The Idea That Basic Social Skills Are Just "Common Sense"

A familiar criticism of sources, like this site, that teach basic social skills is that the concepts they cover are just "common sense". The gist of something being "common sense" is that anyone with a minimum of intelligence and problem solving skills should be able to figure it out on their own - they don't need to go somewhere to learn it.

The problem with this line of thinking is that some skills and information that feel like common sense to the people who have them are actually built on a fair amount of life experience and specialized knowledge. However, it's knowledge and experience they gradually absorbed without realizing, so to them it feels obvious or like "everyone should know that".

For example, if you've been playing video games since you were a little kid, a lot of their unwritten mechanics and conventions will feel like common sense to you (e.g., if an enemy has a round glowing spot on its body, aim for that). You may unconsciously assume these things are so clear cut that even someone who's never played a game before would instantly know to do them. However, if you've ever watched someone who has literally zero experience with video games try one, it's amazing how many "obvious" things they don't think to do. You forget that at one point in the distant past you didn't know this stuff either, and picked it up through trial and error as you casually messed around, or because your older sibling was sitting beside you giving you tips.

It's the same with core social skills. Many people see them as common sense because they smoothly, unintentionally learned them bit by bit throughout their childhood and adolescence. However, not everyone is able to pick them up while they're younger. A few reasons are:

As older teenagers or adults they haven't gained that typical baseline of experience that makes many social skills seem simple and straightforward. They don't know how to go about making friends. They don't know what to do when they have to make breezy conversation with a classmate or co-worker they run into at the bus stop. They don't have a sense of what behaviors will make them pleasant to interact with or not. If you tell them to "just use your common sense," they'll come up blank. That doesn't make them a bad or flawed person. It doesn't mean they're a lost cause. They just have to catch up on what they're missing.

If all that describes you, don't let yourself or anyone else make you feel ashamed for not knowing "common sense" people skills, or for having to consult a resource like this one to help you fill the gaps in your knowledge. You didn't pick up this information when you were younger, but you can deliberately learn it now, and with time know as much as anyone else.