Over the years I have worked with some extraordinarily intelligent people. Some of their IQ’s and competence in their chosen fields are truly mind-boggling. Yet when trying to lead an organization full of humans, several of these same people struggle greatly. Their behaviors can be perceived as blunt, intimidating, uncaring, arrogant, and even as bullying to those around them.

What I find in my work with leaders is that articulating whatever pops into your head or proving that you are the smartest person in the room with little regard for the impact on others is ego centric and one-dimensional. When we are relating successfully with others, our focus of awareness is two-pronged. Being able to navigate the delicate dance of having our own thoughts and perspectives but also having an empathetic understanding of other people’s feelings and perspectives and communicating to maintain another person’s self-esteem and value is critical.

Harvard professor Howard Gardner has purported that human intelligence is not just comprised of someone’s IQ, but of several different intelligences that come together in an integrated manner. Karl Albrecht, in his book, Social Intelligence, breaks down these intelligences into six: Abstract (what we term as IQ), Social, (“the ability to get along well with others and get them to cooperate with you”), Practical (the ability to get things done in the world), Emotional, (Self-awareness, and self-management), Aesthetic, (a sense of design and art sensibility), and Kinesthetic, (the ability to integrate body movements such as in sports or dance.)

Developing one’s social intelligence is a critical factor for success in leadership positions, as the act of leading requires cooperation with others at all levels.

A key point that is worth thinking about is our propensity to want to argue with people to “set them straight”, be “right”, or be “honest” with them.

In high school, I was on my Forensics team and very involved in oratory, oral interpretation of literature, acting, and debate. As a debater, you learn to argue a point of view on a given topic. The good news is that you have to argue for both sides of the argument, but nevertheless, you are still arguing to make a case to be right and not lose. While this method may work in a formal debate, in human relationships, arguing only to win and be right is not the most productive way to go about influencing others and building relationships. Learning to really listen, acknowledge differing perspectives, show empathy, and admit that there is more than one “answer” is the foundation of genuine dialog and collaboration with others. A focus on being “right” and on “winning” at any expense may serve to make you feel smarter than others, but in the end, it is a one-dimensional use of your total intelligence.  This does not suggest becoming a push-over and not having a point-of-view.  It does suggest taking the focus off of you as the center and the relationship as a critical factor.

Want to improve your social intelligence and your relationships with others?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my behavior nourishing or destroying my relationships?
  • Do I show that I understand and appreciate the other person’s perspective on something, even if it is different than mine?
  • Does what I am about to say preserve the person’s self-esteem or take a blow at it?
  • Do I find and focus on flaws more than I find and focus on strengths?
  • Are being “right” and “not losing” what drive me?
  • Do I have a need to be the smartest person in the room?

If this is an area you want to work on—check out Karl Albrecht’s classic book, “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success” as a good primer of social intelligence skills that are so critical in interpersonal relationships.