Growing up with a severe speech impediment and social anxiety, I wasn’t only terrified of meeting new people, I also wasn’t very good at it.
After I graduated college, however, I realized I’d never make anything of myself if this didn’t change. To improve my ability to interact with others, I did the one thing that scared me the most: I took a sales job.
For the first few weeks, every time I picked up the phone to call a potential client, my face turned into a bright red tomato. I got hung up on countless times each day. But I kept at it. Today, twenty years later, I now make my living helping people better navigate their careers and relationships.
I learned a lot during that job. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned, however, was that the fastest way to get things right when dealing with people is by minimizing the things you do wrong.
After all, as human beings, we all like to be treated differently. When it comes to how we don’t like to be treated, however, we are oddly similar.
If you too are interested in improving your social awareness, in addition to keeping track of the actions that light people up, pay close attention to the behaviors that bring people down.
To get you started, below are 5 frequent social blunders people make, that people with high social intelligence don’t.
1. Neglecting to read each room you walk into
“Your partner didn’t fall in love with you because of some gift you gave them. They fell in love with you because when they had a terrible day, and you had a great day, you sat down and listened to them talk about their bad day without saying a word about your great day.”
The words above, courtesy of author and leadership expert Simon Sinek, may very well be the key to both successful romantic relationships, and long-lasting friendships.
Socially intelligent people not only listen, but they also observe their environment before they speak.
Just this past spring, a guy came up to my friend and me and said, “You guys alright? It looks like someone died.” He couldn’t stop apologizing after my friend told him over the weekend his father had lost his battle to cancer.
This is no doubt an extreme example. But it just goes to show you how important taking the time to get a gauge on your surroundings is.
- What’s the vibe of the conversation you are walking into? Are people upbeat or downtrodden?
- What about their tone, body language, and facial gestures? Are they relaxed and smiling? Or are they serious, concerned or even sad?
Few actions will help you improve your social intelligence faster than making the commitment to take a moment to get a read on each interaction you walk into.
If you too have been guilty of speaking before you observe, there’s an easy trick that has helped me tremendously to be more conscious of this: post a sticky note on the door of each room in your house to serve as a reminder to take a moment to look around before entering it.
After just one week, you’ll be amazed at how effective this simple reminder is. After all, it becomes easier to avoid stepping in dog shit if you’re watching where you’re walking.
2. Speaking poorly of others
Think back to the last time someone you know was gossiping or trash-talking someone else. What did you think about the person who was bashing the other person? Not great, right?
This isn’t a coincidence. Dragging someone else’s name through the mud not only makes you look bad at the moment, but it also makes people question what you are saying about them when they aren’t around.
Not only that, but according to the phenomenon “spontaneous trait transference,” researchers also discovered that people unintentionally transfer to you the traits you say when describing other people.
Put simply, if you tell people Charlie is an idiot, going forward, people will think you are an idiot.
The good news is, “spontaneous trait transference,” goes both ways. So if you want people to speak kindly of you, speak highly of others.
Socially intelligent people understand this rather simple aspect of human behavior. As a result, if they don’t have anything nice to say, they follow the cliché and they don’t say anything at all.
This doesn’t mean, however, they don’t get annoyed with people. The difference is when they are frustrated with someone, instead of telling every Tom, Dick, and Barbara about the stupid thing Charlie did, socially intelligent people take it up with Charlie. But only after giving themselves a time-out to catch a breather. Which leads straight into the next point.
3. Arguing about meaningless stuff
According to my friend, and owner of a massively successful Youtube channel, Conor Neill, one of the best things you can do to raise your social intelligence is to implement buffers into your daily conversations.
One of the keys to both maintaining strong relationships, and being influential, is taking a moment when you are annoyed to think about if the words you want to say, are the very words the person you are speaking with wants to hear.
For Conor, when his wife says something like he never cleans up after himself, before reacting, he pauses and says the word “interesting” to himself. It serves as a sign-post to ask himself if the argument is worth taking a bite out of or not.
- Is there something going on with this person that I may not know about?
- If the other person admits defeat will I have actually won?
- Is this the best way to spend time with the people I care about?
- Are they right?
Though simple, socially intelligent people ask themselves these questions before having an argument. Through experience, they’ve learned that they communicate more effectively when their emotions aren’t getting the best of them.
Over the next few days, observe how the people around you are handling their arguments.
- Do they snap or do they take a step back?
- Does raising their voice make their argument stronger?
- Or do they reply calmly with phrases like “You’re probably right” or “Do you mind if we talk about this later when I’m thinking more clearly?”?
The best way to approach a hot situation is with a cool head.
Not only does making the choice to refrain from arguing about meaningless stuff keep your relationships strong. It also frees up loads of time to focus on more meaningful activities in your life.
4. Stealing the spotlight from others
A few years ago, I asked one of my more charismatic clients about the best lesson he’s learned about improving his social skills.
Knowing his successful sales background, I was expecting him to tell me about the importance of finding common ground with each person you meet.
Instead, however, he told me about the importance of not telling our stories.
He went on to tell me about how after a shy friend uncharacteristically told a story at a networking event, he jumped up and told one of his own. After he was finished, a few people told him what a great job he did. A few minutes later, however, his dad scolded him for not allowing his friend time to enjoy his moment. His dad then told him yes, being extroverted can have its advantages, but it would become a massive handicap if he didn’t learn when to be quiet.
If someone came to you with a problem, hopefully, you wouldn’t come back at them with an obstacle of your own. Instead, you would listen to them and do what you could to support them.
The same goes for our successes. When someone makes an announcement or does something that is clearly important to them, socially intelligent people give them the space to enjoy their moment.
What we choose to say is obviously important. As is taking the time to think about how we are going to say it. But don’t forget the importance of when you decide to say something also. Sometimes the best way to make other people shine is by doing nothing at all.
5. Judging people prematurely
Despite having a stutter, making the decision to take a sales job to learn how to better navigate social settings has changed my life more than any other. It has given me a world of confidence.
When it comes to improving my social intelligence, however, the most important lesson I learned came from my clients.
Can you imagine picking up the phone and agreeing to speak with someone about your finances who struggled to say his own name?
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes people made fun of me. But other times people were patient with me.
I think about that every time I find myself giving too much power to my first impression of others.
Not everyone is going to get it right on the first go. Some people need room to show themselves. Socially intelligent people understand this. As a result, instead of dismissing someone on hurried or shallow assessments, they treat each person they meet with respect.
Make it a point to challenge yourself to spot the qualities you admire in others, instead of getting hung up on their differences or what you perceive as a flaw.
This may not come easily, as our minds naturally scan for the negative. But if we try, we can almost always find something good about another person. Plus, when it comes to social currency, few things are more valuable than positivity.
In order for this to happen, though, you have to be open-minded and give people the benefit of the doubt.
Karl Albrecht, the man who literally wrote the book on social intelligence, argues more people have lost their jobs due to a lack of social intelligence than any other factor.
Not only that, but according to an 85-year-old Harvard study, it isn’t riches or fame that best determine our happiness levels, but rather our social ties.
The good news is that every day we have countless opportunities to learn from not only our own social interactions but also those of the people around us.
In addition to taking notes of the actions that light people up, don’t forget to also keep track of the behaviors that bring people down.
Sometimes when things aren’t adding up in your relationships, the best thing you can do is start subtracting.
If you enjoyed this article, feel free to read the first part of this series-