The relevance of social intelligence in the workplace


By Manasi Bharati, Content Consultant


Have you ever witnessed a river stream, or even a tiny streamlet of spilled water, mending and bending itself to flow around the hurdles it comes across? Have you ever watched a colony of ants make its way through obstacles to go back home together? You must have certainly noticed yourself or those around you at the workplace adjusting yourselves to the changing deliverables, ever-shuffling schedules and members, and the last-minute deadlines around you. After all, we are the species with the highest intelligence levels and such constant adjustments should not be a surprise.


Intelligence and social intelligence – a brief history

Psychologists refer to this ability to adjust to our surroundings as intelligence. We think in distinct terms and learn from our experiences while we accommodate to the altering needs around us at work and in life and these influence our intelligence levels. Of course, academic intelligence is not the only type of intelligence there is. There are also general, analytical, practical, emotional, and social, among others. In earlier times, the brain’s structure and functions were thought to be more or less fixed after childhood. However, recent studies have shown that we can constantly mould & re-mould the brain throughout our lives and experiences. So, intelligence can be grown.  

In terms of organisational behaviour, workplaces in the recent 90s have linked emotional intelligence with high-performing employees. For an employee to be considered good, they not only need to have technical knowledge of the work but should also be able to get the work done by interacting with colleagues.

Further research conveyed that emotional intelligence is useful only when it is complemented with social intelligence – the ability to not only identify and express emotions but to also use these appropriately in social settings and interpersonal interactions. Neuroscientific research says that instead of identifying such interactions as occurring between two independent brains (individuals) acting and reacting to one another, the brain chemicals in a socially intelligent person get fused and act as if they were a single entity. Thus, making them more empathetic and understanding.


Why workplaces need social intelligence

In a study conducted on employees in FedEx (McCrum, 2019) after having received training in emotional intelligence, 72% of the leaders reported enhanced decision-making skills and 60% of them reported improved quality of life.


  1. Emotional abilities are twice more likely to contribute to success than just intellect & expertise (Goleman, 1998)
  2. 90% of top performers are high in emotional intelligence (Forbes, 2014)
  3. People with a high EQ make more money – on average $29,000 more per year – than their low EQ counterparts.


To sum it up, social intelligence is essential for unlocking the skills of effective communication, dialogue, and teamwork to create an optimal and productive work environment. To be able to work together effectively and efficiently as teams, there has to be identification and management of one’s own feelings and of others, while being able to utilise them to your advantage.


How you can become socially intelligent

The social awareness and relationship management of emotional intelligence is the basis of social intelligence. We can divide them into two parts – social awareness i.e. how you respond to others and social facility i.e. the knowledge to have effective interactions.


Social awareness – To become socially aware, you can work on the following:

  1. Primal empathy: Be able to sense others’ feelings through nonverbal signals – body language, expressions, hand movements, etc. – when you interact with them. Try to tune in to what the other person is saying ‘physically.’ In the same way, be aware of your body language and how you are presenting yourself.
  2. Attunement: Listen with full receptivity and ‘tune in’ with your colleagues. Practice active listening so that you can fully engage and communicate with others. People like to feel heard, and it will help you develop worthwhile relationships.
  3. Empathic accuracy: Understand another person’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions by imagining they were happening to you.
  4. Social cognition: Understand how the social world works by studying or simply observing various office interactions among different colleagues.


Social facility – To enhance your social engagement abilities, you can work on the following:

  1. Synchrony: To easily interact with others at the nonverbal level, connect with others at your workplace and take the efforts of investment in those relationships. Even a small exchange of greeting goes a long way to maintain relationships.
  2. Self-presentation: Present yourselves well in any kind of interaction at your workplace. Gauge the situation and act accordingly.
  3. Influence: You can influence the outcomes of social interactions, so comport as per your goal of that interaction.
  4. Concern: Care about your co-workers’ needs as if they were yours and act accordingly. If you sense that someone is upset, or if someone tells you they are going through some difficulties, show them you truly care. Displaying empathy for others can help you connect at a more meaningful level.


Apart from this, you can build a secure base for yourself to reflect and review what went right and wrong after events like an office meeting, party, etc. This will allow you to process and learn from social encounters and prepare you for future interactions to prevent social burnout. The prescription for a long, healthy and happy life is positive relationships at work and in life for which we need social intelligence.

To conclude, emotional intelligence (EI) and social intelligence (SI) together known as ESI i.e. emotional social intelligence, makes for a deadly combination for any workplace to possess.



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