Social Intelligence: Learning to Manage Relationships

When the world shut down in 2020, it was initially a good thing for many of our relationships. Suddenly, we all had more time for each other, but it wasn’t long before many people started to realize that the extra time created new and unusual stress in their relationships. After all, we weren’t accustomed to spending that much time together. Many struggled to manage the closeness of their relationships. Why did this happen? What was the problem? I suspect that many people felt the need for social intelligence, something they had created very little time for previously. Many lacked understanding of social intelligence and competency in knowing how to navigate their relationships. In this session, I want to give you some insight into social intelligence that could help you improve all relationships in your life.




In the past few weeks, we’ve covered several details of emotional intelligence. Today, I want to introduce you to social intelligence, which is a subtopic of emotional intelligence. To define this subject in a simple way, social intelligence is the ability to understand and manage one’s interactions with the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of others. Social intelligence is the art of knowing when and how to talk or listen to people as well as understanding the importance of body language and timing in your interactions.


Jesus exampled social intelligence in a masterful way with the woman at the well in John Chapter 4. He knew everything about this woman, yet He didn’t immediately expose what He knew. He didn’t even allow Himself to be offended by this woman’s lack of knowledge of who He was. He first expressed empathy by focusing on the hurt and pain in her life. Instead of creating an uncomfortable wall between them, Jesus approached the woman in a way that encouraged her to open up her heart to Him. He understood her first, then He effectively managed His own reactions to her feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Finally, He responded appropriately to her pain. This was the supreme example of social intelligence.


You may ask, “Why does all of this matter?” Simply put, it matters because it can help you as a leader, father, mother, spouse, or friend. It matters because it allows you to build more productive relationships with those most important to you.


As a leader, you must form relationships and inspire people to become involved in the vision that the Lord has given you. That is the essence of leadership. When you learn to understand other people’s emotions and facial expressions as well as their personal motivations, there’s no doubt that your influence and effectiveness will increase.


When you have increased social intelligence, you have a greater understanding of people; you are able to attune better to their needs. You are more empathetic and discerning and have a much greater ability to motivate people to cooperate with you and others. You can understand a person’s awkwardness in social settings and help them relax. You can provide acceptance, affirmation, and encouragement in ways that are healing and life-giving to relationships. This is the power of social intelligence.


Today, I want to help you understand a few important elements to social intelligence. I believe this will help you gain greater influence with people. One of the first things to learn about social intelligence is understanding what makes people act the way that they do. You must become a student of people. When you’re in conversation, think about what the other person is saying and what they are not saying. Tune into how they are behaving, what emotions they are displaying and why, and what is motivating them to do the things they are doing. Try not to be defensive if they seem abrasive, and instead seek to understand why they are reacting in that way. If they are having a negative reaction, they may not feel accepted by you or they may have a misunderstanding of what is going on. If you don’t become a student of people, it is unlikely you’ll ever know what’s really going on inside of people.


One of the biggest aspects of social intelligence is learning how to effectively listen. Now, you may say, “Ryan, really? I know how to listen to people.” I’m going to argue against that a little and say that most people are not great listeners. A good listener is an active listener.If you think you already know what the person will say before they even fully say it, two things are true: First, there’s a good chance you’re wrong. Secondly, the other person is going to immediately realize you’ve tuned them out. They will more than likely do the same to you. Trust me; it happens. It is the equivalent of slapping someone in the face. That person isn’t going to listen to someone who has accosted them.


When developing your social intelligence, strongly resist the urge to jump to conclusions. Relax, listen, and focus on hearing the person out completely. This will make them feel heard and comfortable and encourage them to hear what you have to say. It is also important that you listen and reflect. Don’t say just, “I understand” in response to someone. Reflection means listening to what the person says to you and repeating it back to them in your own words. When you do this, the other person knows that you truly listened to what they said. There’s no doubt that they know you understand. This practice removes the barriers most people have when they enter conversations. People will feel like you “get” them, and that’s a good feeling for everyone.


Another aspect of social intelligence is knowing how to manage the image that you portray to others. Are you authentic? People can see through a lack of authenticity. What about the way you present yourself physically? Do you look interested in what the person is saying? Does your body language show that the person you’re speaking to matters to you? Do you look bored? What image are you portraying to others? Physically lean into the conversation, and give eye contact. It will make a difference.


It is also important to stay inquisitive in your conversations. Before giving a person advice or a piece of your mind, remain interested and explore the topic that the other person has presented. When you are interested in them, what they’re doing, and what they’re experiencing, they will feel validated and understood. Like the woman at the well, they’ll feel connected and energized by your conversation. I strongly encourage you to remain inquisitive when you’re talking to people.


My final thought on social intelligence is simply to be a student of your social situations. Think back to the tough or important conversations you’ve had earlier in the day while they’re still fresh on your mind, and think of ways that you could have better interacted with those individuals. Learn from your mistakes and improve on your weaknesses.


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