Tapping into social intelligence at work

According to psychologist Howard Gardner, there are eight “signs” of intelligence: spatial; bodily-kinaesthetic; musical, linguistic, logical-mathematical; inter-personal (sometimes called social intelligence); intra-personal (sometimes called self intelligence); and naturalistic.  Of course, I know you are brilliant at all of these but maybe there are one or two that sound more like you?!!

In this article, we look at social intelligence and how to apply it in the world of work. I found several, natural links with some of my previous articles, so these are shown too.

What is social intelligence?

Social intelligence is derived from the original research conducted into emotional intelligence (see my article about EI teams), with much of the research conducted by Daniel Goleman. Maybe you have heard of him as he has written several books in this field, and emotional intelligence has been talked about at work for around a decade now.

His most fundamental discovery into social intelligence is that “we are designed for sociability, constantly engaged in a “neural ballet” that connects us brain-to-brain with those around us.”

In his book Social Intelligence, The New Science of Human Relationships, Daniel Goleman lists seven “skills” of social intelligence as it applies to leadership:

Empathy: Do you understand what motivates other people, even those from different backgrounds? Are you sensitive to their needs?
Attunement: Do you listen attentively and think about how others feel? Are you attuned to others’ moods?
Organisational awareness: Do you appreciate your group’s or organisation’s culture and values? Understand social networks and know their unspoken norms?
Influence: Do you persuade others by engaging them in discussion, appealing to their interests and getting support from key people?
Developing others: Do you coach and mentor others with compassion? Do you personally invest time and energy in mentoring and provide feedback that people find helpful for their professional development?
Inspiration: Do you articulate a compelling vision, build group pride, foster a positive emotional tone, and lead by bringing out the best in people?
Teamwork: Do you encourage the participation of everyone on your team, support all members, and foster cooperation?

As you look at this list, which are your strengths and do you use them every day? Which skills do you want to develop?

Why social intelligence is important in the world of work

Leaders with social intelligence are more effective. Imagine working for a boss who has the skills highlighted in the list above; what would the impact be for you?

We already know that the leader sets the tone for the culture of their organisation.  From a social intelligence perspective the place to start is to be “present” – to be in the moment and in touch with the environment around you. This will enable you to be connected to people and know how to support them to be their best.

Empathy plays a large part in social intelligence – this is the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and know what they are feeling – and enables a leader to best serve employees, internal stakeholders, and customers. If you can do this and also adapt your style in the moment, you’re onto a winner!

Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Healthier, happier and more engaged employees (and more productive!)
  • You become a magnet for talent, who will want to work for you
  • Constructive relationships with stakeholders, leading to more creative and win-win (sustainable) outcomes
  • Reputation within the industry

For more on this, please see my articles on leadership agility, leadership agility compass, employee engagement, and positive psychology.

Top tips for social intelligence

Here are some specific ways you can show and develop your social intelligence every day.

  • Smile and act relaxed
  • Listen, without judgement (especially if someone is frustrated or upset). Ask questions to make sure you understand. Reflect what you think you have heard the other person express and ask if that is correct, e.g. “so what I think I heard you say is…; is that correct or have I got an aspect of it wrong?” Wording it like this shows you are genuinely interested and will allow the other person to correct your interpretation or help with their thinking process.
  • Allocate time every day to observing the mood; what do you see, hear and feel? What’s going on and what can you do about it if it needs addressing?
  • Allow mistakes; people do better work if they feel safe
  • Be interested in people; what makes them “tick”. How can you divide up the work so your team do what motivates and develops them?
  • Make sure every person without exception has a clearly articulated and well thought-through development plan based on what they need to develop in their current role and what they want to grow towards
  • Develop your influencing skills and understand what style to use in a given situation (see my article on influencing skills)
  • Understand employees well enough to know how to adapt your style to meet theirs, e.g. using Myers Briggs, or the Enneagram, or similar personality tool
  • Practice a ratio of 5:1 praise: criticism (for more information on this see my article on positive psychology)
  • Learn to read body language; much of what we communicate is non-verbal. If you can read body language you will better understand what someone is feeling (see my article on using body language to create rapport)
  • Give feedback in a planned and timely style, thinking about how best to deliver the message to that person. Give enough feedback, but don’t overdo it – I’m starting to see signs of feedback overload for individuals – so think about what will be most effective for that individual
  • Lead your team as a team, rather than as a group of individuals. This will better serve people’s social needs, as well as enabling co-creativity (but avoid group think – make sure you also seek individual’s ideas early on within the team setting, otherwise it’s just the loudest who get heard!)

Test your social intelligence

Try this fun and quick test (adapted from the work of Professor Simon Baron-Cohen at the University of Cambridge) which measures how well you can read emotions of others just by looking at their eyes. Please click the image below to start.

If you found this information useful, please click the social media buttons below, to share a link to this article with your network, and let me know if you’d like more details about this topic.

Next month, I’ll be covering the power of story-telling and showing how you can incorporate it in your work to bring people with you.