Boosting your social intelligence skills

We have different ways to interact and relate to one another. This competency is known as “social intelligence” – and it’s not the same as emotional intelligence
Do 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.

“Teach them the quiet words of kindness, to live beyond themselves.” – Pat Conroy

Eight types of intelligence

A few decades ago, human intelligence had a narrow definition. Since then, extensive research has pointed to multiple types. Verywell Mind shares the eight types of intelligence described by psychologist Howard Gardner, including interpersonal (also known as “social intelligence”). Each type lends itself to specific skills:

  1. Linguistic-Verbal Helps us use language well. These people tend to be great debaters and speakers.
  2. Visual-Spatial Helps us make sense of what we see. These people can do puzzles with quickness and ease, and understand pictures and graphs.
  3. Logical-Mathematical Helps us analyze and approach situations logically. These people enjoy mulling over abstract problems.
  4. Bodily-Kinesthetic Helps us process and express information with our bodies. These people may be good dancers, builders, or firefighters.
  5. Musical Helps us understand rhythm, musical structure, and musical patterns. These people may be good musicians, conductors and songwriters.
  6. Interpersonal Helps us have strong people skills. These people communicate and resolve conflict with ease, and have deep empathy.
  7. Intrapersonal Helps us understand ourselves. These people know their motivations and are highly self-aware.
  8. Naturalistic Helps us connect with and understand patterns in nature. These people make talented biologists, farmers, and conservationists.

Four daily practices to increase empathy

Empathy is a key part of social intelligence. It forms the basis of shared emotional experiences we feel with others: shared joy at the birth of a newborn, shared excitement when watching a sporting event, shared grief when somebody dies. Check out these steps to improve your empathy:

  1. Make listening a priority
  2. Recognize their feelings and perspective.
  3. Make yourself vulnerable
  4. Act and offer help to others

Source: Verywell Mind

Top two social intelligence (SI) practices

A socially intelligent person knows that others might have different responses and customs based on their upbringing. Here are two skills you can develop.

Active listening. Have you ever realized halfway through someone’s story that you have no idea what they’re talking about? Have you felt the panic of trying to cover for your inattention?

People with high SI listen actively to others. They respond with relevant questions. These skills foster solid and positive relationships. We all want to feel heard and understood. We like to feel like we’ve made a meaningful connection.

Respecting cultural and age differences. We often cross paths with people from different social groups. That includes engaging with others from various countries. We may meet people of different religions and cultures. To better understand and connect, it helps to acknowledge and understand people’s backgrounds.

It’s also important to understand social differences based on age and experience. For example, you speak differently with your 75-year-old father than with your 17-year-old daughter. In some subcultures (like the East Coast of the United States) it’s more acceptable to jump in and start talking before the other person has fully finished their statement, showing interest. In other regions this can be seen as rude.

Source: Positive Psychology

Three tips to improve your social intelligence

There’s more to communication than words. Here are some nonverbal ways we convey we’re paying attention to others.

Listen well and pay attention. It is natural to want to respond immediately to a text message that pops up on your phone, even when you’re in the middle of a face-to-face conversation. Practice active listening so that you can fully engage with others. Give people your full attention when speaking with them – don’t think about what to say next, tuning out who is speaking. People like to feel heard, and active listening will help you develop worthwhile relationships.

Watch out for body language. Do you ever slouch or look away during a conversation? It may make the speaker lose confidence in what they’re saying, which can result in a negative interaction. People’s body language speaks volumes about how they are feeling, even if they aren’t saying so. Try to tune in to what the other person is saying “physically.” Also, be aware of your own body language and how you’re presenting yourself.

Show that you care. This goes beyond, “Oh, that’s too bad.” Empathy allows you to extend yourself emotionally. You don’t have to compare your own sorrows with the misery someone else has just shared with you. Just be a good listener and allow your friend to express their feelings.

Source: Positive Psychology

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