Social-Emotional Competence:

An Essential Factor for Wellbeing

The phase of childhood and adolescence can be considered to be a critical stage in life. During this time, individuals are yet to completely discover themselves and their surroundings, and at the same time are preparing themselves to set their footings outside the safe environs of their family and homes.


One important skill for social-emotional competence is self-awareness. Self-awareness is focusing attention on internal self-aspects such as thoughts, feelings, emotion, changes in mood, and external self-aspects like appearance. It helps in understanding one’s internal states and how they relate to the surroundings. Self-awareness is thus a deep understanding of oneself, which has been found to be helpful in many ways.

In addition to this, the fast-paced life of urban centres, which involve advancement in technology, consumerism, and social distance, the phase of childhood and adolescence often ends up being in a state of confusion and vulnerability. This state of confusion and vulnerability makes them susceptible to a wide range of social and psychological issues, which if not dealt with, timely, may lead to severe mental health problems. It is here where the notion of social-emotional competence comes into play.

Social-emotional competence is the capacity to recognize and understand emotions, solve problems effectively, and establish and maintain positive relationships with others. The idea of social-emotional competence has emerged from the widely popular concept of emotional intelligence, which was first introduced by the social psychologist Peter Salovey and the personality psychologist John Mayer. It was later extended and further popularized by author and science journalist Daniel Goleman. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand ones and others emotions, and managing relationships. It has been properly defined as the ability to monitor one’s own and others emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. It involves self-regulation, empathy, motivation, and social skills.

Social-emotional competence enables individuals to deal effectively with the various social and emotional difficulties that they may experience, making them well adjusted, psychologically healthy, and moving towards the direction of personal growth and wellbeing. Individuals may differ in their capacity with respect to social-emotional competence. The good part is that it can be learned. Specific skills can be developed within children and adolescents to make them high on social-emotional competence.

One important skill for social-emotional competence is self-awareness. Self-awareness is focusing attention on internal self-aspects such as thoughts, feelings, emotion, changes in mood, and external self-aspects like appearance. It helps in understanding one’s internal states and how they relate to the surroundings. Self-awareness is thus a deep understanding of oneself, which has been found to be helpful in many ways.

In this regard, self-awareness gives a realization of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Realization of strengths and weaknesses gives an understanding of the true potential, which gives proper direction in life. It gives a good understanding of where one stands with respect to the surroundings. This in turn prepares the individual to deal with the uncertainties and unpredictabilities of life, and helps them to cope effectively with the stress related to that. The positive psychologist Martin Seligman suggests that knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses leads to psychological wellbeing. A realization of one’s strengths enables to play along those strengths, which according to Seligman leads to a meaningful and highly satisfying life.

Self-awareness also helps in understanding how unique a person is as compared to others. This goes along the idea of the psychoanalyst Alfred Adler, who suggested that every individual is unique, and that the uniqueness of individuals should be emphasized.

It is the understanding of this uniqueness that helps individuals to deal with emotional problems that he or she may face. The idea of being unique enables individuals not to fall trap in making meaningless social comparisons. It gives an understanding that everyone has their own abilities and that they do not have to be good in everything.

The social psychologist, Leon Festinger suggests that individuals have a tendency of social comparison – individuals evaluate themselves by comparing them to others. Social comparison is an incorrect and inadequate way of evaluating oneself. When students compare themselves to others, then it can give them a negative picture about themselves. This may create some kind of confusion among the students and lead them to evaluate themselves as someone who is unworthy. This tendency, especially among children and adolescents, due to their vulnerability and emotional immaturity, has the potential to accentuate their mental health issues.

Indulging in social comparisons often makes them view themselves as inferior to others. Not having the latest mobile phone, not having those branded clothes, or not being that confident, for instance, are things that individuals may feel after social comparisons, giving rise to feelings of inferiority and emotional instability. Therefore, the idea of uniqueness by Adler enables individuals not to indulge in social comparisons, and rather believe in themselves, which further helps in developing better mental health.

Extending the idea of uniqueness, Adler proposes the concept of compensation. According to Adler, if an individual feels inferior in one aspect of life, he or she could compensate that by strengthening themselves in other aspects of life. This further asserts the notion that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Everyone does not necessarily have to be good in everything and that people cannot be compared on the same parameters.

A student who feels that he or she is not good in studies can be good in sports, or a student who feels that he or she may not be good in physical activities such as sports can be good in creativity. An individual who feels that he or she is not a good conversationalist can develop good in writing skills. A person who feels he or she is not that attractive might focus on being more of a good human being rather than just focusing on looks.

Compensation, therefore, helps individuals to cope well with their feelings of inferiority, which makes them deal with all kinds of insecurities and emotional instability. All this becomes highly significant in developing high social and emotional competence.

With respect to individuals having their own strengths and abilities, the educational psychologist, Howard Gardner talks about having multiple intelligences. He suggests that intelligence is too complex to be represented by the simplistic IQ, which has been found to be more associated with academic abilities. Gardner suggests that intelligence is too restricted and simplistic if viewed only in terms of IQ. He, thus, in his theory of multiple intelligences suggests of nine different types of intelligences.

These intelligences are linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential. Linguistic intelligence is the ability to communicate well, orally or in writing. Logical-mathematical intelligence is the capacity to use numbers effectively, to learn higher mathematics and to handle complex logical arguments. Spatial intelligence is the ability to perceive the visual-spatial world accurately and to perform transformations upon those perceptions. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is the ability to use one’s physical body well. Musical intelligence is the capacity to perceive, discriminate, transform, and express musical forms. Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to sense other’s feelings and be in tune with others. Intrapersonal intelligence includes self-knowledge, having an accurate picture of oneself, and the ability to understand one’s own body and mind. Naturalistic intelligence is the ability to understand different species, recognize patterns in nature, and classify natural objects. Existential intelligence is the capacity to locate oneself with respect to such existential features of the human condition such as the significance of life, and the meaning of death.

According to Gardner, every individual has all of these intelligences in varying degrees. Individuals are high in only few of these intelligences, not all them. A combination of these intelligences reflects the potential of the individual. An understanding of these intelligences can give proper direction towards where one should head to. Therefore, the realization that there are more than one intelligences coupled with the identification of a combination of specific intelligences that one is more inclined towards, helps to a great extent in self-realization and purpose in life.

Another important aspect of social-emotional competence is self-esteem. Self-esteem is said to be the worth that an individual assigns to himself or herself. It is about how positively or negatively a person may feel about themselves. It is a self-evaluation that an individual makes based on his or her perception, personal experiences, as well as others opinion.

Self-esteem is said to be one of the most significant attitudes that one may have. It plays an important role in wellbeing, adjustment, and happiness. Depending on whether self-esteem is high or low, it may have varying consequences on the individual.

High self-esteem has been found to be associated with better happiness, fewer interpersonal problems, the ability to sustain positive relationships, being less susceptible to social pressure, and being more consistent in achievement. On the other hand, low self-esteem has been found to be associated with being more prone to psychological problems such as depression and anxiety. They often face difficulties in interpersonal relationships, and are more reactive to the ups and downs of life.

Therefore, high self-esteem plays an important role in developing social and emotional competence. It enables individuals to handle stressful situations in an effective manner and cope well with psychological difficulties.

A part of any individual’s life involves day to day interactions with a wide range of people. While interacting with all kinds of people, it is very much possible that certain disagreements may arise, giving rise to conflicts. Disagreements, in a way, are a good sign, as they are indicating diverse perspectives. However, if that leads to being stressed out, causing emotional problems, and even comes in the way of accomplishing the larger goals, then it needs to be taken care of. Thus, dealing with conflict or conflict management becomes important. Especially, in times of globalization and multiculturalism, the skill of conflict management becomes very useful.

Depending on the situation, different conflict management styles can be used. In avoiding style of conflict management, the individual passively ignores the issue, wherein the relationship is maintained, but somewhere the conflict remains unresolved. In accommodating style of conflict management, the individual passively gives in to the other person, ignoring one’s needs and going along with the other ones. In forcing style of conflict management, the individual aggressively gets his or her own way. The person may seem to be uncooperative, but caters to his or her own needs, and decision is made easily.

In the negotiating style of conflict management, the individual is being assertive, using give-and-take concessions. In this, the decision is made quickly, and relationships are also maintained. However, the decision made may not be the best possible one, which is why this is also called the compromising style of conflict management. Finally, in the collaborative style of conflict management, the individual is being assertive to jointly resolve the conflict with the best possible solution. This is also called the problem-solving style.

All the conflict management styles can be used, depending on the appropriateness and requirements of the situation. The collaborating style, however, is the most difficult, as it involves a lot of cooperation, and there is a will to get the best solution.

Due to many of the disagreements leading to conflicts, often it may all lead to a lot of anger, resentment, and other negative emotions. These negative emotions may even get exacerbated to the extent of leading to severe mental health problems. In such cases, apart from conflict management styles, in the long run, the ability to forgive becomes very useful.

Forgiveness, contrary to popular beliefs, does not in any way mean that the harmful event or transgression is not acknowledged and that it is completely forgotten. It also does not in any way imply ignoring the transgression or denying it. Forgiveness is rather a way of coming to terms with the harmful event and trying to put oneself in a better frame of mind and has nothing to do with trying to benefit the transgressor.

Forgiveness is a replacement of the negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions with that of positive thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It is also a reduction in the negative motivations such as revenge and avoidance, which leads to a motivation to forgive the transgressor. This suggests that forgiveness is a process that involves a reduction in the negativity associated with the transgressor. The individual goes through a transition from the initial phase of being hurt to an alleviation of the pain from the hurtful event.

The reduction of negativity and alleviation of pain involved in forgiveness gives an indication that the individual goes through some positive changes from the initial phase of being hurt. These positive changes prove to be beneficial for an individual when it comes to both mental and physical health. It plays a role in reducing stress, depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure.

Not just forgiving others, but self-forgiveness also turns out to be very beneficial. Especially, adolescents due to their vulnerability, may often become too guilt-ridden for indulging in activities that may be considered inappropriate. They may be constantly blamed and shamed for things, which can turn out to be a huge burden for them, leading them to put themselves under a lot of pressure and experience heightened levels of stress. In such cases, being involved self-forgiving helps in a great deal to let go of all the negativity, and move on towards a more positive direction in life.

Dealing with a wide range of issues and problems, right from a very young age, becomes very challenging. A good way to deal with these challenges is to have creativity. Creativity is the ability to produce something that is novel as well as useful and appropriate.

Creativity may not be necessarily confined to a particular task. Being creative can also be helpful in many other aspects of everyday life. A student may like to do things in his or her own unique and creative style depending on his or her own comfort level and satisfaction. Rather than doing things or being forced to follow the old conventional style, a creative approach will not only be more satisfying, it will also enhance his or her abilities.

Creativity can also be helpful in using decision making and problem solving, regarding various aspects of life. Instead of making the same regular, stereotypical decisions, a student may make creative decisions that suit him or her. In this way, a student can make important as well as appropriate decisions of his or her life, especially with respect to careers and other future prospects. Thus, creativity can be a very important factor in determining social and emotional competence.

When it comes to problem solving, decision making, and making sense of the world around, the highly important skill of critical thinking comes into play. Critical thinking is the ability to not always believe in the given, in what is stereotypical, and what seems obvious. Critical thinking is about always doubting, questioning, and challenging one’s ideas and beliefs, even the deepest of beliefs. It involves not accepting any information as a given, even from the most trusted individuals or the highest of authorities, and looking at multiple facets of the same information, before coming to any kind of conclusion.

Critical thinking also involves the idea of not always being right and accepting that one can be wrong, and that there is nothing wrong in changing one’s perspective and beliefs according to more reliable and accurate information. This is what in fact makes a person grow. It is about not always being guided by emotions and rather taking more of a rationalistic and skeptic perspective when making judgments.

Reality, especially in today’s time, when all kinds of information are easily available, can often be misconstrued. This distortion of reality, tends to misguide adolescents, giving them a picture of the world that exists only on the surface level. However, truth lies in much beneath the surface.

It is the ability of critical thinking that helps individuals to dig in deep into the multi-layered reality and reach out the truth. In this way, critical thinking gives a very realistic perspective about life in general, which helps individuals to see through all the distortions, misperceptions, misinformation, so that they make proper judgments, enabling them to move in the right direction.

Social-emotional competence plays a significant role in wellbeing. It comprises of various aspects such as self-awareness, the idea of uniqueness, self-esteem, conflict management, forgiveness, creativity, and critical thinking. Together, all these aspects of social-emotional competence help the individual to be well-integrated, function coherently, deal effectively with social and psychological issues, develop effective coping mechanisms, being effective in problem solving, judgment, and decision making, have satisfying and fulfilling interpersonal relationships, make significant contributions in the community and society, and living a meaningful life.

Dealing with a wide range of issues and problems, right from a very young age, becomes very challenging. A good way to deal with these challenges is to have creativity. Creativity is the ability to produce something that is novel as well as useful and appropriate.

Saif R. Farooqi is a PhD in Psychology in the area of interpersonal relationships, from the University of Delhi, and is currently working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Applied Psychology, Vivekananda College, University of Delhi. His current areas of interest are interpersonal relationships, individual differences, youth issues, cyberspace/social media, urbanism/urban ecology, wellbeing, history of psychology, parapsychology, and critical thinking. He has conducted many workshops on SPSS (Statistical Packages in Social Sciences), self-awareness, self-expression, communication, leadership, and career development.

Saif has also been involved in writing psychology-based articles on his blogs for more than ten years. He writes about relationships, individual differences, communication, emotions, mental health, and paranormal activity on his blog Life and Psychology.