Encouraging Social Intelligence

During our quarantine time, I realized how meaningful our social connections were to our mental health. I desperately missed my therapeutic conversations with close friends and chit-chat with acquaintances I ran into around town. Connecting with others gives us opportunities to feel happier and reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.

How can we cultivate our own and others’ social intelligence – the way we understand, interact, and present ourselves to the world? (Definition by Jessica Swainston, PhD)

Be Curious, Not Judgmental

As Ted Lasso (warning: adult language) taught us, curiosity has tremendous power. We can apply this curiosity to ourselves as well as others. “We have to look inside of ourselves, getting curious about our past and emotions, and not just rely on learning about the world outside of us.” writes Scott Shigeoka. We can withhold judgment of our thoughts, building the ability to do so for others. When listening and responding to our families, remembering to lean on wondering may help us stay connected. We can help our families bring this same sense of curiosity back to their homes to strengthen their relationships.

How Do We Build Social Intelligence?

We can develop and hone our skills that will help us connect with others. We can spend some energy considering our body language. Of course, there are different cultural norms, so we want to be careful to correctly interpret others’ body language and respect someone’s personal space. We can offer welcoming smiles, nod in agreement, and keep our hands out in the open (this sends a message of safety). We can also demonstrate that we are genuinely listening without distraction. Smart watches can be helpful for many reasons, but to give someone our attention, we must ignore the notifications while conversing. Greeting people by name and remembering something they’ve shared with us (Hi, Arlo! How was the move this weekend?) sends a message that this person is valuable to you. They feel loved and connected.

Offer Empathetic Feedback

We want to cultivate honest and vulnerable spaces to support our families’ connections and growth. We may listen and hear opportunities for new learning. We are more likely to see change when we can offer compassionate suggestions instead of lecturing. Daniel Goleman writes about the power of empathetic leaders: “Outstanding coaches and mentors get inside the heads of the people they are helping. They sense how to give effective feedback. They know when to push for better performance and when to hold back.” Building community and a sense that we are all doing our best will help us navigate the dance of nudging or waiting for a better moment.

Celebrate it

When we point out others’ connections, we help grow their social intelligence muscle. Mitch Prinstein writes that we can “Reframe conflict as an opportunity to better understand how deeply reasonable people may feel about opposing views.” During our parenting education classes, we can do this as families share their struggles. Instead of a me vs. them mindset, we can nudge families toward a collaborative conversation with simple sentence frames.


Popular by Prinstein

Seek by Shigeoka

Social Intelligence by Albrecht

Social Intelligence by Goleman

Talking Mastery and Social Intelligence Episode 3 of The Psychology Podcast

By Megan McQueen. Spanish translation by IRCO’s International Language Bank.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, imparting a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Learn more about the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative and read our blog!

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