Social Intelligence Matters

Social Intelligence (SI) is a term that scientists have been using a lot recently.  It refers to the parts of our intelligence that help humans relate to other people.  Several kinds of abilities are lumped together as being part of SI.  It includes the ability to recognize feelings in yourself and other people, to understand what’s going on in a social situation, and to connect with others.  It includes knowing how to talk with people you know and don’t know, knowing how to interact both verbally and non-verbally, and to size up the best way to respond to a person in a new situation.  It also includes attitudes that help people do well, such as empathy and compassion for others.

Four Main Skills

What scientists are learning about the social part of human minds is continuing to evolve but, basically, there are four main groups of skills, or skill sets, that capture most of the SI discoveries.  They are:

1.  Knowing yourself

When you start with yourself, it is simply easier to know others.  Knowing what kind of person you are and your feelings and responses increases your awareness of what is happening with others.  You will recognize responses and behaviours and will be less inclined to overreact in situations; people may simply need a bit of space and understanding.

2.  Being sensitive to others

Tuning in to others is the second skill of the socially intelligent.  We tune in to people more than we are consciously aware of.  We watch their actions, listen to their words, and read their facial expressions and the tones of their voices.  Research in neuro-imaging techniques  shows that we often match the emotions of others and even the thoughts of others.

3.  Making connections

Connecting is more than communicating with words.  Underneath this is your tone of voice, the way you move, your eye contact, even your appearance and hygiene.  The wrong word, intensity of eye contact, or a dismissive remark in an e-mail can, inadvertently, cause tension.

4.  Caring

As a species, we are actually hard-wired to care.  Research shows that humans do want the best for each other; we have a deeply ingrained need for connection and also to respond to distress in others.  We survived and thrived because we took care of each other, sharing knowledge, food, shelter and other resources.  Caring produces a powerful survival advantage.

How is SI different from EI?

In the day-to-day work world, no intelligence is more important than the interpersonal.  If you don’t have social intelligence, you are destined to make poor choices.  SI is distinctive from academic abilities and a key factor in what helps people do well in the practical aspects of life.  One highly valued practical intelligence, for example, is that of picking up on tacit messages, a critical intelligence for managers to manage effectively.  EI, Daniel Goleman explains, concerns itself with “…abilities such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathize and to hope.” (Goleman, 1997).  Knowing one’s own emotions and learning to manage them (EI) is crucial to developing the Social Intelligence (SI) competency of establishing and maintaining effective relationships with others.

Business Case for SI

There is no shortage of evidence to confirm that people who know and manage their own feelings well, and who read and deal with other people’s feelings, are at an advantage in life.  Goleman (1997) asserts that EI skills can be learned and that people with well developed emotional skills are more likely to be content and effective in their own lives.  Further, they will possess the social intelligence (SI) competencies necessary to establish and maintain productive relationships with others.  Don’t overlook the benefits that can be derived from helping employees understand and develop their EI and their SI skills.

About leaderwalk

Diane Thompson is principal of Thompson Performance Consulting and is a practitioner in the field of organization development and design. Diane has 25 years of management experience in private and public organizations and is a keen observer and student of organizational dynamics and the factors that impact high performance. Diane's direct experience as a manager and her body of knowledge from her MA, Human Systems Intervention, converge to support clients and leaders with transition and change.
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