Written by : Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D. 

4 Ways to Build Your Social Intelligence

“Humans are my favorite animal.”

This quote came from a graduate student during one of my recent workshops at the University of Pennsylvania. It captures the priorities of a person high in social intelligence. These individuals want to be around other people, interacting and connecting. They may not always agree with each person but they can appear to be just as comfortable with a CEO, a teacher, a young child or a homeless person. They’re quick to see the common humanity that is part of all of us.

How about you?

Do you have a sense of what makes other people tick?

Do you feel you can easily fit into most social situations?

Are you closely attuned to your own feelings as well as to the emotions of others?

One of the quickest ways to begin expressing your social intelligence is to practice seeing and naming the strengths in people around you. You can use the “learning to SEA” method of strengths-spotting:

Spot a character strength: “I see kindness in you…”

Explain what you saw: “…because you were giving extra time helping that student after the meeting.”

Appreciate and validate the person for the strength: “I appreciated seeing your kindness in action. It was inspiring for how I will try to interact with my employees.”

This SEA method is your social intelligence-in-action because you’re observing others, understanding a core part of them and using your social savvy to communicate this with the person.

Consider the impact of bringing your social intelligence and strengths-spotting to people in your life. Use it with those you love the most and with those whom you have differences in opinions and beliefs. Social intelligence means to look deeper. Taking time to understand and empathize can have a significant impact.

Here are three additional ways you can build your social intelligence in different situations:

In one of your relationships, when you find yourself in a relational argument you have been in before, attempt to find at least one positive element in the other person’s comments and opinions. Find a way to bring this into the conversation.

At work, make a point to empathize with one of your co-workers who seems to be upset, stressed, or having difficulty with something in their life. Gently ask some questions and check in to see whether they are comfortable sharing with you. Be sure to spend more time listening than speaking and, if appropriate, offer emotional support.

At a community outing or just walking around a local park, take notice of someone who seems alone, unhappy, excluded, or cast aside. Use your social intelligence to approach them and start a conversation.
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