The 7-day guide to improving your social intelligence

You can make significant improvements to your social intelligence by committing to these practices for 7 days.

The 7-day guide to improving your social intelligence
[Photo: A.B./Getty Images]

You know that emotional intelligence is an essential skill in the workplace, but there is another skill that’s as crucial for success in life and at work. I’m talking about social intelligence, the ability to understand (and connect) with others.


Knowing how social intelligence breaks down into its parts is only the first step in raising your social IQ above where it is today. Actually changing behaviors, especially your own, is a monumental undertaking. But there are steps you can take to do that. You can make serious progress in seven days by engaging in a systematic process where you practice self-awareness and engage in some key behaviors that define social intelligence.

If you can get your head around these concepts in the first seven days, chances are you’ll notice a change in the way people react to you. More importantly, you’ll also see a difference in the way you respond to other people and the way that makes you feel.

Day 1: Start using your senses more deliberately

Begin the practice of using your senses instead of relying on autopilot when you are moving through the day. For instance, when you drive to work, you may not notice the sights along the way. Try to pay close attention next time, whether you’re heading to work in a car or the subway.

Do this with deliberation for the next seven days and notice how it changes your experience. For the first five of these days, concentrate on one sense each day: sound, smell, touch, taste, or sight. Start over again on day 6.

The more you consciously use your senses, the more situational awareness you will gain. Soon you’ll start noticing things that previously escaped you. Bring this skill with you when you arrive at work, and you’ll already have improved your social intelligence by being more aware of the different vibes in your office. You should experience an improved ability to respond and communicate appropriately and effectively.


Day 2: Critically assess your strengths and weaknesses

Now is the time to take stock of the good, the bad, and the ugly in yourself. Why? Because to raise your social IQ, you have to know how you stack up against everyone else. Being aware of your strengths not only gives you confidence; it also allows you to offer your strengths to others. And what about your liabilities? That’s the stuff you’ll want to limit—such as, for example, your tendency to overshare at the office water cooler.

You’ve created a reputation based on the sum of your behaviors. The clearer you are about what draws others to you and what might push them away, the more informed your choices will be.

Day 3: Practice being authentic

Most of us hide behind various masks that we’ve designed to put forth our best image. Unfortunately, in the process, we end up compromising our true self and genuine personality, which is the most interesting part of us to other people. For others to feel a connection and trust us, we must strive to be more authentic.

Start by having more real conversations with the people around you today. See how they respond to the real you. Observe how much of your true self people feel comfortable with, and adjust the amount you want to share. Pick the right time to open yourself up, since too much too soon or at an inappropriate moment will probably lead to the wrong perception. Observe whether people respond with self-disclosures of their own and whether they also become more real around you. Take the cue from them and ease into a more profound interaction with those that you want to connect with.

Day 4: Be simple and straightforward in your communication

Communicate with clarity by using simple English everyone can understand. If it’s more natural for you to say, “It is not efficacious to indoctrinate a superannuated canine with innovative maneuvers” instead of “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” then you’ve got work to do. Make your messages clear and to the point, devoid of clutter and jargon. If you find yourself using complicated language and giving unnecessary details to mask your perceived insecurities, stop yourself short. Recognize that your new, evolved social intelligence is kicking in. You may be surprised at how often you do this, and when you stop doing it, you may be surprised at how much better the response will be.


Day 5: Look at everything from someone else’s perspective

Do more than just comprehend another person’s point of view. Really put yourself into that person’s shoes and imagine what it—whatever “it” is— feels like for him or her.

We humans see and experience the world from our own perspective. We filter information through our own unique set of values, beliefs, and biases, and that determines what we conclude and how we respond. Seeing the world through eyes other than our own will give us a better idea of what’s important to others and what moves them, as well as what they might resist. When we can see things from their perspective, we can start communicating in a way that appeals to their unique manner of filtering. Doing this puts people at ease and breaks down barriers to trust and cooperation.

Day 6: Practice listening with empathy

When we communicate with others, we’re often more focused on what we’re going to say next than we are on what message someone is trying to convey.

As a result, we miss essential cues, nuance, and meaning, not to mention coming off as aloof and disinterested. We fail to establish a real connection when we’re not listening because we’re not fully attuned to the other person’s message.

As you listen to others, consciously put your values, biases, and preferences aside and try to sense what the other person thinks, feels, needs, and perceives, right there in that very moment. Do this without judgment. Observe in yourself how it feels to be fully attuned to all of a person’s communication signals, which often come in the form of nonverbal cues and body language.


Day 7: Make a plan and implement it

At this point, you’ve most likely decided to construct or improve your executive presence. Gaining the respect of your bosses, peers, and other colleagues is a marathon, not a sprint. Although these seven days are just the beginning of a long stretch, you’ll have a much clearer idea at the end of what it means to improve your social IQ. Now it’s time to create a plan for you to practice and implement these steps. Chances are you’ll have plenty of opportunities to engage in these techniques, all of which can move you upward in your career and strengthen your relationships.

Harrison Monarth is the CEO and founder of Gurumaker and author of Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO.