Every interaction we have with loved ones, friends, family members, co-workers, superiors, and even strangers affect us in deep and profound ways.
While most people are never fully aware of their immense influence on others, we can impact people’s thoughts and emotions before we ever open our mouths or make a conscious move. Increasing your social intelligence can help you to harness this intuitive power and use it to make better choices in your relationships.
According to American psychologist Edward Thorndike, social intelligence is “the ability to understand and manage men and women…to act wisely in human relations.” This ability has become even more important in today’s job market, where it is estimated that up to 80% of jobs are now filled via relationships and networking.
Whether you realize it or not social intelligence has played a significant part in both your successes and setbacks. The good news however is that you can easily improve in this area by using the following 5 techniques:
Focus On Others
People with high social intelligence recognize the importance of prioritizing their attention on others when communicating rather than focusing on their own thoughts and emotions. It is essential to place your attention on what other people are saying both verbally and non-verbally so that you can fully absorb and understand what you are communicating.
By contrast, most people navigate life in a bubble of self-absorbed thoughts, paying more attention to their inner monologue and neurosis than the behavior of others around them. By remembering to turn your awareness outward and focus on the behavior of others, rather than on yourself, you can begin to pick up the subconscious signals sent out by other people, recognizing them as positive or negative; you can use this information to make more intuitive decisions about what is being expressed and how you can best communicate. This practice also has the added benefit of making you less self-conscious, allowing nerves to subside so that you can be your authentic best self in social situations.
Observe The Body
Learning how to read body language and identify how a person feels in their body can help you understand what they are trying to communicate. Do they seem at ease in their body? Are there parts of their bodies they seem to be trying to draw attention to or mask? Does their body seem tired, energized, tense, relaxed, stiff, flexible, sick, or healthy? Is their breathing steady, deep, calm or inconsistent, shallow or quick? Are their feet firmly planted on the ground or active and ready to go? If they touch you, does their handshake or hug feel warm, forced or tentative?
Being more in tune with the physical signals of another person will also have the added benefit of making you feel more empathetic towards them. They will sense this empathy from you and value your company.
Feel The Energy
We all radiate energy. The addition of one person to an already crowded room can change the atmosphere of that space. Don’t put all of your stock in what a person says or how they appear. Try to feel the energy that person is giving off. Do they radiate hesitancy, impatience, or ease? Is their energy positive or negative? Does their energy suggest openness, or that they have something to hide? Is their presence draining you or energizing you? Imagine that person’s energy is something you can see: would it be smooth, round waves or sharp, staccato bolts?
The space around someone is also filled with their presence; if this space were to fill an entire room, would it be a place that you would feel comfortable staying? A person’s energy is the true indicator of their emotional life. They may be able to convince you of something with carefully chosen words, but if their energy doesn’t match what they are saying–the energy is the truer statement.
Watch the Eyes
Eyes tell the truth. A person may seem completely confident until you notice a flash of fear in their gaze. At other times, a shy person’s eyes might appear to be smiling or drawing you towards them. Eyes are so powerful that we can feel another’s gaze on us when our back is turned. Simply maintaining eye contact with someone for an extended period of time may stimulate feelings of love, joy, sadness, or fear.
Observing where a person chooses to focus can also be very telling. We often look up when we are forming images in our minds, trying to remember something from our past. Looking down is a universal sign of submission. A person whose eyes move back and forth quickly may be trying to convince someone of a lie. Squinting can suggest processing a thought or evaluating a decision. When a person doesn’t like someone, their pupils will suddenly contract. A person’s right and left eye may also reveal different things because each eye is tied to a different hemisphere of the brain. Some salesmen swear by the technique of only looking a person in their left eye because it is the eye tied to the emotional side of the brain.
Pay Attention to Subtext
People say a lot of things they don’t mean. If you train yourself to listen more to the tone of a person’s voice, and to think about what they might be desiring but choosing not to say, you will be able to quickly tell when a person is being insincere. How many times have you asked someone how they are doing and they reply: “I’m fine,” yet the quality of their voice coupled with some telling micro expressions lets you know that they are actually bothered by something?
The subtext of a conversation contains all of the unspoken motives, desires, and emotions a person is expressing in that moment. The expression of genuine emotion happens subconsciously and you may become able to recognize it faster than a person can try to suppress it. Accomplishing this level of social intelligence requires a practiced outward focus.
To really listen to someone means not just hearing their words, but listening to their pauses and interpreting their gestures, facial expressions, and vocal tones.
When you are able to avoid distractions and actively listen to someone it makes them feel cared for.
While these techniques have been validated by scientific research and practical application, it is important to be wary not to rely too heavily on any particular strategy or social cue by itself. FBI agents are taught to look for clusters of behavior when trying to interpret someone’s motives. While our first impressions are often correct and shouldn’t be ignored, we must also have the sensitivity and patience to give people the benefit of the doubt and recognize that our own emotions, insecurities and subtext are capable of clouding our interpretation of others.
Improving your social intelligence will make you expand your ability to understand others, help you to communicate more effectively, and make you more successful in your personal and professional relationships.