Developing social skills are key to learning

Prakash joined a reputed college, fresh out of school where he had years of smooth sailing and long-lasting friendships. He was looking forward to the new set of friends, and he did find many. He was impressed with many of them who looked so mature and capable compared to his school buddies. He felt elated that he could move around with boys and girls who could teach him so much about the world outside the classroom.

Gradually, Prakash realised that friendships are not as simple and straight-
forward as they were in school. Subtly putting down someone, climbing the social ladder, grouping with the ‘stronger’ ones, impressing the opposite gender — all these played a major role in how his classmates would respond to him. Not being used to such manipulations, he was at a loss. And soon he was caught in a dilemma and he did not know whom to trust, whom to befriend, and found himself becoming the butt of jokes and ridicule. Social media trolling added to his woes, and he could tolerate it no longer and one fine day he just dropped out of college.

Such unfortunate situations can be prevented if Prakash, and many others like him, understand that social skills is one of the five pillars of Emotional Intelligence (measured as Emotional Quotient or EQ), and that 80% of their life satisfaction is dependent on how much they build up their EQ. 

‘Peer-age’

Peer pressures and groupism are not restricted to colleges — many school students also experience tremendous confusion and difficult situations, resulting in loss of grades and motivation. Since teenage is often referred to as ‘peer-age’ we need to understand that having good friends, being part of a group, being accepted by peers is very important in a teenager’s life.

The first step in this direction is to resist getting trapped into the herd mentality. Adults often complain about the “peer pressure” that children succumb to. In my opinion peer pressure can be both good and bad. I know of innumerable instances where peers have put pressure on a friend to study better, to boost his or her morale, and to stand by him or her in times of distress. Many students perform better because of peer pressure — which is evident in some schools and colleges where there is an atmosphere of commitment, hard work and responsibility. On the other hand, certain peers can put pressure on a student to go off-track, develop bad habits, or become rebellious.

Herd mentality is the way sheep and goats follow each other blindly not giving a thought to why and where others are going. In human beings, the tendency to be part of a herd often stems from low self-esteem or sense of loneliness and being unloved. Like Prakash, if you find yourself craving to oblige others, particularly groups, going out of your way to change your routine and habits for their sake, you should sit back and introspect.

Similarly, if you find yourself at any time on the receiving end of a bully, or a gang of bullies, rather than trying to find out why they are bullying, it is better to ask yourself why you are being the target. It is possible that you are giving out signals of vulnerability, low self-worth or exhibiting some signs that they can get away by being tough on you and that you will not retaliate. Even with individual friends, the moment you get signals that one of them is becoming sarcastic, teasing you in front of others, ignoring you purposely, or making you do tasks you would not like to — start analysing why it is happening and what you can do to set right the situation. Do not be complacent hoping that things will get better, they often become worse.

Facing hostility

To ensure that you maintain your dignity, select the right friends and groups, and ensure that you are not targeted in some form of ragging, bullying or teasing, start practising some of these time-proven techniques:

Check out your dressing style, be prim and proper, hold your head high, walk with confident strides, try to have a smile on your face. First impressions go a long way in how relationships will take shape.

If you notice anyone sneering, passing snide remarks, or trying to catch your attention in a negative way, look straight into their eyes with a neutral expression, exhibit confidence, respond momentarily and move away saying you have work to do. Never try to visibly avoid them, and do not confront them.

Do not take jokes or insults personally. Laugh along with them if they joke about you. It will show them that they cannot upset you easily.

Never go craving for someone’s attention, or show that you are desperate to belong to any group. Don’t feel insulted if they leave you out of any activity.

Unless things go really bad, avoid complaining to teachers or authority about any student, as then you will be labelled and looked upon with suspicion.

Ensure that you are not identified with one particular group or gang because then others will keep you at a distance and will not include you in their activities.

Keep giving yourself positive affirmations that you are complete by yourself. You may enjoy the company of friends, but you are equally capable of enjoying alone by yourself.

When in a group, keep away from gossip about other friends. Even by listening silently you will be branded as a gossiper.

When they want you to do something you detest or will take away your valuable time, be assertive and learn to say ‘No’, without giving excuses or apologising. Never tell lies where you can get caught and they will then have the upper hand on you.

If matters get out of hand and if you feel you are going into a depression, or losing motivation to go to school or college, then seek professional help, either in your own institution or outside. With guidance and support, any of the above issues can be overcome and you can move on to academic progress.

The famous author M Scott Peck, in his popular book The Road Less Traveled says that those who go around with a T-shirt message announcing, “I need your love” only get emotional charity and are looked down upon. Those who exhibit the message, “I deserve your love” are often sought after by others and given respect. Show them that you deserve their company, friendship and love. You are a person with unique capabilities, and you have something to offer to any friendship or group activity. Give out the right signals, hold your head high, and you will get your due respect, regard and acceptance in any group.

(The writer is founder, Banjara Academy, Bengaluru)

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