How to Improve Your Social Intelligence & Build Meaningful Relationships

Your ability to connect with other people is not only at the heart of being human but is also essential for business success.

Social intelligence (AKA ‘social skills’) come easily to some people but are elusive to others. If you’ve ever thought of yourself as ‘socially awkward’ you probably know exactly what we’re talking about, and it’s not exactly an asset in the business world.

A huge chunk of your professional success hinges on your ability to network – that is, to meet and charm people with the potential to help you grow. And a big factor in how you perform in these situations is your ability to effectively listen, communicate, empathise and impress.

Feeling confident, relaxed and at ease around others (especially in high-pressure situations, such as at an interview or a meeting with a potential client) goes a long way in helping you to win people over. So, how can you improve your social intelligence to build meaningful relationships, both socially and professionally?

Practice active listening

Effective listening is one of the most important aspects of your overall social intelligence. The ability to actively listen to what someone is saying is absolutely essential for effective communication and for building solid friendships. Not only that, but good listening skills can also win your job contracts and repeat business from new clients. By listening effectively, you are telling your client that you are interested and invested in the project, that you take them seriously as a professional and that you are committed to delivering results.

This is especially true when working on a specific project, as the ability to work to spec with little need for revisions saves both your time and that of your client – win-win! The five key elements of active listening are:[1]

  • Avoiding interruption
  • Maintaining interest
  • Postponing evaluation
  • Organising information
  • Showing interest
Tips for improving your listening skills

Improving your active listening skills may take time, but sticking to the following steps can help.

  • Put down the device. Smartphones are the single biggest distraction in today’s world and they’re the reason we all have the attention spans of caffeinated children. If someone is talking to you, keep your phone in your pocket – bonus points for keeping it on silent (not vibrate).
  • Don’t butt in. Know when it’s your turn to speak. For the record, that’s after the other person has finished talking – don’t cut in when they’re mid-sentence. To pass the time, you can focus on what they’re saying and try to retain the information.
  • Engage. Show the other person you are listening with positive feedback, i.e. nodding, smiling etc. Ask questions or give opinions where appropriate (see tip no.2). This will not only help you to focus on the conversation but also tells the other person that you are engaged and interested.
Be open minded (and understanding of cultural and social differences)

Every human on this planet is the unique result of their personal life history, so our cultural, geographical and social backgrounds are an integral part of who we are. Put simply, this means that each and every person has a set of values, ideals and opinions developed from their individual life experiences – some of which may contradict those of the people around them.

That being said, some people are naturally going to get on your nerves (and, shocker, not all of them are going to like you, either). It’s easy to find other people’s actions and opinions irritating when they conflict with our own ideas, but it’s important not to take it personally. It’s also important to remember that acting on your own personal prejudices is far more likely to offend people than convince them they want to befriend or work with you.

As we enter 2020, an estimated 18% of the global workforce work remotely on a full-time basis.[2] This means that a large percentage of us now routinely interact with people from all around the world as part of a standard workweek, and that number is only set to increase. As a result, cultural and social sensitivity are more integral to our overall social intelligence than ever before.

So: stay open-minded when talking to others, and remember that your world view is no more important or correct than anyone else’s. Learning to let go of petty niggles and disagreements will not only help you to connect more deeply with others but will also make you a happier, more relaxed individual.

Learn how to smoothly navigate conflict

Some degree of conflict is inevitable both in your personal and professional life, but how you deal with it strongly influences your ability to build (and maintain) meaningful connections with others.

Learning how to take an awkward situation in your stride can help to cement both your friendships and professional relationships, showing that you can stay cool-headed, rational and relaxed in a social crisis. Knowing how to de-escalate conflict will also help you to avoid heated arguments, which can sour (or even end) a relationship.

Tips for better conflict navigation

  • Try to look at the situation analytically. In cases of conflict, the best thing to do is identify and agree upon the quickest and simplest solution.[3] It sounds easy, but this is a trick that may take time to master. If you struggle to think logically in the heat of the moment, take a moment to breathe and count to 10. Then, try to look at the situation in a more detached way, as though you were observing a disagreement between two friends. This can help you to consider the situation from a less personal viewpoint which can make it easier to react calmly and rationally.
  • Observe others. Some people master conflict resolution quicker than others, and we can learn a lot from the behaviour of other humans. Watch how people around you deal with conflict and (if they do a decent job) copy their methods.
  • Stay calm. Always keep your temper in check, especially in a professional setting. Letting a disagreement spiral into an argument won’t resolve anything, but it will almost certainly have negative repercussions.
Conclusion

Building meaningful social and business connections is an integral part of success, especially for individuals striking out on their own professionally. Social intelligence refers to a set of skills we all possess, but sharpening our ability to listen, empathise, accept and communicate is one of the most important aspects of nurturing new and existing relationships. In our personal lives, this can mean deeper relationships with friends and family members and, in terms of our professional growth, can swing the balance between failure and success.

 

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Kohpeima Jahromi, V., Tabatabaee, S., Esmaeili Abdar, Z. and Rajabi, M. (2016). Active listening: The key of successful communication in hospital managers. Electronic physician, 8(3), pp.2123-2128.

Owllabs.com. (2020). 2019 State of Remote Work Report. [online] Available at: https://www.owllabs.com/state-of-remote-work/2019 [Accessed 16 Jan. 2020].

Zucker, D. (2020). Tools for Productively Managing Conflict. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4097003/ [Accessed 16 Jan. 2020].