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How to Measure Your Social Intelligence

What is social intelligence and why does it matter?

While everyone is talking about emotional intelligence, or EQ (as opposed to IQ) for short, there is much less attention given to social intelligence—even though it may be more important!

What is Social Intelligence?

Social intelligence (SI) is the ability to understand social situations and to act wisely and effectively in them. It is related to social competence, and is what many people may refer to as “street smarts.” Unlike general intelligence (IQ), and some aspects of emotional intelligence, which may be inborn, social intelligence is primarily learned. That means it can be developed and increased.

What are the elements that make up social intelligence?

  • Conversational skills. Socially intelligent people can carry on conversations with a wide variety of people. At parties or social gatherings, they know how to “work the room.”
  • Knowledge of social situations. Knowing the informal rules, or “norms,” that govern social interaction is a big part of social intelligence. Persons high in SI understand these norms and understand typical social roles, such as knowing who is the “person in charge” and “knowing how to play the game” of social interaction. This can be thought of as possessing “social wisdom.”
  • Listening skills. Socially intelligent people are good, active listeners. They not only pick up on what others are saying, but they make the other person feel as though they were heard, understood, and had a good and rewarding “connection.”
  • Understanding others’ motives. Persons possessing SI “know what makes other people tick.” They can “read” what others may be thinking or feeling and anticipate what others might do in social situations.
  • Role-playing skill. Socially intelligent individuals know how to play different social roles, which allows them to feel comfortable with all types of people. This leads to a sort of social self-confidence and a “can do” attitude that psychologists call “social self-efficacy.”
  • Impression management. Persons with SI are concerned with the impression they are making on others. They engage in what I call the “Dangerous Art of Impression Management,” which is a delicate balance between managing and controlling the image you portray to others and being reasonably “authentic” and letting others see the true self. This is perhaps the most complex element of social intelligence.

Answer the following questions using this scale: 1 = not at all like me; 5 = exactly like me.

  1. I love to socialize.
  2. I can be comfortable with all types of people — young and old, rich and poor.
  3. I always mingle at parties.
  4. I can be strongly affected by someone smiling or frowning at me.
  5. I usually take the initiative to introduce myself to strangers.
  6. I'm generally concerned about the impression I'm making on others.
  7. I can easily adjust to being in just about any social situation.
  8. When I’m with a group of friends, I am often the spokesperson for the group.
  9. At parties, I can immediately tell when someone is interested in me.
  10. I can easily tell a person’s character by watching them interact with others.

A score of 40 or more suggests high levels of social intelligence. (This is an abbreviated version of the Social Skills Inventory—a measure of both emotional and social intelligences.)

How can you develop social intelligence?

It takes effort and hard work. Begin by paying more attention to the social world around you. Work on becoming a better speaker or conversationalist. Networking organizations, or speaking groups, such as Toastmasters, are good at helping develop basic communication skills. Work on becoming a more effective listener through what is called “active listening,” where you reflect back what you believe the speaker said in order to ensure clear understanding. Most importantly, study social situations and your own behavior.


Riggio, R.E. (1986). Assessment of basic social skills. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 649-660.

Riggio, R.E., Messamer, J.*, & Throckmorton, B.* (1991). Social and academic intelligence: Conceptually distinct but overlapping constructs. Personality and Individual Differences, 12, 695-702.

Riggio, R.E., & Carney, D.C*. (2003). Manual for the Social Skills Inventory (2nd ed.). Redwood City, CA: MindGarden.

Riggio, R.E. & Merlin, R.* (2012). Guide for social skill training and development. Redwood City, CA: MindGarden.

Riggio, R.E., Eaton, L.G., & Funder, D.C. (2020). Skill in social situations: The essence of savoir-faire. In A. Kostic & R.J. Sternberg (Eds.), Social intelligence and nonverbal communication. (pps. 333-357). Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

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