The world is filled with people who exhibit different levels of social competence. There is the one who never thinks before he or she says something offensive, and their friend, who can always tell when someone is down and will cheer up even the most distressed individual. And of course there are the roommates who never wash their dishes, get toothpaste all over the mirror, never flush the toilet, and cannot keep their side of the room clean. There are several characteristics of a socially competent individual that we will discuss, and we will also talk about how those characteristics can be recognized in the behavior of both children and adolescents.
Aspects of Social Competence
Emotional regulation consists of various ways of adjusting the way one reacts emotionally to situations in order to accomplish objectives. Suppose there is a player in a pickup basketball game who cannot refrain from trash-talking his opponent. He jeers, taunts, insults, and challenges his foe in an effort to upset him and negatively affect his performance. A socially competent young man would, rather than taking out his frustration on the offender, decide to sit out for a few minutes in order to calm down before playing further.
Perspective taking is one’s ability to perceive and relate to the thoughts and feelings of others. Suppose there is a young woman who, after performing poorly on a test, yells at her roommate out of frustration and disappointment. Rather than judging her friend or getting angry, the roommate should remember the time she got a bad grade on a test and recall how she felt. She should then try to comfort her friend and tell her that she is not alone and everything will work out.
Distributive justice is the way an individual believes concrete substances should be divided in a fair manner. Suppose several adolescents participate in a service project and are rewarded with Krispy Kreme donuts. After everyone has a donut, there is still one left. One member of the group suggests that the last donut be given to a certain young man because he worked a little harder than everyone else and deserves a greater reward. Everyone agrees that this is fair and the young man receives the deserved treat.
Display of Empathy
Displaying empathy is being able to perceive various emotions, feel emotions from another’s perspective, and “respond emotionally in a similar way.” Suppose a young woman, Jane, experiences a break-up. Her friend Mary notices that something is wrong but does not know what happened. Mary inquires of Jane and learns about the break-up. Mary has also experienced the same thing only months before, so she comforts Jane and shares with her some things that helped her get through her break-up.
Social Problem Solving
Social problem solving is the ability to prevent and resolve conflicts in ways that are agreeable to oneself and to others. Suppose Sue participates in a sleepover with some friends. They all decide to watch a movie but cannot agree on which movie to watch. Each girl gives a list of reasons why her choice is best, and soon a small argument develops. Sue recognizes the problem and suggests that they watch none of the movies proposed, but instead watch one that everyone can agree on and enjoy. She names off several movies when suddenly all the girls squeal when they remember a favorite chick flick they had not seen for a while. Immediately forgetting their recent argument, the girls snuggle up together to watch the movie.
Achievement motivation is one’s persistence in tackling challenging tasks. Suppose a young man is trying to learn how to throw the discus. The technique is difficult and requires a great deal of time and patience. He works hard during the season and puts in a lot of time, but still he does not perform as well as he wants during his track meets. When others would give up and fall into discouragement, he continues to work and work until finally, his senior year, his work pays off and he places first at the state meet.
Delay of Gratification
Delaying one’s gratification is saving a tempting action for a more suitable time and place. Suppose a young woman has a test coming up in one of her classes for which she needs to study. Her friends invite her to go to the movies on a school night. As much as she wants to go with her friends, she knows that if she goes to the movies she will not be prepared for the test and will perform poorly. She decides to wait until the weekend after her test to go to the movies with her friends.
Moral self-regulation is one’s ability to control and adjust his or her reactions to situations that would require an abandonment of personal standards. Suppose a young man goes to a party with several of his friends. Shortly after they arrive, one of them pulls out a can of beer from a bag. He opens it, takes a swig, and then offers the drink to the person next to him. When the beverage is finally offered to the young man, he does not want to be the only one of his peers who “chickens out.” However, he knows that drinking from the can like his friends would be acting against his moral standards and religious beliefs. As much as he wants to fit in with and impress his friends, he decides to decline the drink.