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5 Tips on How you Can Improve Your Social Intelligence

A couple of weeks ago I talked about Emotional Intelligence (EI).

What surprised you?

What did you already know?

What emotional management muscles have you already started to flex?

I hope you’ve had a chance to see how a little awareness can give you access to more options in difficult or intense situations. It’s all about how you respond to your emotions in those moments.

This week, I want to build on this concept a bit more. I’d like to introduce you to EI’s less famous sibling, Social Intelligence (SI). Edward Thorndike, the psychologist who developed the theory of SI, defined it as “The ability to understand and manage men and women and boys and girls, to act wise in human relations."

It’s your ability to perceive another person’s emotional experience without dismissing, overreacting to or become absorbed by their emotions.

Social intelligence becomes important in how you show up at work as a colleague and as a leader. Having both high emotional and social intelligences can help you build and cultivate inspired and supportive work environments.

Managing your own emotions

To help you build positive and meaningful relationships with others, start with your own internal experiences. Make sure that you have expanded your emotional intelligence by learning how to become aware of and manage your emotions.

As I wrote about in my blog a few weeks ago, managing your own emotions creates a greater capacity for choice and clear decision making.

When my 11-year-old came to me in a panic because her bunny had eaten through her Homepod cord, I felt heat rise to my face and my shoulders tighten. I noticed myself getting frustrated too.

Had I reacted without taking a moment to notice what I was feeling first, I might have yelled at her, “How many times have I told you to supervise that rabbit when he’s in your room!” All of my frustration about the situation would have been focused directly on her. We would have both ended up feeling frustrated and hopeless about our newest family member, a notorious chewer.

Instead, I paused and observed my physical and emotional reaction. I waited a couple of breaths and said, “Oh, that’s too bad. I guess you’ll have to save up to replace it.”

This response didn’t make her happy, but she was frustrated with the situation, not with me. My emotional and physical awareness gave me a chance to choose my response rather than surrendering to an immediate reaction.


Empathy can be tricky. There’s a fine balance between sitting with someone in their difficult emotions and becoming immersed in their emotions yourself.

Being empathetic means that you can connect with the situation and emotions another is feeling without becoming enmeshed in their experience.

When your boundaries are unclear, you have less available to you to listen and be a supportive presence. Instead, you might struggle to manage your own emotional response or even allow your response to become the focus of the conversation.

Be an empathetic presence, but remember, it’s about them not you.

Active Listening

Active listening also requires presence. In fact, you might have to actively suppress your internal dialogue to be present in a conversation.

When someone is sharing important information or a problem with you, your brain starts preparing all of your responses and bits of wisdom. This takes your attention away from the speaker as you become more focused on how you're going to respond than what they’re saying.

Thoughts are certain to come to mind, but to show up as an active listener, let those thoughts pass and return your focus to what’s being shared with you. Trust that your presence and attention are the most important thing in that moment.

Environmental awareness

Learn how to read a room. How well do you understand the culture of the particular group you’re in? Take time to understand group values and norms of the environment you work in.

This is more than complaining, “Ughhhhhh! This clinic is so toxic!” What shared norms and values allow for that toxicity? What norms and values allow for a supportive and collaborative work environment, if that’s your experience?

Understanding the environment you spend your time in gives you insight into the practices and the behaviors of the people around you. Changing those practices and behaviors starts with reevaluating the shared norms and values.

Influencing others

Do people easily buy into your ideas or quickly jump on board with your plans? Are you effective at influencing others into action? People who are good at influencing others often have good SI.

Influencing others means being able to connect with and share your vision with another person. That connection and shared vision then inspires them into action. Being able to galvanize others into positive action can lead to meaningful shifts in unfavorable environments.

So, now you have two powerful tools to guide how you can nurture supportive and impactful relationships with others. Both EI and SI can help you build a strong foundation for cultivating positive interactions with the people around you.


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