Smart and Stupid at the Same Time

I’ve spoken before about human intelligence being a multi-dimensional thing and today I thought we’d take a brief look at, what I believe to be, one of the most important and valuable components of overall intelligence: Social Intelligence. Some people are very intelligent (capable, competent, efficient) when it comes to completing certain tasks but surprisingly inept (dare I say, stupid?) when it comes to others.

You know what I mean.

This Piece Goes Where?

Some people might suggest that I’m reasonably intelligent when it comes to writing, communicating and expressing my ideas but if those same people saw me trying to put together a piece of DIY furniture and understand the accompanying instruction sheet, they might (reasonably) conclude that I am, in fact, an idiot. It’s probably fair to say that my mechanical intelligence is low. Actually, no, low would be a significant step up.

And if those same people saw the quizzical (confused, lost, stupid) look on my face in any movie with a plot more complex than Porky’s Revenge, they’d probably realise that their initial assessment was spot on. It’s fair to assume that I won’t be recruited by the FBI, NASA or MENSA any time soon. Sadly, I’m often confused and asking stupid questions before the opening scene has finished.

Yep, smart comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes you won’t realise how smart somebody is until you’re stuck on an island with them and they build you a house, catch you some fish and save your life all before sunset. This might also be the same person who struggles to spell or calculate simple equations.

IQ Tests

When most of us talk about measured intelligence we are generally talking about a score someone has achieved completing, what we know as, an IQ test. While a score from an IQ test can tell us a little about a person, there’s far more that it doesn’t tell us. And quite often the information an IQ test doesn’t provide is exactly what will make the difference between success and failure (depending on the task, of course).

We all know at least one person who, if required, could write a quick overview of quantum physics in ten minutes (in three languages) yet would struggle to walk into a social setting and engage a stranger in casual conversation. Neither would they get your joke or know when they’re pissing someone off. And if they had to do something complex like change a baby’s nappy(diaper) (1) they’d panic and (2) they’d have to Google it.

While there are several definitions for Social Intelligence, what I’m talking about today is our ability to interact effectively with other people in a range of settings, situations and circumstances. Following are some indicators of a person’s level of social intelligence.

How do you rate yourself on the following?

  • Being an active listener.
  • Reading and responding to non-verbal cues – keeping in mind that the majority of our communication is non-verbal.
  • Being able to create connection and build rapport.
  • Reading situations and people in those situations.
  • Knowing what is and what isn’t appropriate for that conversation and that moment.
  • Being able to avoid and, when necessary, resolve conflict.
  • Making others feel valued, respected and appreciated.
  • Knowing when to say nothing.
  • Knowing how to start a conversation.
  • Assessing the feelings of others and understanding a perspective other than your own.
  • Demonstrating humility.
  • Being able to hold a conversation with someone with whom you have nothing in common.
  • Being able to adapt your communication style for your audience (individual or group) in terms of language, vocabulary, volume, speed and content.
  • Being able to motivate, inspire and empower others.

The Right Person for the Right Job

Since I started my business (just after the last ice-age), I’ve employed somewhere in the vicinity of four hundred people. When I’m interviewing prospective staff I always rate people skills, communication and social intelligence above academic intelligence on the employability scale. Of course I want knowledgeable, qualified and technically competent staff but I’m acutely aware that those three ingredients don’t automatically equal a great trainer, teacher, coach, motivator or employee. It’s my experience that people with a high level of social intelligence are well suited to (the numerous) careers which involve significant face-to-face contact and social interaction.

Over the years, I’ve met, worked with and employed many people who have had limited technical knowledge (to begin with) and basic qualifications yet they constantly produced great results, built fantastic relationships and were always in demand because they simply had a high level of social intelligence. They were smart where and when it counted. They had excellent awareness, empathy, insight, understanding and overall people skills.

A Different Education

How great would it be if our school kids were part of an educational system which not only valued and taught the academic basics (mathematics, sciences, humanities), but also one that held the development of their social and interpersonal skills in the same esteem? If this were to happen, I believe our kids would come out of school much better prepared for the practical realities and challenges of life beyond the classroom. Imagine if they had the choice of elective subjects such as communication, conflict resolution, leadership, emotional intelligence and relationship building 101… just to name a few.

Very cool.

I might build that school.

Let me know your thoughts on this topic.

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