Increase your social intelligence


I WAS painfully shy as a kid. I would always go to my room whenever we had visitors, or decline invitations for going out with classmates. I can even remember a time when an entire group went to our house to fetch me to go out, but I told my mom I did not want to go, so she lied for me and said I was not in the house. It was only when I went to college, away from my family, that I started to come out of my shell and tried to be more friendly. It was both awkward and liberating.

When I graduated, it was teaching that forced me to start being more socially skillful. It helped that I started out teaching toddlers because they were brutally honest without being malicious. I guess talking to kids and knowing I was teaching them helped me understand where people were coming from, and establish boundaries of what behaviors and attitudes I was willing to accept or reject.

It was when I became a trainer where my understanding of people’s motivations broadened. It was also then when I began to be exposed to different personalities and developed the skills and techniques in handling them. The last time I did a personality test, I was no longer an extreme introvert. My work as an educator helped me develop my social skills and improved the way I relate with others. These skills fall under what is known as social intelligence.

The term social intelligence (SI) was first introduced by Edward Thorndike in 1920 and he defined it as “the ability to understand and manage men and women, boys and girls…to act wisely in human relations.” Howard Gardner, the proponent of the concept of multiple intelligences, has a similar concept in his concept of interpersonal intelligence which he defined as the ability to understand people’s motivations and how they work and work with others. This might seem similar to emotional intelligence, but it is more of how you handle yourself and your emotions to influence how you behave. Social intelligence is more on how you deal with others and your understanding of how others interact with one another.

Social intelligence is being able to read between the lines and discerning the issues in complicated social situations. It also means being able to navigate such complexities and communicating effectively with the people involved while diffusing tensions among the people involved. A person with high social intelligence understands the issues behind people’s words and actions, and uses that knowledge to arrive at a mutually beneficial solution.

Social intelligence is especially important if you are a people manager since your work is based largely on how you influence people. If you do not understand people’s motivations and intent, you will keep your team feeling aggravated, deficient and frustrated. On the other hand, a high social intelligence means you value the relationships within your team, and you stimulate positive feelings in people you work and interact with. Having a high SI leads to higher influence on your team. But how do you increase it?

You can start with listening and observing your team. Look at how they talk to each other and the words that they use when they converse. Choice of language and even their body language tells a lot about the people they like to work with, and those they avoid. This is helpful especially when you group your team into different projects and who are the people you can groom for leadership positions. This will also help you adopt some words they use, so you can be more relatable to them.

Take time to talk to your team individually. Time spent with individual members of your team is the best way to get to know them. Invest in them by taking the time to get to know them. And when you do spend time with them, be genuinely interested by asking follow-up questions. Understanding your team’s motivations will help you develop individual development plans where they will be invested too.

When talking to your team and even others, suspend judgment. People come from different backgrounds and experiences; hence, their experience may not be the same as yours. Do not invalidate what people say and keep an open mind on what they are actually saying. Your team will likely be more open to you when they know they will not be judged.

Pause before you speak or act. One of the best ways of preventing a social faux pas is to stop and think through your options. People act out in anger and regret it later on. To avoid this, be as neutral as possible or just walk away. Weigh if the discussion is worth the aggravation. If not, agree to disagree and accept that some people just have a different way of thinking.

Your workplace culture plays an important role in shaping how you are perceived and, conversely, how you are perceived by others. You would know when you are being warned to tread lightly when you are told, “That is not the way we do things around here.” If you want to influence and change your work environment, you need to understand first what the prevalent culture is and then slowly introduce changes to your team.

Work on your emotional intelligence. A good understanding of yourself will greatly help in understanding others. Be aware of your smile and your posture as these are indicators of how confident you are with yourself. Emotional intelligence may be different from social intelligence but a good understanding of yourself leads to a better understanding of your social environment.

A people manager with high social intelligence will improve their ability to communicate clearly, connect with others for collaboration, innovate to adapt to an ever-changing business environment, and effectively engage their team for maximum performance. I may have been an introvert but that does not mean I cannot manage people effectively. It just takes practice, patience and a little effort to understand that successful work is done through other people.

Image courtesy of Austin Distel on Unsplash

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