Have you been wondering how many past scenarios in your life could have turned out differently if you only knew the right way to react to them? Do you find yourself vowing to respond in a better way to similar situations if given a chance? You are not alone — not everyone is born with top-notch social intelligence.
Many people allowed opportunities to pass them by just because they were not attuned to the nuances of their social interactions. In truth, they could have avoided a lot of personal and professional disasters if the conflicts had been analyzed and dealt with correctly.
However, to anticipate and handle critical social interactions with grace, you have to build up and tap into your social intelligence. In this complex world that we live in, you’ll be glad to have social intelligence backing you up as you navigate increasingly tumultuous waters.
What Does It Mean to Be Socially Intelligent?
To start with, most people associate intelligence with just the general type as it relates to analysis and reasoning. That’s all well and good, but there are also other forms of intelligence, which factor significantly in human interactions.
For one, there’s emotional intelligence, which refers to skills in understanding and managing your emotions. Emotionally intelligent folks can identify and evaluate these emotions and ultimately control them.((Know more about them in this guide: What Is Emotional Intelligence (And How to Develop It))
As mentioned above, social intelligence exists, too. It is especially crucial during this pandemic when our routines and relationships have been rattled, if not upended. The uncertainty in the air calls for more careful handling of social interactions, specifically when dealing with new life scenarios, physical distance from our colleagues, and social changes in our close personal relationships.
Most people tend to simplify being socially intelligent into merely being friendly or approachable. But the truth is, learning to develop and harness your social intelligence can spell the difference between seeming approachable and having the capacity to build secure connections, diffuse conflicts, and communicate long-term solutions.
Social intelligence is the capacity to evaluate and influence other people’s emotions and relationships by knowing one’s self and others. It develops through time and experience with people concerning success and failure in social settings.
Even more significantly, some social intelligence-based skills and methods will allow you to break the ice and strengthen trust in valuable relationships.
6 Essential Social Intelligence Skills
Socially intelligent individuals tend to have an extensive, efficient network of social connections that they can rely on personally and professionally. This is because social intelligence comes with a set of powerful skills that you can use to build, maintain, and improve relationships.
The following skills can help you identify key people, understand and pay attention to them, and smoothly resolve any conflict that comes up during different scenarios:
1. Assessing Life Influencers
As you go through life, you will meet and regularly interact with people who have a significant impact on your journey. They are your life influencers.
To determine who they are, look for these three attributes:
- Life influencer has a significant impact on your personal or professional growth. Your long-term success hinges heavily on a continued relationship with this individual.
- The influencer cannot easily be replaced. Your time-tested relationship with this person has already yielded continuous positive effects on your life. You can identify who this influencer is by assessing the impact of past advice or interactions.
- The relationship is mutual: you can identify what you need from the influencer and vice versa. Your goals and desired results are aligned with this person.
2. Empathetic Listening
Go beyond the surface level and try to understand the people you interact with, whether you’ve just met them or they are one of your life influencers. In other words, when they are communicating with you, you need to listen to what they mean and not just what they are saying.
Your goal is empathy — the skill of understanding what other people feel. Focus not only on their message’s content but also on their tone and body language. By doing so, you will be able to figure out the meaning behind their words and what explains their feelings.
One of the best ways to demonstrate empathy while engaging with others is by showing them that you are paying full attention to them via:
1. Nonverbal signs include:
- Constant eye contact (casual, not intense)
- Keeping your feet and shoulders pointed to them
- Keeping your arms open (if you are sitting)
- Standing straight and not slouching (if you are standing)
- Smiling, nodding, and using hand gestures at appropriate times
- Duchenne smile, not fake smile (includes eyes in smiling)
2. Non-interruptive verbal signs such as saying “uh-huh,” “ok,” “go on,” etc. at appropriate times
3. Echoing and Mirroring
Another way to show your undivided attention is by echoing and mirroring, which uses one or a combination of the following methods:
- Rephrasing the essence of what your life influencer is saying with your own words every one to three minutes – If you do it right, the person you are talking to will be grateful for your attention. If you don’t, they will be thankful that you checked and will correct it.
- Using their jargon – Notice specific words that the other person is using relevant to the issue and integrate them into your echoing.
- Mirroring their tone and posture in broad terms – For example, if someone is speaking formally, do the same thing. If they’re leaning towards you, do so as well. Just pay attention to their body language and tone and try to match it, but don’t try to mirror everything quickly. When done correctly, it will help people feel connected to you and trust you.
4. Building Rapport
You can also convey how you understand the person you are interacting with by building rapport. You need to help them feel that you are on their side and that you are a part of their tribe. Without explicitly stating it, signal that you grasp their emotions, goals, incentives, values, and obstacles by doing any of the following:
- Express compassion (sense of caring) towards their feelings.
- Find points of commonality between your goals and values and theirs.
- Convey implicitly that you get what their obstacles and incentives are.
- Use humor to help bring down defenses while avoiding making fun of them or what they value or using sarcasm as it’s too often misunderstood. Instead, you can lightly make fun of yourself since you’re the safest target.
- Remember that the most impactful humor feels spontaneous. However, you can build it in, and people will still appreciate it.
5. Curious Questioning
Injecting some genuine curiosity in your conversations will go a long way in expressing your sincere interest in your influencers’ needs and concerns. It will help facilitate effective knowledge-sharing and further refine your understanding.
To do it correctly, try to envision what someone wants you to ask them. Express curiosity in your questions without coming off as probing or provocative. Keep in mind that many people may not want to reveal their emotions directly, so a practical approach is to throw an indirect question at them. For example, you can say, “If I were in this situation, I would feel _______. How about you?”
You can also share a story about someone who felt an emotion that you think the other person is feeling in a similar situation and see how they respond.
6. Conflict Mediation and Resolution
Manage your feelings and then try to resolve the conflict through social intelligence. As a proactive measure, try to scan your relationships for signs of conflict. Don’t give in to the temptation of ignoring potential disputes in hopes of seeing them disappear because that’s when minor molehills turn into major mountains.
Then, you may employ the following ideas during interactions:
- Remember that a great deal of conflict comes from misunderstanding other people’s emotions and focusing solely on the content of their message. When you start noticing growing tensions, check for misconceptions around both.
- Be diplomatic when checking for misunderstandings and treat the situation as a miscommunication on your part.
- If you were able to confirm that a misunderstanding or miscommunication occurred, take implicit or explicit blame for it. Apologize for what happened, regardless of whether it’s your fault or not. Instead of being misleading, you are using a diplomatic way of bringing up the issue so that the other person can still save face. The latter will be grateful to you for doing so, especially if they are the ones who misunderstood or misread the situation. Then, be explicit in explaining what you’d like to see and draw clear boundaries that you don’t want to see crossed.
- If there aren’t misunderstandings, and there is a conflict between your desires and the other person’s, you may have the meta-conversation first. Take a step back with the person you are in conflict with and talk about the discussion that you are about to have. Instead of simply diving into the battle, convey something like, “Hey, it looks like we disagree here,” and figure out the nature of the disagreement.
- If you realize that you are at fault, take responsibility and apologize to the other person. After that, discuss what you will do to prevent this kind of problem in the future.
- In case someone else is at fault, though, don’t expect them to apologize or take responsibility, no matter how nice that would be. Many people are emotionally afraid of losing face and social status and will refuse to apologize or be responsible for their actions. Regardless, don’t let this get in the way of resolving the problem. Steer the conversation into what can be done to resolve the situation now and what can be done to prevent the same thing from occurring later.
- If the disagreement is about what should be done about an issue, explore the reasons behind the conflict and be emotionally sensitive when doing so. Minimize blaming the other person and take blame quickly yourself when it’s appropriate. Differentiate what is definitively known versus what is assumed and then gather a reasonable amount of evidence to test assumptions. Finally, look for ways to resolve the disagreement in a win-win manner.
Each of these methods can be applied to a wide range of personal and professional situations.
Being a human being can be hard, and we all want positive, productive, and genuine relationships. When you use these social intelligence skills correctly, you will be able to get the best out of each interaction, and those you interact with will also place more confidence in you due to your consistent and transparent display. No one becomes a loser then even after the toughest of conflicts.
There’s no doubt that social intelligence plays a crucial role in forming and fortifying human interactions. Learning and harnessing social intelligence skills will not only keep you highly relevant but also turn you into a trusted influencer in your personal and professional circles.
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