Life & Work Balance - People

Social Inteligence at work

By Sara Stefanovic
4 min read

What is social intelligence? And why is it crucial at work? Manners are cultural social intelligence, yet it seems that traditional politeness is progressively loosing its appeal. We want to engage with people in a comfortable way but we don’t want to sacrifice genuine expression in favor of a polite not. More and more employer are complaining about the lack of social skills in their colleagues and new hires.

In a national survey of what employers are looking for in entry-level workers, specific technical skills are less important than the ability to learn a job. After that employers have listed:

  • Listening and oral communication;
  • Adaptability and creative responses to setbacks and obstacles;
  • Personal management, confidence, motivation to work toward goals, a sense of wanting to develop one’s career and take pride in accomplishments;
  • Group and interpersonal effectiveness, cooperativeness and teamwork;
  • Effectiveness in the organization.

What is social intelligence?

People who are socially intelligent think and behave in a way that spans beyond what’s culturally acceptable at any given moment in time. They are able to communicate with others and leave them feeling at ease without sacrificing who they are and what they want to say. The book Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships by Dr. Daniel Goleman gives us some great science on social intelligence. We are wired to connect. Goleman argues that we have specific structures in our brain built to optimize relationships:

  • A spindle cell is the fastest acting neuron in our brain that guides our social decisions. Human brains contain more of these spindle cells than any other species.
  • Mirror neurons help us predict the behavior of people around us by subconsciously mimicking their movements. This helps us feel as they feel, move as they move.
  • When a man gets a look from a woman he finds attractive, his brain secretes dopamine–a chemical that makes us feel pleasure.

How to recognize a socially intelligent person

Here are the fundamental traits of socially intelligent people:

  1. They don’t speak in definitives about people, politics, or ideas.
  2. They never overgeneralize other people though their behaviors. Choosing a language that feels unthreatening to someone is the best way to get them to open up to your perspective.
  3. They speak calmly, simply, concisely and mindfully, focusing on communication, not just on receiving a response.
  4. Socially intelligent people listen to hear, not to respond, this is also known as the meta practice of holding space.
  5. They do not draw general conclusions from their personal experience.
  6. They don’t change their personality based on who they’re with.
  7. These humans don’t seek out other people’s flaws in an effort to diminish their strengths.
  8. They don’t outright reject another person’s ideas, but rather listen to them with an open mind—even when it’s not an idea that they personally agree with.

How to increase your social intelligence

social intelligence

The more complex the job, the more social intelligence is needed. Out-of-control emotions can make smart people stupid. People need social competence too, to get the full potential of their talent. All social competences involve some degree of skill in the realm of feeling, along with cognitive elements. This stands in sharp contrast to purely cognitive competencies, which a computer can be programmed to execute. A social competence is a learned capability based on emotional intelligence that results in outstanding performance at work.

Here are a few tips:

  • Pay close attention to what (and who) is around you. Socially intelligent people are observant and pay attention to subtle social cues from those around them.
  • Work on increasing your emotional intelligence. Although similar to social intelligence, emotional intelligence is more about how you control your own emotions and how you empathize with others. An emotionally intelligent person can recognize and control negative feelings, such as frustration or anger, when in a social setting.
  • Respect cultural differences. More than that, seek out cultural differences so you can understand them.
  • Practice active listening. Don’t interrupt. Take time to think about what someone else is saying before you respond. Listen to the inflections in what others say, which can give you clues to what they really mean.
  • Appreciate the important people in your life. Pay attention to the emotions of your spouse and children, friends, co-workers, and other peers. If you ignore the closest people in your life, you’re missing the cues on how to connect with them.

4 min read


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