Defining, Developing, and Demonstrating Social Intelligence | SOS Podcast

Defining, Developing, and Demonstrating Social Intelligence | SOS Podcast

The skills that matter most are those that make a difference.  Few are more important to supervisors than those needed to build cohesive and productive teams.  In this episode, AEU LEAD Director Joe White highlights the importance of social intelligence and offers suggestions for ways frontline leaders can effectively demonstrate it.





The SoS podcast is a production of AEU LEAD, an organization redefining how mid and frontline managers are developed.

Joe White:
Hello and thank you for joining us. I'm Joe White and this is the Supervisor Skills Secrets of Success podcast. For any new listeners, we're glad to have you. For those returning, we truly appreciate your continued support. Our topic today is one of great importance, but one not necessarily of great awareness or even understanding. We're discussing social intelligence. Over the next few minutes I'll explain what the term means, share some thoughts regarding its importance and offer some suggestions for how you can develop and demonstrate it in daily practice. There's quite a bit to unpackage here, so let's jump right into it.

Early in my career, I had the pleasure of working with a seasoned instructor that taught me more about the art of facilitation than he likely ever realized. The professional qualities about him that stood out were many, but his mannerisms in response to any number of situations, some of which were less than ideal, were what set him apart. On one particular occasion I co-facilitated a workshop with him at a manufacturing site that was in the middle of a long and drawn out contract negotiation. Tensions were high and hospitality low. The culture was toxic in anything but conducive to an ideal learning environment. That said, it ended up being a very effective session and all probability helped set into motion some changes for much needed improvement. As with the aforementioned instructor, the success he was able to achieve had very little to do with what he said or did. It was how he responded to the situation faced that made such a difference. Time and again, he demonstrated an ability to read a room. He also routinely responded in a manner most fitting for the environment and the personalities present within it. By every possible measure, he exemplified through actions and example, social intelligence. 

Historically speaking, general intelligence was widely held as a prerequisite to success in both the classroom and workplace. While IQ is clearly linked to academic performance, the same cannot be said for success on the job, especially for those dependent upon others to achieve operational objectives. To successfully work with and through others requires more than an understanding of facts and figures. It requires people skills. By definition, social intelligence is the ability to get along well with others and to get them to cooperate with you. From the perspective of a frontline supervisor, it involves one's ability to build camaraderie among an increasingly diverse workforce for a common purpose or goal. Involving tact, common sense and street smarts, social intelligence is widely recognized as a learned skill that develops with time and experience. To practice social intelligence requires only a conscious and deliberate effort to do so, and for anyone wanting to learn more here are five suggestions for consideration:


1. Get to know your employees. 

A central tenet of our leadership development curriculum involves the importance of establishing rapport with direct reports. The very nature of social intelligence suggests it's built around human relations. This requires routine and ongoing interactions with employees for the purpose of getting to know them. While improved relations won't guarantee success as a frontline leader, demonstrating skills and social intelligence is impossible without it. 


2. Understand team dynamics. 

While getting to know individuals is a critical first step in demonstrating social intelligence, so is understanding team dynamics. More than at any point in the past supervisors must do everything within their power to build cohesive teams. This requires leadership and addressing challenges to team chemistry head on. Failure to resolve conflict or team disruptions is a primary cause of disengagement. It also results in a loss of respect among direct reports directly impacting the level of influence a supervisor may have. 


3. Recognize subtle shifts. 

A team's function and its functionality are two completely different things. Function involves alignment and getting everyone on board and rowing in the same direction. Functionality is about cadence, rhythm and results, and working with teams, supervisors must recognize and respond to individual needs while keeping a big picture perspective. This requires addressing the little things early and often. 


4. Convey care and concern. 

Effective frontline leadership is rooted in genuine, authentic, and sincere caring. From an employee's perspective, this leadership quality is experienced as a feeling or emotion. In practice, it's what you do and not what you say that matters most. Routinely interacting with employees to build rapport, actively listening to what they have to say and responding to subtle shifts in behavior are but a few examples of ways supervisors can demonstrate care and concern. This attribute should be a priority for anyone wanting to grow social intelligence skills. 


5. Regulate emotions.

We've all been there. You get a late start, have difficulty getting out the door, run into unexpected traffic and realize you've missed an important commitment. All foundations of a bad start to what should have been a good day. As a supervisor, it's important to recognize the impact internal emotions can have when outwardly expressed. Do everything possible to regulate mannerisms and expressed emotions. Remember, you're always on stage and what others see in you matters. Demonstrate the sort of behavior you expect to see in others and you'll earn a great deal of respect in response for doing so.

Social intelligence is defined as the ability to get along well with others and to get them to cooperate with you. Through a growing body of research, it's been identified as one of the most important attributes supervisors need to lead effectively. Functionally, it's about building teams among an increasingly diverse workforce and camaraderie within to achieve a common goal or desired outcome, it requires tact, common sense, and old-fashioned street smarts, and it's demonstrated through practices that convey authenticity, integrity, and credibility. Where social intelligence exists employees tend to be more engaged and supervisors more respected, all traits associated with a healthy and productive workplace culture.

Thank you for joining us. It's my sincere hope you found benefit in our discussion today. We'll be back in May and look forward to you joining us then. If you know of someone that could benefit from our topics of discussion, please forward a link with an endorsement for their consideration. Should you have any questions or need additional information regarding today's topic, just let us know. Our contact information is provided in the show notes accompanying this episode. For those that may not have reviewed or rated your experience with our show, we would greatly appreciate you doing so. That's it for now. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

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About the Author

As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.

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