One of my fellow students recently raised an important question during a class on public diplomacy: why do so many Emiratis have difficulty communicating with others? Many members of society seem to lack social skills or what is called “social intelligence”, she added. Most of my classmates agreed with her.
I think the issue is rooted in our culture. Emirati society is still fairly conservative. It encourages individuals to be quiet and polite and not to interact much with strangers, so the matter often stays buried until one enters the real world.
In job interviews, many Emiratis suffer from anxiety, nervousness, even panic – all traits that were debated and discussed at last month’s Najah career fair at Adnec.
Recruitment industry experts attending Najah, which means “success” in Arabic, said that more effort should be made to improve young people’s social and communication skills ahead of job interviews. And even after getting jobs, many young people still face difficulties communicating properly with their managers and work colleagues.
Even at home and in personal relationships, many of us lack basic communication skills. In many cases this can lead to divorce, according to experts. Bad communication ranked above lack of love, infidelity and even physical violence as a reason for divorce in a recent study by the UAE Marriage Fund of 1,742 Emirati women.
These are only a few examples of issues that in many cases could be addressed by improving an individual’s social and emotional skills.
Noof Al Qarni, a student of psychology, told The National last month that more efforts should be made to teach young people about social intelligence, by introducing it into our education system as part of the curriculum. This would, she said, help young people to better navigate through life.
“When I was struggling myself, I read a lot of books on social intelligence and I realised it is very helpful here. I know a lot of people who have had anxiety because they have a lot of pressures and confusion,” Ms Al Qarni added. But can “social intelligence” be taught? And who is responsible to teach children this kind of skill?
Some would argue that a school’s role is to teach cognitive skills; to teach children how to reason and think logically to solve problems. But non-cognitive skills, such as social and emotional behaviour, are also as crucial to prepare young people for life.
Emotional intelligence, according to psychologists Peter Salovey and John D Mayer, two leading researchers in the subject, is “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”
The concept gained more attention when Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and New York Times science writer, published his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ in 1995.
Research by the Carnegie Institute of Technology also showed that 85 per cent of a person’s financial success depends on the individual’s ability to communicate, negotiate and lead – the skills that represent emotional intelligence.
And many other studies have revealed that children who develop these skills are more likely to be successful academically, in their careers and social lives. They often get better job opportunities and have more successful marriages. They also suffer less from anxiety and depression in later years.
Increasing numbers of psychologists and academics have discussed the importance of incorporating social and emotional learning. In the US, thousands of schools have introduced it into their study programmes in recent years.
Encouraging children to read fiction can also sharpen their social and emotional skills, according to a recent study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In five experiments, the participants who read literary fiction performed much better on emotion-reading tests than those who read excerpts of non-fiction and popular fiction. Researchers explained that works of literary fiction could draw readers into a type of social interaction with the characters, pushing them to think and improving their capacity to understand other people.
The UAE’s education system is still in the development stage, with many areas that can be improved. Adding social-emotional education to the system should be part of the future. Undoubtedly, it would have a positive impact on many of our social problems.
On Twitter: @AyeshaAlMazroui