“People-Saavy?” How to Have Social Intelligence

by Don McMinn

Social intelligence is properly assessing and relating to social environments. Social intelligence is expressed in terms like:


Decorum-propriety and good taste in conduct or appearance Etiquette-the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life. Manners-social conduct or rules of conduct as shown in the prevalent customs. Politeness-marked by an appearance of consideration, tact, deference or courtesy.


What does social ignorance look like? It resembles crudeness, cluelessness, inappropriate behavior and awkwardness.


All human interaction takes place in a context (setting,environment).


To be socially intelligent one must accurately perceive and properly manage all the elements that influence a social context.


You must know what part you, as an individual, can and should play in a particular environment. For example, though you may function as a leader at your office, when you take your son on a Boy Scout camping trip, you will probably be just one of the dads-a leader in one setting, a follower in the other.


To be socially intelligent, you must understand the impact that your social intelligence has on conversations.


Understand the appropriate content of a conversation. Understand the appropriate context of a conversation. Understand the purpose of a conversation and stay on point. When you are talking, perceive when you do or do not have people’s attention. Recognize when you’re talking too much. It would do us all good to: assume that we talk too much and ask our close friends to give us honest feedback.


Here are a couple of tips to develop your social intelligence.


Learn how to leave your own “world” and how to enter into another persons’ or group’s world. Prefer others. Strive to have a nourishing influence on social settings, not a toxic one. Be a student of social settings. Observe and analyze. Develop your ability to perceive. Learn to read cues-verbal and non-verbal.


How do you become more socially intelligent in any particular setting?


Before entering into an environment, do your homework. Find out as much as you can about the environment (and environment includes people). As soon as you enter into an environment, have your “social radar” turned on. Constantly monitor the changing dynamics of the social encounter and be willing to adjust accordingly or to maintain focus. Learn to balance personal individuality with group norms. A social setting consists of multiple individuals and every person is unique. Social intelligence requires having the wisdom and grace to accommodate individual differences within the context of the whole. Establish standards but allow for some slack and margin.


What are some factors to consider if you are in a social setting, like leading a Bible study group or conducting a meeting? Space-if you put a small group in a large space, the room will lack energy. If you put a large number in a small room, they’ll be uncomfortable. Ambiance and atmosphere-there’s a difference speaking in a church chapel or around a campfire. Audio issues-is there competing noise that distracts the listeners and limits the conversation? Temperature and air quality-if the room is too warm, people become drowsy. If the room is too cold the listeners will be distracted by the chill. Sight lines-are the table and chars arranged such that everyone has a good, comfortable view of the speaker?


You also need to know the people in the room, what is their relationship with each other, what are the lines of authority? If the people know each other really well, there may be emotional baggage. If the people are meeting for the first time, they may be hesitant to participate. Every person is unique. Social intelligence requires having wisdom and discretion and a caring heart for those you meet!



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