Building Supportive Relationships
How to increase your social intelligence and resilience.
Posted December 20, 2018
This article was co-authored by George S. Evely, Jr., PhD, Johns Hopkins University, Andrea Everly, Harvard University, and Gina Brelesky, MPA, MEd, Private practice.
Resilience is defined as your ability to bounce back from adversity. Social intelligence (SQ) may be thought of as how effectively we function in social situations. The higher the SQ, generally speaking, the more effective and happier people are in life. More relevant to this discussion, the higher your SQ, the more resilient you are likely to be. Why? Your ability to form supportive interpersonal relationships (social support), which is often based upon your SQ, may be the single best predictor of resilience, according to numerous studies including meta-analytic research (Ozer, et al., 2003) as well as, longitudinal research (Werner, 2005).
Dr. EE Werner conducted a forty-year longitudinal study of 698 infants on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. These children constituted all children born there in the year 1955. One third (210) were high risk from developmental adversity, yet 1/3 of those did well decades later. Data were collected at age 1, age 2, age 10, age 17/18, age 30, and age 40. Key factors which emerged as predictors of resilience were: 1) a strong bond with a caretaker (not necessarily a parent), and 2) involvement with some supportive group. In short resilience was best predicted by forming supportive interpersonal relationships. One of the true “giants” in the field of developmental psychology was Dr. Alice Miller (1923-2010). She was one of the first to bring light to the adverse effects of abuse and neglect on child development and its later manifestations on adult behavior. Miller (2005) argues that if someone who has been significantly abused or neglected has at least ONE person who either: is an "enlightened helper" while they are young, or is an "enlightened witness" when they are older, they can avoid serious psychological and behavioral problems later in life. But how are supportive interpersonal relationships best actively pursued?
The Secret to Increasing Your Resilience Is Using Social Intelligence to Build Interpersonal Relationships
As mentioned above, practically speaking, SQ may be thought of as how effectively we function in social situations. It may be thought of as a subset of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and it largely consists of two factors: 1) social awareness (awareness of interpersonal dynamics), and 2) relationship management (how you act upon social awareness to cultivate positive relationships). Some people are born extroverts and some of those have naturally high SQs, but most of us are not so lucky. We have to work at it! So how can you begin to strengthen your SQ?
For decades, psychological science promoted the value of developing empathy. Empathy may be considered the ability to connect emotionally with another. It’s the ability to feel as someone else feels. It was considered “a fellow feeling” by 18th Century Scottish philosophers. The value of empathy appeared to be that it promoted the highly useful “empathic cascade” wherein empathy increased interpersonal understanding, understanding built interpersonal trust, and trust fostered interpersonal support and even behavioral compliance. Empathy was considered a key ingredient in effective psychotherapy. But empathy carried with it a potential burden, that of emotional exhaustion, burnout, and potentially even vicarious trauma, as well as the risk of projecting a sense of intrusion.
The secret to cultivating social awareness and increasing your social intelligence is perspective-taking. Perspective-taking is a concept parallel to empathy wherein perspective-taking may be thought of as the ability to “think as someone else thinks and view as someone else views.” The focus of perspective taking is upon thinking (cognition), not emotion. It’s learning to see the world through someone else’s eyes. It’s really a role reversal and place-taking of another, but from an objective distance where you are less likely to be consumed with the emotional turmoil surrounding the other person. Thus, perspective-taking is likely to promote the perspective-taking cascade yielding understanding, trust, and support from the other person, but without the potential burden of emotional exhaustion. Research by Galinsky, et al. (2008) demonstrated that perspective-taking may actually be a more powerful way to increase social awareness, and thus SQ, than empathy! Across several studies perspective- taking was found to increase an individuals' ability to discover interpersonal information not initially evident and to both create and recruit interpersonal resources. Empathy, on the other hand, was not as effective an interpersonal attribute and was at times actually detrimental. Perhaps attempts at emotional connection were perceived as too intrusive. As American actress Felicia Day once noted, “I would never let somebody say that they're me. That would be the ultimate betrayal of what I stand for.”
The “Golden Rule of Friendship”
With roots in the King James Bible and beyond we find references to what, in numerous variations, has become known as the Golden Rule, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” In a world where asocial self-absorption has become epidemic, it may be time for reconsideration. Perhaps it is time to foster other-oriented extrospection, rather than self-centered introspection. To do that, we’ve created a variation to the traditional Golden Rule. We call it the “Golden Rule of Friendship,” and it simply says “Treat others the way THEY want to be treated.” In order to do that you must move your attention from inside to outside of yourself. You must learn to take the perspective of others, learning to think about and view the world as others do, but from an objective distance.
By practicing perspective-taking not only will you learn about others, you will learn more about yourself. You will foster friendships that will increase the impact of the good things in your life and reduce the impact of the bad.
Perspective-Taking and Children
Pediatricians and child psychologists agree that stress can be a major problem for even young children. It seems learning how to be resilient, even at a young age, could be an essential life skill. Other than love, it may be the greatest gift a parent can give to a child. We can teach our children resilience-fostering perspective-taking in pre-school and the earliest grades. There is evidence that children can begin to learn rudimentary perspective-taking around age three years (Lempers, Flavell, & Flavell, 1977). Through the use of engaging stories, we believe young children can be taught perspective-taking by practicing the Golden Rule of Friendship (See Everly, Brelesky, & Everly, 2018).
By practicing perspective-taking not only might children learn about others, they might also become more resilient. They might learn something about themselves. They will likely foster friendships that will increase the impact of the good things in their lives and reduce the impact of the bad. And they might just change the world in the process!
© George S. Everly, Jr, Ph.D., Andrea Everly, and Gina Brelesky, 2018.
Everly, GS, Jr., Brelesky, G., & Everly, AN (2018). Rodney makes a friend: A lesson for young children on building resilience by increasing social intelligence. Balto: RSI.
Galinsky, A., Maddux, W., Gilin, D., & White, J. (2008). Why it pays to get inside the head of your opponent. Psychological Science. 19 (4): 378–384.
Lempers JD, Flavell ER, Flavell JH, (1977). The development in very young children of tacit knowledge concerning visual perception. Genet Psychol Monogr. Feb; 95(1):3-53.
Miller, A. (2005). The Body Never Lies. NY: Norton.
Ozer, EJ, Best, SR, Lipsey, TL & Weiss, DS (2003). Predictors of post-traumatic stress disorder and symptoms in adults: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 52–73.
Werner, E E (2005). Resilience and recovery: Findings from the Kauai longitudinal study. Focal Point: Research, Policy, and Practice in Children’s Mental Health, Vol. 19 No. 1, 11-14.