Three Key Social Skills

When we speak of social skills and emotional skills, we are also addressing self-discipline. All people need discipline, that is, the ability to control their own behavior and to act responsibly, and show respect for oneself and others. Self-discipline is developed when adults have realistic expectations, set clear limits, and build positive relationships with co-workers.

Social and emotional skills, including self-discipline, are not something which can be "taught" to others. They are attributes. A sense of self is cultivated and nurtured through ongoing interactions people have every day with caring family members, friends and co-workers. We see evidence that these skills are emerging when people show a growing confidence in their abilities, develop increasing self-control, and are able to develop and maintain friendships with other people, including people who are different from them. There are three key social skills which people must have in order to be happy and satisfied.

Developing Self-confidence

Truly confident people believe that they will succeed at whatever they do, including dealing with people, and they are confident that they can ask others for information and for help, when necessary. Self-confidence requires knowing your own values, attitudes, skills and desires, and crediting yourself for your positive-contributing actions, attitudes and thoughts.  Sometimes people are overconfident in some areas, often misjudging their capabilities in other areas, based upon their prowess in selected areas. They can easily become frustrated and discouraged if they are hindered from completing tasks they are expected to do. For this reason, they must have realistic expectations of what they are permitted to do, and must, where possible, plan experiences that are sufficiently challenging, but also attainable.

If you are a team leader or a supervisor, self-confidence is further developed by taking an interest in, and oversighting the activities of the people you are supervising, as well as being developed by the supervisor being genuinely interested in what others are interested in. This approach is very often over-looked by supervisors, who are comfortable with co-workers generating or initiating dialogue, and managing themselves. However, taking an active and genuine interest in others is the one thing critical to developing a rapport or a team spirit, which in turn will help the team leader.

Building rapport requires team leaders to actively ask their co-workers questions about their work activities, in order for the team leader to know what is going on, to know what discoveries or problems have been unearthed, and to implement quality control. It also requires the team leader to test what questions are appropriate to ask, where and when, about their co-worker's personal lives and interests, because we are all human beings with personal lives, and usually we like both to ask questions and to be asked questions.

This two-pronged approach is especially required when a team leader or supervisor is working with introverted people. It is a necessary skill which should not be neglected if there are more extroverted co-workers than there are introverted. Developing self-confidence means getting on with all people, whether people are extroverted or "sociable" and thus readily volunteer information, or whether the people are somewhat reserved or reticent and prefer information to be drawn from them. A good team leader takes the time and effort to build rapport, and to draw information from introverted co-workers, by asking questions on a trial and error basis, about both their work and home activities. This trial-and-error approach is predicated on genuine trust that the team leader's co-workers will appreciate the interest taken in them, and overall, will respond positively. It should be apparent to all of us that if all the members of a team genuinely like each other, then each person will feel more confident about oneself.

Developing Self-control

People who have genuine self-control learn how to manage their emotions and control their actions in an age-appropriate way. Adults who have strong expectations about anything, of which those expectations are not met, may lash out toward others. To develop self-control, adults must realistically assess situations and be aware of the reality of how their expectations will be met. They need to structure their words and use the right words to communicate their needs. Good communication is a key to self-control. It means thinking before a person communicates and structuring what a person says from a beginning to an end, and using words which are succinct (brief) and descriptive, and which thoroughly explain the why, what, how, when or where of the request or idea which the sender is trying to convey.

The amount or degree of self-control which someone has is parallel to the amount or degree of self-esteem he/she has. If a person feels that he/she does not have a good level of self-control, then it reflects the same level of self-esteem.  As one's self-esteem increases, the person is more equipped with the resources, that is, the skills, knowledge and experiences, needed to curb one's impulses and to regulate one's own knee-jerk emotions and reactions.

Self-control is a pre-cursor to being organised, a fact which is often over-looked. An adult has to be able to control one's impulses and drive oneself in the direction of working with others successfully, which is at the core of being a successful worker, in order to be equipped to manage timetables, schedules, plans and systems.  There are many good books around outlining self-paced, self-learning activities which foster self-control or self-regulation.

Making Friends

Adults usually view their work-place as an avenue to make and maintain friendships. Adults who are popular and liked in the work-place know how to approach other people, to listen to others, to respond to their co-worker's needs, and to show direct appreciation for their co-worker's work, by direct words of appreciation and by using or applying their co-workers' work in a timely manner. Well-liked adults in the work-place have good communication skills and are capable of exchanging ideas, feelings, and concepts with others. They are genuinely cooperative, i.e. are able to balance their own needs with those of others in the team. They accept the importance and implication that the world is full of people who are different from them in a variety of ways. In our inter-connected and increasingly diverse world, it is essential for people to develop an appreciation and respect for all people.

There is no place for overt or subtle competitiveness or envy or jealousy in the work-place, if an adult has good self-control and self-esteem, and believes that he or she is doing the best that can be done under the circumstances in all aspects of work. Making friends involves acknowledging that each one of us has experiences, skills and knowledge which are different to anyone else, and being receptive to that, and learning from other people's skills, knowledge and experiences. No one person is an "island" - knowledgeable, experienced and skilled in all that there is to be knowledgeable, experienced and skilled in. There is a saying which is true, that only a fool doesn't ask questions or seek other people's knowledge.

Likewise, there is no place at work for putting others down, how-ever mildly. No-one in the work-place likes a co-worker to either slander or put others down, how-ever mildly, because it shows a lack of respect and a lack of understanding and appreciation of each other's differences and values. Degrading other people is often done subtly, and is very damaging to one's self-esteem because of its contrariness. Adults who lack genuine self-esteem may take on the "poor me" or "hero" syndrome, believing that they are doing their best and that others are less competent than them in particular areas, and therefore these others are worthy of contempt. Yet the very act of such adults who attack others, rather than accept the situation and control what they can, simply reinforces the attacker's sense of injury, which over time instils doubt in their own mind about their control over things, and thus, erodes their self-esteem. Attacking others is what children naturally do, in order to establish their boundaries. But when adults do it, it simply perpetuates frustration and helplessness.

Making friends requires a lot of endeavour and genuine interest in others. It can never be a one-way street. Developing friendships, whether in the workplace or out of work is never easy and straight-forward, but requires initially taking risks that one's ideas or actions will be disagreed with or rejected by others, while viewing these reactions as an opportunity to learn from and adjust. It is irrational and often motivated by a deep, hidden insecurity or fear of being made friend-less, when adults fail to take low-level risks, e.g. don't ask questions for fear they will be "taken the wrong way", and misconstrue people's negative reactions as "the end of the world".

It should be apparent to all adults that making genuine or true friends, not only in the personal sphere, i.e out of the work-place, but very importantly, within one's own immediate work area, is essential to an enjoyable life. We all know that making friends requires time and effort, but ironically, often a lack of willingness to invest time and effort is the reason why people don't make friends. While time is passing us by, we could be taking an interest in others and building positive and helpful relationships, rather than missing out on enriching friendships and a wealth of experiences, knowledge and assistance.

In summary, self-confidence, self-control and making and maintaining friends are the three key social skills which people must have in order to be happy and satisfied. It is not impossible to acquire these, if you fall short of any of these areas. All it takes is will or inclination/motivation, a study of how to achieve these, and trying it out, while allowing room for ups and downs. As the saying goes ..

Life wasn't meant to be easy" . in anything and that is how

we learn and get to enjoy Life - by trying, despite our ups and downs.

            Photograph of baby orang utan by kind permission of

Lai Chew Yarn

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