Ways to develop social intelligence

6 May 2023 11 minutes Author: Cyber Witcher

Social intelligence or herd instinct?

In 1920, the American psychologist Edward Lee Thorndike introduced the term “social intelligence”, which describes the ability to correctly understand people’s behavior. This ability, developed by man as a result of evolution, is necessary for effective interaction between representatives of our race and successful social adaptation of its new members. In 1937, another American psychologist, Gordon Allport, the author of the “theory of personality traits”, linked social intelligence with the ability to make quick, almost automatic judgments about people, to predict the most likely reactions of a person. To social intelligence, in the context of our modern life, I would add another term – “emotional intelligence”. After all, the expression of emotions in the vast majority of cases is a social tool. The social role of emotions is confirmed by the fact that the facial expressions of people blind from birth are extremely poor.

The term emotional intelligence (EI), coined in 1990 by Peter Seloway and Jack Mayer, describes a person’s ability to recognize emotions, determine their origin and role, and generate and manage them for emotional and intellectual growth. The EI coefficient, in contrast to the obvious IQ, describes a person’s ability to correctly interpret the situation and influence it, intuitively perceive what other people want and need, understand their strengths and weaknesses, not succumb to stress and be charming. So, returning to the beginning of this article, many psychologists have recently come to the conclusion that the level of “general” intelligence does not correlate with the level of social intelligence.


Sheldon Cooper, one of the main characters of “The Big Bang Theory”, is a classic example of a person with a high IQ (the number was called 187 in the film) and a low “social intelligence”. A high intellectual level is a necessary, but by no means sufficient, condition for the social development of an individual, that is, it can help social development, but not replace it. Moreover, high intelligence can be completely devalued, in the case when its owner suffers from “social blindness”. Probably, many of you have examples of how a smart guy (or girl) behaves somewhat inappropriately when communicating (does not fit into the “wave” that everyone else is on) and provokes a negative attitude towards himself.

But what’s up, such “fails” have probably been in the life of each of us – an unsuccessful joke, inappropriate laughter or any other situation from our unsuccessful social experience. A person determined to increase his social intelligence will try to remember this situation in detail, to analyze it “to the bones” (what was “before”, what was “after”, why it happened, how I really should have behaved, etc.), to gain experience and not make these mistakes in the future. The result of awareness of this event is fixed in the cognitive structures of the psyche in the form of skills, and the more of these skills a person has, the easier it is for him to be “his own” in society and achieve his own goals using those around him.

How to develop social intelligence

1. Pump up social receptivity

The basis of social intelligence is empathy or “social receptivity.” The key to developing this skill is to get beyond your selfishness and pay attention to other people. Moreover, it is better not to just pay attention to them, but to concentrate on what the object of your observation does, how it does it, why it does it, etc. For us, residents of megacities, it is quite easy to train in this – go down to the subway and do not rush to stick your smartphone with Angry Birds. Just look around and pick 3-4 people to watch.

Try to imagine where they are going, what thoughts are in their head. Watch their facial expressions: what emotions are they feeling at that moment? Try to imagine how this person talks to others, what they argue about, how their emotions will manifest themselves. Over time, you will suddenly realize that the wrinkles on the face of the object of your attention will quickly begin to come to life in your imagination and “animate” the calm face with a smile or a displeased grimace.

2. Learn to understand body language

Modern man is a rather secretive creature, therefore, in order to better understand what a person feels and what thoughts are in his head, it is good to learn to read “body language”. Here you can not reinvent the wheel and read Alan Pease’s book “A and B = Formula for Success” series. Well, or as a short “cheat sheet” – 75 signs of body language according to Max Eggert.

3. Learn to read emotions on the face

According to the anatomical atlas, we have 57 muscles on our face. This makes our face a powerful communication tool in itself, with the language of facial expressions predating the evolution of speech. Accordingly, facial reading skills lie in our genetic memory deeper than linguistic “superstructures”, which makes them more universal. If you’ve watched the series based on Paul Ekman’s book “Deceive Me”, or even read the book itself, then after a while you will begin to notice that most of the observations of the professor of the University of California are very similar to the truth.

4. Learn to hear

Most people can listen, but not everyone can hear. When listening to the interlocutor, try not just to extract only the information that is valuable to you (as you usually do), but to imagine through this story the reality in which your interlocutor lives. Do not be afraid to ask leading questions and supplement this reality with new details. After some time, you will be surprised by the fact that in the eyes of the interlocutor, your authority will begin to grow. Why? After all, you did not tell him anything, but only listened and asked leading questions!

5. Learn to catch the mood

The mood of people is a very useful indicator for determining the timeliness of the social influence you need. And the skill of quickly determining the mood of another person based on fragmentary, at first glance, information will help you quickly correct your behavior. Remember how, as a child, the loud banging of the door and displeased coughing in the corridor was the way to know in what mood your father came. You only needed a few indirect signs to understand whether you should give the diary with the two to be signed, or wait until the father has dinner and improves. The combination of skills trained in reading emotions and body language, the ability to listen will allow you to determine the mood of the person you need with high accuracy.

6. Pump up your acting talent

After you have a little mastery of all of the above, start developing your acting talents. Because one of the important skills of social intelligence is the ability to adapt to the environment.

And it is not necessary to quote Makarevich’s famous song “One day the world will bend under us” – if our goal is to learn to manage the society around us, then the ability to truthfully play the role we need at the moment becomes an indispensable tool. And the aforementioned Gordon Allport even called social adaptation a key product of social intelligence. You may be a brutal macho for most of your life, but if you need to comfort a little girl who lost her parents in the mall crowd, you’re going to have to pull a pink pony from the depths of your soul and let that little girl see it.

7. Learn to manage your emotions

Those who are fond of photography have probably noticed that after several thousand frames an interesting phenomenon appears – you begin to look at the world around you, as if through the viewfinder of a camera, to assess how interesting this “picture” is not to you, but to your friends or acquaintances That is, you begin to look at this world as if from the side, the point of perception of reality suddenly goes beyond your consciousness and ends up somewhere on your Facebook page or LJ.

So, you need to learn to do the same with your emotions. If suddenly you feel that anger, rage, envy, grief or any other strong feeling that you would like to take control of begins to manifest itself, shift the center of perception of reality and look at yourself from the side (“Who is so angry with such funny puckered lips ?”). Look at the source of this emotion – for example, at the taxi driver who caused a rage, wedged into your lane without turn signals and almost took off half of your bumper – and imagine how he buried his head in his shoulders, waiting for your negative reaction. It will be easier for you.

If someone deliberately provoked this or that emotion in you (for example, there are people who specially arrange emotional “swings” to find out what kind of person is in front of you – it is easier for them to communicate), then figure out why this person needed to provoke your anger (pity, fear or laughter). Maybe you and her are not on the same path? Do not forget that emotions are a great tool for manipulation. But before you learn to manipulate others with their help, make sure that you keep your emotions under complete control.

8. Improve your public speaking skills

A person who did not hesitate to give a speech at a conference, make a toast at a wedding or ask an awkward question at a general meeting of a country cooperative, at least for a certain time, captured the attention of several listeners. And as a maximum – he was able to put the thoughts he needed into their heads.

If you are afraid of speaking in public, then be sure to take the “Art of Presentation” or “Oratorical Art” courses, which are now full (both group and individual). Only during public speeches can you see how the mood of listeners changes in waves, which words cause strong emotions, how attention changes, etc. Even if you do not have to make a report in front of the Federation Council, you will certainly need the acquired skills in your everyday life.

9. Play “Mafia”, “Monopoly”, poker and other “social” board games

Despite the supposed “non-seriousness” of this method of pumping social intelligence, it is in board games that people’s characters begin to “play with colors”, and if the game takes place in a relaxed atmosphere and with some (moderate) amount of alcohol, then, in addition to a cheerful mood, you will also get a whole set of social skills from reading emotions, detecting lies by indirect signs, hiding one’s own emotions, and so on.


If you self-confidently believe that these recommendations are not for you and that you are all right with social intelligence, then do not be tempted. The development of social intelligence is an endless process.

  • First of all, because we are growing and the circle of our tasks and goals in life is expanding. In six months, you may be promoted at work, or you may move to another city where there is a promising branch that you have been assigned to develop, and the entire system of social relations you have built will suddenly become irrelevant. Your new subordinates have a completely different matrix of thinking, different goals in life, and over a business lunch they are not discussing oil prices, but the latest series of “Fizruk”.

  • Secondly, the improvement of social intelligence makes it possible to more effectively use relatives and acquaintances for independent assessment of oneself. People who surround you begin to act as a kind of “mirror”, through which it is easier to monitor your own development.

And if we are lazy and gradually build a “loyal” circle around us, forgetting about training social intelligence, then sooner or later a boy will come who will suddenly point at you: “And the king is naked!”.

  • And thirdly, because our society is changing. Very soon, representatives of the generation “Zeth” (or Digital Native) will replace us, who know how to play music from an audio cassette.

And, most likely, the generation “born on the Internet” will have its own standards and estimates of the EI coefficient. As an example of how social communication is changing, we can cite an interesting custom that existed some 400 years ago (at the time of Shakespeare) between men and women: lovers were so obsessed with the smell of each other’s bodies that women often held a peeled apple under their arm until it did not absorb their sweat and smell. They gave this “love apple” to their partners so that they could inhale its aroma in their absence. So it’s entirely possible that our children will view our social mores with the same disgust that we view these lovers of “love apples.”

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