What Is Social Intelligence and How You Can Develop It?

The times when you only needed a university degree to find a good job and build a career are gone. The modern labour market dictates its own rules that you have to follow to succeed! One of the most important of those rules – you must be able to properly communicate with people you work with – your colleagues, your partners, your customers. For many jobs, effective communication is key for a successful career! Why do we learn at school or university so little about how to create good relationships at work? However, the situation is improving. More and more attention is being given to group assignments at the higher education level. During some studies, you might have courses related to the development of communication skills. At the same time, education remains quite a conservative field. Changes here are happening slower than in the work field. And that is why many graduates lack one of the most basic skills for a successful career – the ability to create and maintain good relations at the workplace. 

You might be a bright specialist in your field but if your colleagues – saying easily – do not like you, the development of your career would be more difficult than you expect. 

How can you develop skills helping you to build effective relations at work? One of the keys helping you to do that is social intelligence. Probably you have heard about emotional intelligence – the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others. Social intelligence is a very close concept but it is more focused on social interactions with other people. Social intelligence is the ability to successfully build relationships and navigate social environments.

And the good news is that, unlike IQ which is in a large part pre-programmed by your genes, social intelligence can be improved and developed during life. One of the most effective ways to do that is to attend group sessions where you can not only learn theory but also practice what you learn. In that way you can also assess your social skills, probably receive the feedback and know where to improve. For example, you could have a look at the Social Intelligence Course offered by The Netherlands Education Group.

Another way to develop your social intelligence is to start doing exercises. Below we have summarized some of them. Start practising them and see if that helps you to create better relationships at work! 

9 Social Intelligence Principles Everyone Can Master

Here are 9 ways that Dr. Goleman (the author of the bestseller about Emotional Intelligence and books about Social Intelligence) argues you can improve your social intelligence.

#1: The Protoconversation

There is so much going on behind our words. As we speak, our brains are taking in microexpressions, voice intonations, gestures and pheromones. People who have high SI have a greater awareness of their protoconversations. Goleman identifies two aspects:

Social Awareness: How you respond to others

  • Primal Empathy: Sensing other people’s feelings
  • Attunement: Listening with full receptivity
  • Empathic Accuracy: Understanding others’ thoughts and intentions
  • Social Cognition: Understanding the social world and the working of a web of relationships

Social Facility: Knowing how to have smooth, effective interactions

  • Synchrony: Interacting smoothly
  • Self-presentation: Knowing how you come across
  • Influence: Shaping the outcome of social interactions
  • Concern: Caring about others’ needs

#2: Your Social Triggers

Let’s start with your social awareness. People and places trigger different emotions and this affects our ability to connect. Think about a time you felt excited and energized by interaction. Now think of a time when you felt drained and defeated after an interaction. Goleman presents a theory on how our brain processes social interactions:

The Low Road is our instinctual, emotion-based way we process interactions. It’s how we read body language, facial expressions and then formulate gut feelings about people.

The High Road is our logical, critical thinking part of an interaction. We use the high road to communicate, tell stories and make connections.

Why are these important? The Low Road guides our gut feelings and instincts. For example, if people didn’t come to your birthday parties as a kid, you might feel a pang of anxiety when thinking about your own birthday as an adult–even if you have plenty of friends who would attend. Your High Road tells you that you are a grown-up and things have changed, but your Low Road still gives you social anxiety. I call these social triggers. You should be aware of your unconscious social triggers to help you make relationship decisions. Knowing your Low Road social triggers helps your High Road function. Here’s how you can identify yours:

  • What kinds of social interactions do you dread?
  • Who do you feel anxious hanging out with?
  • When do you feel you can’t be yourself?

#3: Your Secure Base

Whether you are a cheerful extrovert or a quiet introvert, everyone needs space and a place to recharge. Goleman suggests a “secure base.” This is a place, ritual or activity that helps us process emotions and occurrences. A secure base is helpful for two main reasons. First, it gives us a place to recharge before interactions so we don’t get burnt out. Second, it helps us process and learn from each social encounter. You can improve your Social Intelligence, you just need to prioritize it.

Here are some questions I ask during my post-mortem:

  • What went well?
  • What went wrong?
  • What would I have done differently?
  • What did I learn from this interaction?

Possible secure base ideas on where you can do your post-mortem:

  • In the car driving home
  • Journal before bed
  • Business workbook for ideas
  • Brainstorming with a partner
  • Re-hash with a friend

#4: Broken Bonds

One of the biggest pitfalls of social intelligence is a lack of empathy. Goleman calls these Broken Bonds. Philosopher Martin Buber coined the idea of the “I-It” connection which happens when one person treats another like an object as opposed to a human being.

Imagine you have just lost a family member. You get a phone call from a friend offering condolences. Immediately you sense the obligation of the caller. They are distracted, you can hear the typing of keys in the background. Their wishes are cold, memorized and insincere. The call makes you feel worse not better.

This interaction makes you feel like an ‘it’ –a to-do list item, a ‘should,’ an obligation. Another word for this would be coldhearted. I had a friend who emailed me every 60 days to grab lunch. Her emails were so similar that I realized I was a calendar alert that she had set-up! I was merely an item on her to do list–she felt she ‘should’ do lunch to keep in touch and our lunches were perfunctory, predictable and boring. I stopped saying yes.

  • Don’t interact because you feel that you ‘should.’
  • Say no to obligations if you can.
  • Interact with empathy or don’t interact at all.

#5: Positively Infectious

When someone smiles at us, it’s hard not to smile back. The same goes for other facial expressions. When our friend is sad and begins to tear up, our own eyes will often get moist. Why? These are our mirror neurons in action–part of our Low Road response to people. This is why Debbie Downers bring us down with them–the scowl and our brain unconsciously copies it making us feel depressed along with Debbie. Hang out with people whose moods you want to catch.

If moods are catching, gravitate towards people who will infect you with the good ones!

#6: Adopt to Adapt

Our Low Road automatically mirrors the people around us. This is how empathy works. Our brain copies the people around us so we feel as they feel. This in turn helps us understand them, where they are coming from and even be better at predicting their reactions.

“Many paths of the low road run through mirror neurons. The neurons activate in a person based on something that is experienced by another person in the same way is experienced by the person himself. Whether pain (or pleasure) is anticipated or seen in another, the same neuron is activated.” -Goleman, 41

Here’s my big idea: Don’t fight it!

Sometimes our High Road gets in the way. For example, if our partner is angry at something we try to stay calm. Then we try to calm them down. Usually this makes it worse. The upset person feels you ‘don’t really understand’ or you ‘don’t get them.’ Why? Because you are fighting your instinct to mirror their upset. Sometimes you should let yourself adopt their emotions. Put yourself exactly where they are. This might give you a new glimpse into their perspective and helps them see that you are on the same page as them.

#7: Beware the Dark Triad

Goleman identifies the dark triad of people as the narcissistic personality, the Machiavellian personality and the psychopath or antisocial personality.

  • The narcissistic personality is when someone has an inflated view of themselves, a huge ego and a sense of entitlement.
  • The Machiavellian personality is when someone is manipulative and consistently exploits the people around them.
  • The psychopath personality is someone who is impulsive, remorselessness and extremely selfish.

Goleman summarizes the dark triad motto as:

Others exist to adore me.

#8: Mindblind

Can you usually guess what someone is about to say? Are you good at predicting people’s behavior? Do you think you are intuitive? If you answered yes to these questions you probably have high mindsight–and high social awareness. If you answered no to these questions you might fall on the “mindblind” side of the spectrum. Mindblind is the inability to sense what is happening in the mind of someone else. The key to mindsight is compassion.

“In short, self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.” – Goleman, 54

Goleman argues that we are wired for altruism. We are inherently good. However, sometimes we forget how good it makes us feel to be good.

Dr. Baron-Cohen devised something called the Empathy Quotient. This is a quiz to test your empathy levels. He devised the test for adults on the Aspergers or Autism Spectrum, but I find this quiz very helpful.

#9: A People Prescription

“The most striking finding on relationships and physical health is that socially integrated people, those who are married, have close family and friends, belong to social and religious groups, and participate widely in these networks, recover more quickly from disease and live longer. Roughly eighteen studies show a strong connection between social connectivity and mortality.” – Goleman, 247

Friends make you healthy.

Goleman’s prescription for a long, healthy happy life is positive relationships. Our partner, our friends, our colleagues our kids, they support our soul as well as our immune system. Goleman shares studies that have found that kinds of words, physical touch, a song from childhood improve the vital signs of the sick and even fatally ill.

Investing in your relationships is worth the effort.

9 ways to develop social intelligence and learn how to manipulate people

Another approach suggests the following methods that you can try as well.

How to develop social intelligence in yourself:

1. Boost your social responsiveness

The basis of social intelligence is empathy or “social responsiveness”. The key to developing this skill is to go beyond your selfishness and pay attention to other people. Moreover, it is better not just to pay attention, but to concentrate on what they are doing, how they are doing it and why, and so on. 

For us, residents of megalopolises, it is quite easy to practice it – go to the subway and do not rush to bury your smartphone with Angry Birds. Just look around and choose 3-4 people to watch.

Try to imagine where they are going, what they are thinking about. Observe their facial expressions: what emotions are they experiencing at the moment? Imagine how a person is talking to others, what he is arguing about, what emotions are manifesting at that moment?

Over time, you will suddenly realize that wrinkles on the face of that particular person will quickly begin to come alive in your imagination and “revive” the calm face with a smile or a displeased grimace.

2. Learn to understand body language

Modern person is a quite secretive being, therefore, in order to better understand what a person feels and what thoughts are in his head, it is better to learn how to read “body language”. Here you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just read the book by Allan Pease. Well, or as a short “cheat sheet” – 75 signs of body language according to Max Eggert.

3. Learn to read emotions in the face

According to the anatomical atlas, we all have 57 muscles on our face. That means that our face is a powerful tool for communication, and the mimic language was born even before the vocal apparatus developed as a result of evolution. Accordingly, the skills of reading the face lie in our genetic memory deeper than linguistic “superstructures”, which makes them more universal.

If you have watched the TV series “Lie to Me” based on the book by Paul Ekman, or even read the book itself, then after a while you will begin to notice that most of the observations of the University of California professor are very similar to the truth.

4. Learn to hear

Most people know how to listen, but not everyone can hear. While listening to other people, try not just to extract only information that is valuable to you (as you usually do), but to imagine the reality in which your counterpart lives. Don’t be afraid to ask leading questions and add new details to this reality.

After a while, you will be surprised that in the eyes of the interlocutor your authority will begin to grow. Why? After all, you didn’t tell him anything, but only listened and asked leading questions!

5. Learn to catch the mood

The mood is a very useful indicator for determining the timeliness of a particular social action you need. And the skill of quick determination of a particular person’s mood from fragmentary information will help you to quickly correct your behaviour.

Remember when you were a child and by the loud slam of the door or the unhappy coughing in the hall, you could find out in what mood your father came. You only had a few indirect signs to understand whether it is worth giving a diary with a D mark or wait for the parent to have dinner and be kind.

The combination of skills pumped over in reading emotions and body language, the ability to listen, will allow you to accurately determine the mood of a particular person.

6. Pump up your acting talent

Once you’ve mastered all of the above, start developing your acting talents. Because one of the important skills of social intelligence is the ability to adapt to the environment. And there is no need to quote the famous song of Makarevich “One day the world will bend under us” – if our goal is to learn how to manage the society around us, then the ability to truthfully play the role we need at the moment becomes an indispensable tool.

The aforementioned Gordon Allport actually considered social adaptation as a key product of social intelligence.

“You can be a brutal macho man most of your life, but if you need to calm down a girl who lost her parents in the crowd of a shopping center, then you have to get a pink pony from the depths of your soul and let this girl see it.”

7. Learn how to manage your emotions

Photographers probably noticed that after a few thousand shots you start looking at the world around you as if through the camera’s viewfinder, evaluating how interesting this “picture” is not only to yourself but to your friends or acquaintances. You begin to watch this world from the outside, the point of perception of reality suddenly goes beyond the boundaries of your consciousness and appears somewhere on your Facebook or LJ page.

So, you have to learn how to do the same with your emotions. If suddenly you feel anger, rage, envy, grief or another strong feeling that you would like to control, shift the center of perception of reality and look at yourself from the other side (“Who is this angry man with such ridiculously wrinkled lips? “). Take a look at the source of this emotion – for example, the taxi driver who wedged into your lane without turn signals and nearly knocked off half of your bumper – and imagine him pulling his head into his shoulders, expecting your negative reaction. It will become easier for you.

If someone deliberately provokes this emotion in you (for example, there are people who specially arrange an emotional “swing” as it is easier for them to communicate), figure out why this person wants to call your anger (pity, fear, or laughter). Perhaps you are not on your way with him or her?

Don’t forget that emotions are a great tool for manipulation. But before you learn how to use them to manipulate others, make sure you have taken full control of your emotions.

8. Improve your public speaking skills

A person who did not hesitate to make a report at a conference, make a toast at a wedding, or ask an inconvenient question at a general meeting, has at least captured the attention of several listeners. Ss a maximum, he could put his idea directly into their heads.

If you are afraid to speak in public, then be sure to take special courses,  which are very popular nowadays (both group and individual). For example, Social Intelligence and Leadership course. Only during public speeches, you can see how the mood of the audience changes in waves, which word evokes strong emotions, how attention changes, and so on.

Even if you do not have to make a report to the Federation Council, the skills you have acquired will definitely be useful in your everyday life.

9. Play “Mafia”, “Monopoly”, poker and other “social” board games

Despite the seeming “frivolity” of this method, people’s characters begin to “play with colours” when they are in-game, and if the game takes place in a relaxed atmosphere and with some (moderate) amount of alcohol, then in addition to a cheerful mood you will also receive a whole set of social skills on reading emotions, identifying lies by indirect signs, hiding emotions, and others.

1. https://www.scienceofpeople.com/social-intelligence/
2. https://vc.ru/flood/6595-nine-steps-social