Social Intelligence

The virtue Humanity is all about your ability to feel connected with the people around you and treat them humanely. The first two traits in this virtue, love and kindness, are more about having the intrinsic capability to experience that connection and to foster it. Social Intelligence, however, is about the basic skills involved in meeting people, coping in social situations, handling business transactions, and making friends. Social intelligence is about putting all that love and kindness to use, and in the right way.

Developing your social intelligence will allow you to know what people want and expect from you, and when. You will avoid offending people that are trying to connect with you by accidentally seeming disinterested. You will avoid trying to overconnect with people who are just not interested. You will know how to move people toward a sale (as an example of use in the workplace). You will also learn how to understand physical social cues, such as another's posture.

Social intelligence is something that is gained by children along with language and the other foundational abilities of social animals like us. The truth is that some people are not as advanced as others—often due to reasons beyond their control. There are some ways to learn these skills if you are lacking in them, however, or expand the particular skills you need to improve a particular relationship—that's what a lot of what psychological counseling (and sexual harassment seminars) are about!

The best thing to do is to practice, and if you are not meeting success, to do the research you need in order to succeed. There are plenty of self-help books out there, and you could possibly see a therapist if you want or need professional help. On the business end, there are all sorts of professional instructors that help teach this skill to employees. If your problems are due in part to shyness, then getting this practice might be a painful experience but the returns are well worth the effort and possible rejections.

You will find some activities down below that might help you improve on you Social Intelligence. If you are still struggling after you put in the effort, however, you might want to check out the recommended reading or get other help as well.


  • Talk to Near-Strangers about Their Day/Life: You probably have many people in your life, or at least a few, that you see pretty often but know little about. Try to ask these people about their day, or some other safe topic, and ask them follow up questions if they seem interested in having conversation.
  • Begin Talking to People about what They Want to Talk About: If you usually talk about yourself, begin listening to cues on what other people want to talk about and give them that opportunity. "Parroting" is a classic way to accomplish this. Parroting means basically repeating the last topic they talk about in the form of a question. For instance, if they say a certain movie had the best special effects they had seen in a long time, you might say "best special effects?" Often times this will get them talking in detail (and hopefully with passion) about the subject on their mind.
  • Watch Your Body Language and the Body Language of Those You Speak To: Be aware of your body language. Try not to slouch and attempt to look "open" (don't fold your arms, for instance). Try to look people in the eyes more often (although this isn't always appropriate in excess). Try to react to the other's body language as well. Are they smiling? Looking anxious? Bored? Distracted? You should use this body language to help direct your conversation, read into what they think about you, and stop bothering people who just don't want to talk to you.
  • Ask People to Go On Activities: If you rarely ask people on outings (or on dates), then try this with some people you think might become potential friends. This will be great practice and you will hopefully make some new friends this way. Coping with possible rejection and having the skills/courage to do this is an essential social skill.
  • Join Social Clubs or Hobby Groups: With the advent of the internet, this is easier than ever (just play it safe when meeting people from online). There might also be announcements for these groups at libraries, bookstores, cafes, or other bulletin boards. This can be a great way to meet people and possibly learn a few things as well.
  • Take a Social IQ Test: There are some books (and websites online) that offer social IQ tests. See how you rate and what the source suggests for people who want to improve.

Your Record

Whenever you offend someone by a social error on your end, then you should mark yourself at "fault". If you obviously misread someone, this should also be marked as a fault. This is mostly a learned and practiced skill, so it's harder to improve by simply marking your faults—especially since a person with low social IQ will presumably not always know when he or she is at fault. You are best served to make specific goals based on activities from up above or other sources, and to judge your success with those particular goals in mind.


We are being judged by a new yardstick: not just how smart we are, or by our training and expertise, but also by how we handle ourselves and each other.

Daniel Goleman, Author of the Best-Selling Book "Social Intelligence"

Golden Mean

Aloofness, alienation, indifference
Social Intelligence
Obtrusiveness, importunity

Recommended Reading

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Enhancing Your Social IQ — by Gregory P. Korgeski

This book from the "Complete Idiot" series introduces the topic to people who are just breaking in to the concept. It contains quizzes to give you a personality profile and advice on how to create and sustain mutually enriching relationships.

Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships — by Daniel Goleman

This best-selling author on both emotional and social intelligence wrote this book that lays out the theory of social intelligence and argues the case for the benefits society would reap from empathetic social attunement.

Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success — by Karl Albrecht

Another great option for people out there who want to learn what social intelligence is, read some examples of the skill in action, and learn how to improve their application of it in their lives.

General Rules

Practice virtues daily so that they become ‘habits of the heart’.

Don‘t strive for perfection.

Never give up! Remember: even the greats have off days.

Rely on your intuition.

Avoid extremes. Strive to achieve the golden mean between excess and deficiency of a virtue.

Have fun and enjoy the program with humor and optimism.

Intelligence is what you use when you don't know what to do. Jean Piaget