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How to Increase Your Emotional and Social Intelligence

What is emotional intelligence? What is social intelligence? Do they matter?

Key points

  • Emotional and social intelligence are composed of skills in emotional and social communication.
  • Social intelligence and the social skills that make it up are critical for success in relationships and many jobs.
  • Some straightforward strategies can increase your emotional and social skills.

What is emotional intelligence? We’ve all heard about emotional intelligence and its importance in relationships. But what is it really? The best way to think about emotional intelligence (at least in terms of the part that can be developed) is a set of skills in emotional communication. That means the ability to convey felt emotions accurately to others, the ability to “read” others’ emotional messages, and regulating and controlling the experience and expression of emotions.

And what is social intelligence? Think of social intelligence as general knowledge and skill in understanding people and social situations. Some people might call it “common sense” or “street smarts” or simply tact. Examples of elements of social intelligence include:

  • Conversational skills: Knowing what to say, how to say it, and not getting tongue-tied.
  • Knowledge of social roles, and unspoken social norms: Think of this as “knowing how to play the game” of social interactions.
  • Effective listening skills: Being a good listener not only helps to make connections with others, but also makes the other person feel good about the interaction.
  • Impression management skills: Maintaining a delicate balance between controlling the image you portray to others and being authentic.
  • Understanding what makes other people “tick”: Being attuned to others’ behavior, and being able to understand another’s circumstances so you know where they are coming from.
  • Social self-efficacy: Feeling comfortable around other people and having self-confidence in your ability to interact with others.

Strategies to Improve Emotional and Social Intelligence

  1. Become a people-watcher. Learn the value of observing others. Pay attention to subtle nonverbal cues in others’ tone of voice, facial expressions, body movements, and posture.
  2. Become more aware of your own emotional behavior. For example, some people tend to appear angry (or happy) even when they aren’t experiencing these emotions (i.e., ”resting angry face”), or they are unaware of the emotions they’re sending. Get feedback on how you convey emotions to others.
  3. Learn to make small talk. Work on your conversational skills. Practice striking up conversations with strangers while waiting in line or on public transportation. Try to make the conversation interesting and socially rewarding for both of you.
  4. Practice public speaking. Consider taking a course, or joining a group such as Toastmasters, that offers opportunities to practice speaking.
  5. Take an acting or improvisation class. Community colleges and theatres often offer classes on acting and improv. Having to play roles or come up with conversations “on the fly” are good strategies for developing both emotional, but especially, social intelligence.

The emotional and social skills underlying these “intelligences” are the basic building blocks needed for success in social interaction and in many jobs, or positions of leadership. Developing these skills will increase your overall emotional and social intelligence.

References

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

Riggio, R.E. (2009). Social skills, adult. In H.T. Reis & S.K. Sprecher (Eds.), Encyclopedia of human relationships. (pp. 1560-1562). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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