o you have a friend who can speak with anyone with ease? They make eye contact, don’t interrupt, and ask relevant questions? This friend may have mastered the basics of social intelligence (SI). From the outside, it may seem as if they were born with a magnetic charm that allows them to easily connect with anyone, but research shows us that many of these “people skills” can be learned and practiced.Improving your SI can improve all areas of your life. You will be better at reading and reacting to social signals. You will be able to monitor, understand, and manage your emotions. You’ll feel more comfortable in a variety of social situations.
What is social intelligence? SI has six elements, according to Psychology Today:
- Interpersonal communications skills – owning the room.
- Roles, rules, and scripts – knowing the room.
- Active listening skills – connecting with the room.
- Keen observational skills – reading the room.
- Social flexibility – knowing what role the room wants from you.
- Impressions management – controlling how the room perceives you
SI is the ability to interact skillfully with others. In Positive Psychology, psychologist Jessica Swainston writes, “It can affect the relationships we form with our partners and children, the friendship circles that we build, and our ability to progress in our careers and ambitions.”
You may have heard the term “emotional intelligence.” It’s often confused with “social intelligence.” They are different concepts. The distinction? Emotional intelligence is about understanding your own emotions. Having this knowledge can help guide your behavior. SI is both knowing yourself and knowing others.
SI is often referred to as “tact,” “common sense,” or “street smarts.” In Psychology Today, psychologist Ronald Riggio notes that SI “… develops from experience with people and learning from success and failures in social settings.” He says joining networking groups is one way to practice your social skills.
Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman points to two main parts of SI. The first is social awareness, or empathy — the ability to intuit another’s feelings and adapt to a variety of social situations. Without social awareness, some feel a sense of social awkwardness.
The second aspect, says Goleman, is social facility. Being able to interact with others with ease and effectiveness. These folks present themselves well, shape social interactions and care about others’ needs.
Being “book smart” is a valued asset in our society. But SI is just as important. The ability to connect with others impacts all facets of our relationships.
How can we improve our SI? Swainston offers three pointers:
- Pay full attention during your interactions with others.
- Reflect on your interactions with people.
- Try to understand how you could have responded better.