberger, Offenburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-619-01330-2 .
  • Carolin Palmer: Job-related creativity diagnostics: Development and validation of a procedure for recording the personal requirements for innovations . Supervisor: Heinz Schuler, Communication, Information and Media Center of the University of Hohenheim 2015, DNB 1072146649 Dissertation ( University of Hohenheim 2015 ( PDF, 435 pages, 6.125 MB online )).

Individual evidence

  1. Social skills in COD Encyclopedia of Psychology
  2. a b c d Uwe Peter Kanning: Diagnostics of social skills . Hogrefe Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-8409-2253-4 , pp. 12–14 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  3. Stefanie Wekenmann, Peter F. Schlottke: Mastering social situations: A group training for children across disruptions (SGK) . Hogrefe Verlag, 2010, ISBN 978-3-8409-2298-5 , pp. 11 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  4. Competence in DORSCH Lexicon of Psychology
  5. B. Sowarka: Social intelligence and social skills. In: W. Sarges (Ed.): Management diagnostics. Hogrefe, Göttingen 1995, pp. 365-382; Quoted from: teachSam glossary: ​​Social Intelligence , last accessed January 5, 2013.
  6. Martin Vieweg: The charming strategist. In: Bild der Wissenschaft online. Edition 12/2010, p. 29, accessed January 5, 2013.
  7. Werner Stangl: The concept of social competence in psychological literature. accessed January 5, 2013.
  8. ^ A b Rüdiger Hinsch, Ulrich Pfingsten: The group training of social skills (GSK). Basics, implementation, materials . Beltz, PVU, Weinheim 2007, ISBN 978-3-621-27572-9 , pp. 82-83 .
  9. ^ Uwe Peter Kanning: Diagnostics of social skills. Hogrefe Verlag, Göttingen 2009, ISBN 978-3-84092-253-4 , p. 17 ff ( preview in Google book search)
  10. To "act wisely in human relations:" Exploring the dimensions of social competence . In: Personality and Individual Differences . tape 21 , no. 4 , October 1, 1996, ISSN  0191-8869 , p. 469-481 , doi : 10.1016 / 0191-8869 (96) 00084-0 ( [accessed January 12, 2019]).
  11. Werner Stangl's worksheets: Social Competence - Pedagogical View. accessed January 5, 2013.
  12. Anette Bauer-Klebl list of publications ( Memento of the original from January 20, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (without further details of the source!), accessed January 5, 2013. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  13. Karsten Weihe: Forget about soft skills! BoD, 2013, ISBN 978-3-7322-3356-4 .